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Activists at COP23 Decry Companies & Corporate Sponsors Pushing Fossil Fuel as Energy Solution

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While representatives from nearly 200 nations have gathered here in Bonn, Germany, they’re not the only ones flocking to the city for this year’s U.N. climate summit. A number of fossil fuel companies and corporate sponsors have also descended on Bonn, where they are pushing their own agenda behind the scenes. On Tuesday, activists disrupted a presentation at an annual corporate conference held alongside the climate summit here in Bonn. They were protesting the European Investment Bank for funding the construction of the Trans Adriatic gas pipeline, known as TAP. This comes as a new report by the Corporate Europe Observatory reveals how the gas industry spent more than 100 million euros and deployed over 1,000 lobbyists to push gas as an energy solution to lawmakers in Brussels and across the European Union in 2016. We speak with Pascoe Sabido, researcher and campaigner for the Corporate Europe Observatory, and Jesse Bragg, the media director for Corporate Accountability.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting live from the U.N. climate summit. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, representatives from nearly 200 nations have gathered here in Bonn, Germany. But they’re not the only ones flocking to the city for this year’s U.N. climate summit. A number of fossil fuel companies and corporate sponsors have also descended on Bonn, where they’re pushing their own agenda behind the scenes. On Tuesday, activists disrupted a presentation at an annual corporate conference held alongside the climate summit here in Bonn. The activists were protesting the European Investment Bank for funding the construction of the Trans Adriatic gas pipeline, known as TAP.

PROTESTERS: The EIB is funding climate chaos. The EIB is funding fossil fuels.

AMY GOODMAN: The Trans Adriatic gas pipeline is slated to run from the Greek-Turkish border, through Greece and Albania, under the Adriatic Sea, into Italy. A new report by Corporate Europe Observatory reveals how the gas industry spent more than 100 million euros and deployed over a thousand lobbyists to push gas as an energy solution to lawmakers in Brussels and across the European Union in 2016.

For more, we’re joined now by two guests here in the heart of the U.N. climate summit. Pascoe Sabido is a researcher and campaigner for the Corporate Europe Observatory. And Jesse Bragg is media director for Corporate Accountability.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now!


JESSE BRAGG: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Pascoe, let’s begin with you. What should people in the United States and around the world understand about what you feel are the most critical issues now to deal with at this climate summit?

PASCOE SABIDO: I think what we’re seeing here is a lot of focus happening on coal, and I think it’s really important. Coal is damaging to the climate. That’s completely agreed, despite what the U.S. might be saying. I’m sure Jesse could comment on that later.

But, unfortunately, whilst there’s a lot of talk about coal phaseouts, everyone is moving into gas. And gas has been seen as a clean solution. But, in fact, if you look at the entire production cycle, when you drill for gas, when you transport it, it releases huge amounts of methane. And methane is more than a hundred times worse for the climate than CO2. So, in fact, coal and gas are pretty equal when it comes to climate impacts. But yet, all of these coal committees, oil companies, gas companies are trying to move us into yet another fossil fuel, are getting a huge amount of political support. That’s seeing new pipelines, new LNG terminals, really locking us in to another 40 to 50 years. So we need to be really aware that when we talk about moving out of coal, we need to phase out of all fossil fuels.

And that’s seen by the sponsors. Now, we have BNP Paribas, who’s sponsoring the talks. They’re one of the big gas funders of pipelines, LNG terminals. I mean, they’ve recently said they’re not going to finance fracking, but they’re still financing gas. And Iberdrola, another big fossil fuel company who’s also put its money into gas. So, we’re really seeing something very dangerous that’s going under the radar because of the spin by the gas industry telling us it’s clean.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Pascoe, could you tell us about the EU’s lead negotiator here in the talks, Miguel Arias Cañete? He himself was involved in some gas companies before he took on this position?

PASCOE SABIDO: So, whilst he was a member of the Spanish Parliament, he was actually the president of not one, but two oil companies in the Canary Islands. And then he was made a minister for environment. Since then, whilst minister for environment, he approved fracking in Spain. He approved oil drilling in a UNESCO heritage site off the Canary Islands. He also saw the first shipment of tar sands arrive from Canada to Spain. I mean, this is a guy who’s not particularly pro-climate, you would say, and then he’s made the climate commissioner. So we have a huge conflict of interest.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But who appoints the climate commissioner here for the EU?

PASCOE SABIDO: So he—exactly. So he’s the head of the EU delegation, and that’s appointed by the president of the European Commission. So it’s actually proposed by Spain. He comes from the Spain ruling party, the Partido Popular. And then he’s appointed by Juncker. But that has to go before an audition in front of the Parliament. And despite all of these conflicts of interest, he was still allowed to become a commissioner.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, the TAP pipeline, explain what it is, where it goes.

PASCOE SABIDO: Yeah. So this is a pipeline coming from Turkish-Greek border to Italy. And it’s being fought the entire way. It’s supposed to bring Azerbaijani gas to Europe. It’s well over budget. Communities along the pipeline are being moved out. The military has even moved in to southern Italy to lock down the local villages and stop them trying to protest. They’re not being allowed in or out. Also that this construction can happen with the big gas companies. And this is all about locking Europe into yet more gas. But Azerbaijan is, I mean, to say the least, a corrupt dictatorship, locking up political opponents. Anyone who’s come out against this pipeline is finding themselves in prison. So this is not the sort of thing the EU, who claims to be a climate leader, needs to be supporting, and definitely not the sort of thing that European Investment Bank and other European banks should be funding.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask Jesse, Jesse Bragg, about what’s happening now with Ukraine. I’ve heard this question a lot at the U.N. climate summit. But what is the U.S. connection with Ukraine and coal right now?

