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A “Conference of Polluters”: How Fossil Fuel Companies Are Shaping Policy at the U.N. Climate Summit

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Officials from nearly 200 countries are in Katowice, Poland, to negotiate how to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement. But so are representatives from many of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, including a lobby group that represents BP, Shell and ExxonMobil. Just last week, The Intercept reported that an executive from Shell Oil told participants at a COP side event that Shell helped draft a portion of the 2015 Paris climate agreement dealing with emissions mitigation. This week, activists protested outside an event hosted by Shell. Among them was Nnimmo Bassey, a Nigerian environmental activist and the director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, who says the nonbinding 2015 Paris climate agreement was popular with politicians because polluters saw they “didn’t have to do anything that science requires.” He argues, “This is just the design and the desire of the fossil fuel industry.”

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Transcript
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. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from the U.N. climate summit here in Katowice, Poland. We now turn to take a closer look at the major role fossil fuel companies are playing in negotiations, just a day before the climate talks are expected to end. Officials from nearly 200 countries are here to negotiate how to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement. But so are representatives from many of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, including a lobby group that represents BP, Shell and ExxonMobil, who are here to push their own agendas behind the scenes. Just last week, The Intercept reported that an executive from Shell Oil told participants at a COP side event—that’s COP, conference of parties—that Shell helped draft a portion of the 2015 Paris climate agreement dealing with emissions mitigation. He made the remarks at an event for corporate actors, including the fossil fuel industry, saying, quote, “the [European Union’s] position is not that different from how Shell sees this.”

This week, activists protested outside an event hosted by Shell. Among those demonstrating was Rita Uwaka and Nnimmo Bassey.

PROTESTERS: Keep them out of the COP! Keep them out of the COP!

NNIMMO BASSEY: In the Niger Delta, where I come from, we have endured 60 years of oil pollution, of gross pollution, gas flares and human rights abuses. Today, the world has 12 short years to do the right thing about climate change. Oil companies and their cohorts must be held to account. Today, what do we say?

PROTESTERS: Keep polluters out of COP!

RITA UWAKA: It’s like hell on Earth. I represent communities in the Niger Delta who are impacted by this big polluter. Having this big polluter coming here as a saint is not only a slap on us as delegates of COP, it’s also a slap on Mother Earth.

NNIMMO BASSEY: That is really why we are here, because of the open boast, the open insult, from the Shell official, telling the whole world that they wrote Article 6 of the Paris Agreement and that they are here introducing language into the rulebook. Shell will be telling us that they are the one determining how the actions that will be taken will be taken, which means nothing is going to happen, and nobody is going to do anything positive, from this COP. This is why we’ve always suspected that the so-called nationally determined contributions are nothing but nationally determined confusions. … I have many things to tell Shell. I don’t think I can tell them all in one day. Number one is, they have to stop polluting the Niger Delta. Number two, they have to clean up their mess. Number three, they have to get out of the COP.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Nnimmo Bassey, who joins us now from the U.N. climate talks here in Katowice, Poland. He’s a Nigerian environmental activist and the director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation. He is the author of a number of books, including Oil Politics: Echoes of Ecological Wars and To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you every year here at the COP, wherever it is. And again, COP stands for conference of parties to the climate talks. And this year it’s COP24, for the 24th year. Nnimmo, we just heard your protest. Can you talk about the role of corporations in these climate talks?

NNIMMO BASSEY: Thank you very much, Amy, for having me on the program. It’s really very troubling to see that a conference that is dealing with existential matters, that deals with the future of the planet, of humanity, of all the beings on the planet, can just be manipulated by fossil fuel industry. It almost seems like the conference of parties, the COP, is now the conference of polluters.

AMY GOODMAN: The conference of polluters?

NNIMMO BASSEY: Conference of polluters, yes. And this is why we’re not making much progress. Just look at the Paris Agreement. This was so much celebrated around the world. Countries quickly endorsed it, except one politician that quickly turned away from it and is—

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about President Trump.

NNIMMO BASSEY: —tweeting, tweeting about it. I don’t—guess what he’s tweeting about this particular COP now. You know, and, yeah, so, this was so popular with politicians because the result was such a manipulated outcome that everyone could see that they were not really going to do anything that science requires. And the Paris Agreement was based on what nations choose to do. And this is just the design and the desire of the fossil fuel industry, because they fought hard in the backgrounds of the lobby halls to ensure that “fossil fuel,” those two words, are not mentioned in the Paris Agreement. Fossil fuels are not mentioned at all. And we all know that this is why we have global warming: the burning of fossil fuel. This is what is pumping carbon into the atmosphere. And if we have a conference, a convention, whose job is to set the world on a path that would save us from catastrophic global warming, that should be the first thing to be dealt with. But we’re not seeing that at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what’s happening in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and the largest oil-producing African country.

