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Oil giants set Copenhagen agenda

It is now crystal clear that the Copenhagen earth summit planned for later this year cannot and will not deliver action to halt climate change. The agenda for it has been hi-jacked in advance by the global energy corporations.

Some of the world’s greatest polluters were invited to pre-conference talks held last week under the auspices of the World Business Summit on Climate Change. One of their hosts, the former US vice-president Al Gore whose film An Inconvenient Truth dealt with the consequences of global warming, asked the corporations help develop the deal on the table for December.

This brought condemnation from the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) campaign group which said:

Corporate lobbyists have been trying to influence the UN climate talks from the start. But now they are being invited to set the agenda before the negotiators have even sat down. If their demands are listened to, we might as well give up the fight against climate change now.

Prominent at the conference was Shell, named by Greenpeace as the most carbon intensive oil company in the world. Greenpeace says:

Shell tops the list for three reasons: its reliance on Nigerian crude oil, which is associated with huge levels of wasteful gas flaring; its investments in highly energy intensive liquefied natural gas; and its massive gamble on Canada's oil-bearing tar sands, for which the extraction process is so energy intensive that it produces up to five times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil.

Shell is lobbying heavily against any limit to these activities, trying to convince policymakers to put their faith in unproved carbon capture and storage technology and other techno fixes. US energy secretary Steven Chu, for example, has suggested that all roofs and roads be painted white, to reflect the sun’s rays back into space. While that might sound just silly, it is no worse and probably less dangerous than other techno-fixes that the Obama government and others are prepared to countenance.

The race is on to develop new commodities, processes and markets in what can now be called “the climate change mitigation industry”. On the Copenhagen agenda will be the “International Biochar Initiative”. Biochar is “the next big thing”, after the nightmare plan for a shift to bio-fuels. That decision caused soaring food prices, and the destruction of forests and communities. Biochar will have the same effects.

The madcap idea is to burn plant material and wood at low temperatures and bury it in the ground where it will sequester carbon. There is no evidence that this will work, and a report from Biofuel Watch explains that biochar actually contributes to warming when it becomes airborne. In one recent field test, 30% of the biochar dust blew away during transport and as it was being spread over fields and tilled into the soil.

When the first earth summit took place in Rio in 1992, governments still had some control over what happened in the economy and hopes were high that they would facilitate “sustainable capitalism”. When the world leaders came together again at Johannesburg in 2002, that was off the agenda in a world dominated by global corporations, debt-fuelled boom and free market capitalist ideology.

Copenhagen will be the earth summit of capitalism in fundamental crisis and slump. The discussions will not be about reducing emissions, but a desperate last ditch stand for “business-as-usual”. Anyone now failing to grasp the link between political and economic change and climate change is missing the point on a grand scale. Only by seizing our right to self-determination, can we remove the power of capitalist interests to prevent action on climate change.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
4 June 2009

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