JESSE BRAGG: Well, so, about a few months ago, the U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry went over to Ukraine and struck a deal. I believe it’s $80 million of U.S. coal to be imported to Ukraine. As part of that negotiation, there was also a deal around nuclear fuel, giving Westinghouse a real windfall of shipping nuclear fuel to Ukraine. So that’s, generally speaking, the context under which Ukraine is operating here at the talks.

AMY GOODMAN: So, and explain what Ukraine is proposing—


AMY GOODMAN: —when it comes to the Paris climate deal.

JESSE BRAGG: So, details are still sketchy, but it’s called Committee for Future. And the idea behind this, based on a report by Climate Home, is that corporations would be seated at the table to make decisions and sort of oversee the implementation of the Paris Agreement. And we’re talking not just general corporations—energy corporations and fossil fuel corporations. So it really flips on its head the construct that is the U.N., where governments make rules and enforce them on corporations, and allows corporations to oversee governments in the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

AMY GOODMAN: Did they propose this after the former Texas governor, now Energy Secretary Perry went to Ukraine?

JESSE BRAGG: That’s right, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Because the U.S. is pulling out of the climate deal—


AMY GOODMAN: —so it would need someone else to do this.

JESSE BRAGG: Exactly. They don’t have much political capital, rightfully so, in this space. And so, one has to wonder if this was part of that deal that was struck: “We’ll import coal to you, and, in return, you can float this proposal that will give our corporations a concerted seat at the table.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Pascoe Sabido, could you say a little about the report that you have on gas? I mean, you just made the point that Europe—the TAP pipeline is keeping Europe gas-dependent. Now, of course, the perception in the U.S. is that the EU, and European countries, more generally, are much more sympathetic to the fact, I mean, and accept the fact of climate change and are taking massive steps to deal with it. But what you’re saying is that, I mean, given that this oil company executive is the EU’s lead negotiator, that perception might not be entirely accurate.

PASCOE SABIDO: Unfortunately not. No, I mean, what we’re seeing in Brussels is TAP is just one of many such pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructures being built. But the EU is still managing to have this image of being pro-climate, because gas is being spun as a clean fossil fuel, which is completely, completely not true. So, what we’re seeing is, in Brussels, the gas industry is involved in policymaking at every single level, I mean, from the very, very beginning all the way through Parliament through to the end, to when actual policy, the fine details are worked out.

But this is not just the gas industry power, which is considerable. This is also the open arms of the European Commission and governments. I mean, they’re being welcomed in. In the EU, we’re basing our entire climate policy on projections for future gas use. Who’s giving us these projections? The gas industry. And then the European Commission has gone and asked the gas industry to write out a list of projects that will correspond to these needs. So, inflated gas demand, give us some projects. They have given a huge list, which includes pipelines and terminals and all sorts.

AMY GOODMAN: Rex Tillerson, former head of the largest oil corporation in the world, ExxonMobil, now secretary of state, do you see his fingerprints here? He was just actually in Burma with Aung San Suu Kyi, apparently talking about the Rohingya.

JESSE BRAGG: Yeah, I mean, the U.S. fossil fuel industry’s fingerprints are all over this agreement, and certainly all over what the U.S. is doing here. We’ve seen them block really important negotiations on things like pre-2020 action or loss and damage finance, the things that will help developing countries—

AMY GOODMAN: “Loss and damage” means? This is all lingo.

JESSE BRAGG: Sorry, to support rebuilding after catastrophic climate events. These are all components that would help lead to liability—admitting the liability of the fossil fuel industry, for example. And so, in the U.S.'s positions, they're all just to protect, it seems, the fossil fuel industry.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have another minute to go, but, Pascoe, on Monday night was quite a scene. You had the U.S. delegation, whatever they constitute themselves as, the representative of Trump, of Pence and four corporate executives from the oil, gas and nuclear industry in a room. You had, oh, hundreds of people inside and outside the room. They interrupted with song, “Proud to Be an American,” and changed the lyrics against the fossil fuel industry and then walked out. But here was the U.S. showcasing—not even including renewables, but only oil, gas and nuclear. Your thoughts?

PASCOE SABIDO: Yeah, I mean, this really underlines why it’s so important to kick them out. I mean, we need to kick them out, just so that—not just these U.N. talks, but out of national-level government. We need to introduce a measure that can protect our policymakers from their vested interests, because as long as these fossil fuel companies have a grip over policymaking, we’re never going to reach the Paris Agreement and not go further than it, which is what we need to do to keep temperature rises below 1.5 degrees.

AMY GOODMAN: Next year, this is in Poland.

PASCOE SABIDO: Coal country, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And it just was in Poland—


AMY GOODMAN: —a few years ago. Why does Poland get it twice? And what does that mean around the issue of coal?

PASCOE SABIDO: This really means that coal is going to be high on the agenda. The proposals, such as Ukraine, are going to come back more and more. And it means the fight against coal, against gas, against oil are going to have to be doubled down. We really need to make sure that these industries are kept as far away from our governments and our policymakers as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you both for being with us, Pascoe Sabido, Corporate Europe Observatory, and Jesse Bragg, Corporate Accountability. Those are their groups. We’ll link to their reports.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, what are climate refugees, climate migrants? Stay with us.

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