NNIMMO BASSEY: Yeah, oil has been a nightmare to Nigeria. Oil was found in commercial quantities in 1956. The first commercial extraction and export was in 1958. So, oil has been an income earner for Nigeria for 60 solid years. Six decades of oil. It became a major income earner in the 1970s, and this helped to twist the political situation in the country and made politicians more or less struggle to be in charge of the oil revenue.

And so, right now, oil has damaged our politics, damaged our economy and damaged our environment. If you step to the Niger Delta, as we speak, there’s always an ongoing oil spill. If you step to the Niger Delta, as we speak, you can find rivers and creeks coated with crude oil. And you just think about this kind of destructive resource that is pumping carbon into the atmosphere. People live next to oil fields; they don’t have access to energy. They’re having gas furnaces lighting up the sky. Kids cannot enjoy a dark night sky. They cannot enjoy a quiet night, a quiet moment, because these furnaces are burning continuously.

And yet, this something is creating the climate crisis. We are losing land to the sea through sea level rise. We are losing the major water body in northeastern Nigeria, where you have also violent conflicts between farmers and herders. And, you know, it’s such a destructive thing. Lake Chad, I was trying to mention. Lake Chad was 25,000 square kilometers in the 1960s; now it’s down to about 25,000—I mean, 2,500 square kilometers. Lost 90 percent of its size. This is catastrophic for the region.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to the power of the corporations. Speaking last week at an International Emissions Trading Association side event here at the COP was Shell’s chief climate change adviser David Hone, who boasted the oil company had a hand in writing the Paris Agreement. Hone stated, “We have had a process running for four years for the need of carbon unit trading to be part of the Paris agreement. We can take some credit for the fact that Article 6 [of the Paris agreement] is even there at all. … We put together a straw proposal. Many of the elements of that straw proposal appear in the Paris agreement. We put together another straw proposal for the rulebook, and we saw some of that appear in the text.” Well, it sounds like the Paris Agreement exceeded his wildest expectations.

NNIMMO BASSEY: They are gamblers, and they got—they took—they won the bet. And, I mean, they have every reason to celebrate, because the world keeps—if you listen to politicians and, of course, listen to the industry, they keep saying they know that, as the intergovernmental panel on global warming told us, that we have 12 years to do something about emissions reduction, but the oil corporations keep selling the narrative that the world cannot generate energy except from fossil fuels into the foreseeable future. So, even the negotiators buy this crap, this falsehood, this lie, because—we are much more creative than that. But the industry is locking in everyone on this fossil pathway.

And then they’re trading the carbon. So, you keep on polluting, keep on business as usual, keep on using this energy. Industries can release as much carbon as they like into the atmosphere. There’s always a way to offset. And this offsetting is putting the burden of real climate action on poor nations, on poor communities, in the kind of fiction that the pollution by industrialized nations is offset by trees in poor communities. This is the fiction of carbon markets.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of this COP24 being held here in Poland? It is the only country, I believe, where the U.N. climate summit has taken place three times. First was Poznan. Then we were in Warsaw. And now we’re here in Katowice. This is, you know, coal land, is Poland. And this is the coal heart of Poland. How does it affect these talks, with the coal companies virtually co-sponsoring, partnering—

NNIMMO BASSEY: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —with these talks? We’re in a convention center that’s on an old coal mine site. There’s a coal museum next door. And this design of the convention center is to make it look like a coal mine.

NNIMMO BASSEY: We are in the belly of the mine, actually, so, literally, that’s where we are. And it’s very significant that the Polish government chose to host this conference right in a coal pit, so to speak. The dark coal wood staircases you keep climbing—I saw you running after a politician the other—yesterday, up these stairs. And, you know, this is really—it’s a bold step by the Polish state to tell the world that, “Look, we are on the fossil path. This is where we’re going to go. We are not really shifting.” But the challenge for them is that I don’t think they will want to have a COP that failed in Poland. But the way we are going, I don’t think there’s a solution anywhere near. So this is the challenge they’re going to face. They could be proud of coal. The industry is pushing in the background. The oil and gas companies are pushing along with them. But, you know, when something is wrong, it is wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: So, as we wrap up, what gives you hope, Nnimmo Bassey?

NNIMMO BASSEY: My hope is in the people, because while the politicians and the negotiators are having difficulties coming to agreement, people out in the street, people at the Climate Hub, social society, kind of civil society and people in communities all agree that this thing must be taken on head on. And we all—in fact, right from 2010, in Cochabamba, Bolivia, there was a very clear road map of what needs to be done. This is 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s time—I have the hope—that the world will wake up to respect the rights of Mother Earth, the rights of nature. The people give me hope. And the planet is resilient, but we can’t just take it for granted.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Nnimmo Bassey is a Nigerian environmental activist, director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, author of a number of books, including Oil Politics: Echoes of Ecological Wars and To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa.

When we come back, fossil-free Costa Rica? We’ll speak with activist Mónica Araya about Costa Rica’s plan to become the first decarbonized economy in the world. Stay with us.

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