11/27/2015 12:05 EST | Updated 11/27/2016 05:12 EST

Fossil Fuel Companies Threaten To Undermine Paris Climate Talks

Fossil fuel companies have not managed to get a much coveted seat at the actual negotiating table during COP decision-making. But they are lobbying so hard that they hope politicians will come up with pro-industry solutions. A growing number of public interest groups want the fossil fuel lobby barred from the UN process.

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Female hand holding green pump filling gasoline

In the early-1950s, when it became widely known that smoking caused cancer, giant tobacco companies formed the Tobacco

Industry Research Council (TIRC). Its main goal was to deny the harmful effects

of tobacco and confuse the public.

The tobacco lobby wormed its way into the United Nations'

World Health Organization (WHO), wreaking havoc and slowing the WHO's efforts to reduce the growing number of cancer deaths. 

Realizing that the tobacco corporations were obstructing

progress, the WHO finally built a firewall between public health officials and industry

lobbyists. Only then was it possible to better control tobacco.

Flash forward to Paris and the 21st annual UN Climate Conference, November 30 to December 11.   The 190 participating countries are charged with trying to hold carbon

emissions to liveable limits between the years 2020 and 2030.

But -- just like when the tobacco lobby was powerful -- the fossil

fuel lobby is strongly influencing decisions to be made in Paris.

Pointing to the struggling world economic situation, the

World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) says

climate change is important, but it should not jeopardize economic growth.

Fossil fuel corporations have spent billions of dollars over the years funding front organizations that mislead and confuse the public by claiming

that climate change is not serious threat.

But scientists say that the human race cannot continue to function in a near-normal way unless about 80 per cent of the remaining fossil

fuels are left in the ground.

The corporations oppose government regulations, and their

main goal is to have the marketplace determine the amount of carbon emissions.

However, public interest groups believe that industry will serve its own

interests for profits instead of prioritizing the reduction of carbon


The public interest group Corporate Europe Observatory,

located in Brussels, has compiled information on the agenda the corporations will

be pushing at COP21:  

  •  Instead of governments taxing emitters -- a

    simple and inexpensive system to operate -- corporations want to create a

    world market where polluters and investors can buy and sell carbon

    credits. They claim the system would help spur investments in low-carbon

    energy. However, this system has worked poorly in Europe and is vulnerable

    to abuse.

  • The fossil fuel industry

    wants governments and the public to acknowledge natural gas as a "clean

    energy source." This would result in significant increases of fracking in

    many parts of the world. It's true that gas, when burnt, has low

    emissions, but the fracking process leaks methane into the atmosphere,

    which is 80 times worse than carbon.

  • The "net zero" proposal: Rather

    than attempting to reduce emissions to zero, net zero means that some

    emissions can keep rising. The industry says this would be offset in the

    future via the removal of emissions from the atmosphere when yet-to-be developed

    technologies make the removal possible.

  • According to Shell, going to net

    zero would allow them to keep burning fossil fuels for the rest of this

    century. This would be balanced off by the -- so far -- theoretical removal of

    carbon from the atmosphere at some point in the future.

While public interest groups will be kept mainly on the

sidelines, corporations are being allowed to hold at least 10 special events

for government officials. Names of some of the sessions: "The Future is Looking Up," "Energy

for Tomorrow" and "Business and Climate:

A positive revolution for companies?"

In addition, some of France's dirtiest corporations are official sponsors and donors for COP21.  Included are nuclear and coal giants EDF, energy utility corporation Engie,

coal-financing bank BNP Paribas and airline Air France.

Some of the very corporations

driving global warmingwill be represented in Paris.

Included will be Shell, BP, Volkswagen, Monsanto, Total, Dow Chemical,

Monsanto, Syngenta, Nestles, McDonalds, Walmart and others.

Fossil fuel companies have not managed to get a much coveted

seat at the actual negotiating table during COP decision-making. But they are

lobbying so hard that they hope politicians will come up with pro-industry


Meanwhile, a growing number of public interest groups want

the fossil fuel lobby barred from the UN process. 
"When you're trying to burn down the table," says HodaBaraka of the protect group, "You don't deserve a seat at it." 

NGOs have launched a campaign, Kick the Polluters Out, and

are planning demonstrations in Paris. Close to a half-million people signed the

protest document over a short period of time.

But, at the present time at least, it would be very difficult

to get the fuel lobby organizations out of the climate change process.  

The corporations are so powerful in the UN climate talks process

they appear to be the proverbial tail wagging the dog. Christiana Figueres, head

of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), scolded those who

claim the fossil fuel industry is not part of the solution, telling them to

"stop demonizing oil and gas companies."

In what critics consider a betrayal of the climate control

effort, after a few years inside the system, UN experts move over to the

private sector. According to the Corporate Europe Observatory, this revolving

door helps business to control the process in the COP process. 

At the national level, because oil, coal and other fossil

fuel corporations are so wealthy and so important to national economies, corporations are able to intimidate governments from taking the best possible carbon

reduction pledges to Paris. Energy corporations are successful in compromising

the policies of the U.S. government. 

In October, the European Parliament expressed concern that

an early analysis of government pledges indicated the temperature would increase

between 2.7 and 3.5 degrees Celsius.  An increase within this range would be disastrous for humankind.

The European Parliament has now called on governments to

agree in Paris to revise the projections downward before 2020 to keep the

increase to two degrees Celsius, which is the target recommended by scientists.

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