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Partnering With Polluters? U.N. Climate Summit Criticized for Sponsorships by Fossil Fuel Companies

StoryNovember 18, 2013
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Pascoe Sabido

is covering the U.N. climate summit in Poland for the Corporate Europe Observatory, which published the pamphlet, "The COP 19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying: Climate Crooks and the Polish Government’s Partners in Crime."

Organizers of the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, are facing criticism for accepting corporate sponsorships from major car manufacturers, oil companies, steel manufacturers and coal firms. Meanwhile, the Polish Ministry of Economy has teamed up with the World Coal Association to put on a parallel "International Coal & Climate Summit," also in Warsaw. We speak to Pascoe Sabido of the Corporate Europe Observatory, who has just published the booklet, "The COP 19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying: Climate Crooks and the Polish Government’s Partners in Crime."

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Video made by the Cough4Coal campaign to protect the international—to protest the International Coal & Climate Summit that is taking place side by side with the U.N. climate change summit right here in Warsaw, Poland, where Democracy Now! is broadcasting from for the week. I’m Amy Goodman.

The organizers of the U.N. climate talks here in Warsaw are facing criticism for accepting corporate sponsorships from major car manufacturers, oil companies, steel manufacturers and car firms—coal firms. Companies include BMW and General Motors. Meanwhile, the Polish Ministry of Economy has teamed up with the World Coal Association to put on this parallel International Coal & Climate Summit.

We’re joined now by—we’re joined right now by Pascoe Sabido. Pascoe Sabido is from the Corporate Europe Observatory. He helped write a new booklet called "The COP19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying: Climate Crooks and the Polish Government’s Partners in Crime."

Welcome, Pascoe. Talk about who is here. What is unprecedented about this COP 19, the Conference of Parties, the U.N. climate change summit?

PASCOE SABIDO: Yeah, I mean, I think just to say that this—this is perhaps the most corporate climate talks we have ever experienced is not to say that previous ones haven’t had a large corporate influence. But what’s different this time is the level of institutionalization, the degree to which the Polish government and the U.N., the UNCCC, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, have welcomed this with open arms and have actively encouraged it.

So, I mean, the three key ways they’ve done this is there was the pre-negotiations that happened in October here in Warsaw, and the Polish presidency, so the presidents of the climate talks, invited only business. Civil society, so NGOs, journalists, academics, were not allowed to attend. So you had exclusive access to negotiators by business, so a real chance to set the agenda. And then here at the talks, I mean, there’s 13 corporate sponsors, the first time we’ve seen this degree. But just to shed a bit of light, the Polish presidency asked 150 different corporations to sponsor this event, and these were the best, the best of the bunch. But, I mean, as you said, General Motors, who are known for funding climate skeptic think tanks like the Heartland Institute in the U.S.; you have BMW, who are doing equal things in Europe, who are trying to weaken emission standards.

AMY GOODMAN: How is BMW trying to weaken emission standards?

PASCOE SABIDO: It’s been leading on the—on the German government, on Angela Merkel, to delay a vote in the European Parliament that’s supposed to say car emission standards will be improved. And instead it’s had the deal delayed again and again and again, to the degree where actually now it’s being—it’s supposed to be voted on by the Lithuanian presidency, so this is perhaps a bit EU talk, but just to—just to say, the Lithuanian presidency, who’s supposed to be allowing this vote to happen in Europe, is also sponsored by BMW, has given them 180 cars for the presidency. And then it turns out that Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union, also received three-quarters of a million euros from BMW’s owning family. So I think BMW have a quite fishy role to play here.

But not only car companies, there’s airlines, like Emirates. We have—I mean, what’s incredible is some of the biggest fossil fuel companies. So we have Poland’s own state fossil fuel companies. PGE, the Polish Energy Group, who are really big in lignite mining, coal mines, are planning to build yet more coal plants—I think there’s 40 that are already in existence, and they have plans to build more—as well as the LOTOS Group, another Polish fossil fuel company dealing with oil, who claim that their practices—so, they drill in the Baltic for oil, the only Polish company to do so—they claim their practices are probably the least nuisance to the environment possible. I’m not quite sure—if they have, they’ve been missing the news and haven’t seen what’s gone on in the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, but oil drilling is not environmentally friendly. It’s not something that we need to tackle climate change. And yet, these organizations are here on the inside. I mean, they have their logos plastered all over this conference center and, as a result, are able to wrap themselves in the colors of the U.N. and claim—wrongly, of course—to be climate champions, which is incredibly damaging.

AMY GOODMAN: How does this compare to, for example, World Health Organization in dealing with tobacco?

