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Dhaka Tribune

Big Oil must leave the table

Update : 26 Sep 2016, 12:01 AM

How did the World Health Organisation (WHO) stop the tobacco industry from influencing the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control? Simple -- they banned them from taking part.

Now it’s time to do the same thing in climate change. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) should outright stop the fossil fuel industry from having a say in discussions.

“Climate action should be based on the interests of citizens and the planet, not those of the [fossil fuel] industry,” argues Jess Bragg from Corporate Accountability International, further explaining that while “the private section will definitely have a role in climate action. The question is whether it is also going to be allowed to write the rules for it.”

Not only has the industry funded climate change denial for years and now are providing false solutions, their access to key decision makers in the UNFCCC is unprecedented and undue. For the sake of the people of Bangladesh, and other climate vulnerable areas, it is time they left the negotiations.

Fossil fuel industry funds climate change denial

The fossil fuel industry has been funding climate change denial for years, impeding international negotiations. The worst part is that the industry has known about human-induced climate change since the 1970s.

Investigative reporting by InsideClimate News last year discovered a presentation was given to Exxon heads in 1977, in which a top company scientist alerted them: “There is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.”

Instead of acting responsibly, Exxon, like many other fossil fuel companies, eventually decided instead to invest into spreading climate denial and skepticism through various PR campaigns.

A Greenpeace report published in 2010 found that a well-known US oil company, Koch Industries, donated $48 million to think tanks from 1997 to 2008, to discredit climate change. Although they were mostly in the US, the US -- as the world’s largest economy --  has considerable discussions over the climate change.

Fossil fuel industry’s influence at the UNFCCC

The first year the UNFCCC started to accept corporate sponsorship was 2013; fossil fuel companies were only ready to oblige.

A few of the largest funders of COP21 last year together owned more than 46 coal-fired plants, and had investments in oil sands exploration in Canada and shale gas fracking in the UK.

Such funding gives the industry undue access to key players in the climate talks that many indigenous groups and other vulnerable peoples, including many Bangladeshis, do not have.

A few of the largest funders of COP21 last year together owned more than 46 coal-fired plants, and had investments in oil sands exploration in Canada and shale gas fracking in the UK. Such funding gives the industry undue access to key players in the climate talks

Fossil fuel industry provides false solutions

For the most part, fossil fuel companies  no longer deny climate change is real. Instead, they offer false solutions.

“These are the same companies that, for decades, have undermined attempts to find solutions to climate change, although they knew of its existence for so long,” points out Jesse Bragg. He explains: “Now that they are singing a different tune, we cannot just allow our memory to fall short.”

An open letter written by six major oil companies sent to the UNFCCC last year, highlighted carbon taxes as one of the best ways for oil and gas companies to take climate action.

Yet carbon taxes attempt to reduce emissions based on the market, not what is needed for the planet; and they moderate emissions, they do not drastically decrease them. The point is not to eat less fatty food, it’s to eat healthy food (ie renewable energy).

Fossil fuel industry frames Paris Agreement?

Although the Paris Agreement made a lot of headway to push the international community to address climate change, the document never addresses the need to stop our reliance on fossil fuels.

In fact, if you look through the agreement, the words “fossil fuel” never appear. Given that burning fossil fuels account for a significant percentage of emissions, it is curious the agreement does not address the need to reduce global dependence on fossil fuels. That’s like trying to put out a fire while others are still pouring gasoline.

By no means can we directly link this to the influence of the fossil fuel industry, but given how much money they have provided to “support” the talks, and how much access they have to key players, this omission from the Paris Agreement does not come as a big shock.

Big Tobacco was banned, Big Oil can be too

If tobacco industries were banned from the WHO convention, then there is no reason fossil fuel industries cannot be banned from the UNFCCC. They knew what they were doing, they knew it was wrong, yet they kept on doing it.

Evidently, the fossil fuel industry is not too invested in protecting the lives of millions of Bangladeshis who are already suffering from climate change, who themselves have little to no say at the UN talks.

For their sake, we need to ban the fossil fuel industry.

To paraphrase Patti Lynn, exectutive director of Corporate Accountability International, to allow the fossil fuel industry so much influence over climate talks is “akin to hiring a fox to guard a hen house.”

It’s time we got rid of the fox.

Meraz Mostafa works in climate change and development in Bangladesh.



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