PASCOE SABIDO: Yeah, I mean, that’s a really important point, because at the moment there’s no guidelines around lobbying regarding, you know, what—let’s be honest, the interests of the fossil fuel companies, of the fossil fuel industry, their commercial interests are to keep on polluting, keep putting emissions into the atmosphere. That’s their business model. Those interests are fundamentally in conflict with those of the public interest, and those are the interests that we should be discussing here in these climate talks. We need ambitious, equitable action on climate change if we’re really going to tackle something that—Philippines has recently showed us such, you know, devastating impacts. And so, their interest’s incompatible with the public interest and the interests of climate—of tackling climate change, so we need guidelines.

And the WHO, actually incredibly forward-thinking, has introduced strict firewalls between lobbyists and public health officials, because they accept that the interest of the tobacco industry is fundamentally opposed to public health interests. And so if that’s the case, then it’s up to governments to do something about it. Our governments are supposed to be representing the public and our interests as the public, so it’s really up to them to impose and to ensure that there is protection for our public health officials and, in this case, for our climate change policy offices, our governments, who are trying to really reach the deal we need to see here.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the U.N. Coal & Climate Summit, as it’s called? I was interviewing you early this morning outside the so-called coal summit, where Greenpeace unfurled their banners, you know, "Who rules Poland? The coal industry or the people?" "Who rules the world? The fossil fuel industry or the people?" And they had very brave sort of mountain climbers unfurling these banners across the front of the building, and then the police moved in with cranes and pulled the climbers off and brought the banners in. But what about this, and the fact that the head of the COP 19, Christiana Figueres, is the keynote address at the U.N. coal summit? Has this ever happened before?

PASCOE SABIDO: I mean, she has spoken at many different events before. I think the key thing to mention here is, is this coal summit, the International Coal & Climate Summit, which is ultimately an industry lobbying event set up by the World Coal Association to make sure that coal and this fictional, nonexistent clean coal—I mean, I’ve never heard of clean coal being something that exists in real life—to make sure that that is on the agenda here in the climate talks. But by Christiana Figueres attending these talks, she’s really giving it legitimacy and saying that coal should be part of this future.

I mean, I saw her speech; unfortunately, I only saw a transcript. But she, first of all, said that climate change is the biggest threat we face; it’s destroying communities as well as our climate and vulnerable countries. And then she went on to say that the coal industry plays a part in this climate future. I don’t quite see how the solutions, the false solutions coming out of the coal industry, like clean coal and unproven technology like carbon capture and storage, which is supposed to capture the emissions—you know, that’s decades away from commercialization—how that’s part of a climate future that the people want to be part of. So I think Greenpeace had a really strong message there.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, one of her representatives was at a scientist conference this morning that I attended, right near where you were part of this protest. And they were very quick to give out these press releases of Christiana Figueres explaining why she was addressing the coal summit. She said, "Let me be clear from the outset [that] my joining you today is neither a tacit approval of coal use, nor is it a call for the immediate disappearance of coal. [But] I am here to say [that] coal must change rapidly and dramatically for everyone’s sake."

PASCOE SABIDO: Yeah. I mean, I’d like to know what that rapid, dramatic change is, because then the steps she went on to outline were neither rapid nor dramatic. I think 20 years is not a rapid change. And she went on to basically welcome the coal industry and say that they’re part of the solution. I mean, they’re—just to put it in context, the coal industry, this summit that’s going on alongside the climate talks, is producing something called the Warsaw Communiqué, which is basically a plea by the coal industry to put coal at the center of climate policy and claim that it’s not just a solution for climate change, which any sane person would know it’s not, but also to say that it’s a solution for development, for developing countries, which all the research shows is far from being that. So, I think by welcoming this climate communiqué, so the Warsaw Communiqué, like she did, Christiana Figueres is setting incredibly dangerous precedent for what we call climate solutions and what we don’t.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, you conclude with "Good COP? Bad COP!" COP of course being the Conference of Parties, the name of this climate summit.

PASCOE SABIDO: Yeah, in terms of—I would have to say, from what I’ve seen here, a bad COP. This is the unprecedented level of corporate influence, and we’re seeing that reflected in a lack of ambition of countries, a lack of finance. You know, as you mentioned earlier in the program, Japan and Australia have both reneged on their previous targets. So we’re actually seeing us moving backwards in terms of tackling climate change rather than forwards. And unless we remove the harmful and damaging influence of large corporations from these climate talks, we’re not going to get there. And we desperately need to.

AMY GOODMAN: Pascoe Sabido, I want to thank you so much for being with us. He is here at the COP 19 with the Corporate Europe Observatory, which published "The COP 19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying: Climate Crooks and the Polish Government’s Partners in Crime." We will link to it at

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