Joanne Knight

January 16, 2014

Corporate Climate Capture

The Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19) has been pure spectacle. Not only were energy companies invited to sponsor the conference, corporate front groups ran panels and made submissions. This conference is clearly not an opportunity for governments to come to an international agreement on climate change but another PR opportunity for polluting corporations to improve their environmental responsibility credentials. Real action is blocked at every turn.

Little was achieved at COP19. No money committed to the Climate Green Fund, still no commitment to compulsory greenhouse gas cuts and no definite action to assist developing countries to cut emissions. Another talkfest for the global elite to pat each other on the back.

Even David Hone, Climate Change Advisor for Shell, expressed frustration:

 “After the first week of the Warsaw COP, an observer could be excused for wondering what exactly the thousands of delegates meeting here were actually discussing. The closest the assembled negotiators, NGOs, business people and UN staff came to seriously talking about CO2 mitigation was when Japan announced its new 2020 target, an increase of 3% in emissions vs. 1990…”

Debord explains that the spectacle reduces all attempts at social action to “mere appearance.”

“Understood on its own terms, the spectacle proclaims the predominance of appearances and asserts that all human life, which is to say all social life, is mere appearance. But any critique capable of apprehending the spectacle’s essential character must expose it as a visible negation of life and as a negation of life that has invented a visual form for itself.”

COP19 was the first UN climate talks to have corporate sponsorship, with some huge energy companies as official ‘partners’, including Alstom, ArcelorMittal, and BMW. The Polish Ministry of Economy also teamed up with the World Coal Association to put on a parallel “International Coal and Climate Summit,” whose joint “Warsaw Communiqué” was little more than a veiled call for more coal and CCS.

French conglomerate Alstom Power built the Belchatów coal-fired power plant, the single biggest source of carbon emissions in Europe. ArcelorMittalis the world’s leading steel and mining company and the leading supplier of steel products in automotive, construction, household appliances and packaging production. These corporations clearly have an interest in ensuring that reductions in GHGs needed to tackle climate change do not occur.

The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) was active at events around COP19. President, David Rothbard, and Executive Director, Craig Rucker, “are two of the primary voices seeking to provide a positive alternative to major environmental groups like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth,” according to the CFACT website. Major sponsors of CFACT have been ExxonMobil, the Carthage Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation, which supports other prominent right-wing think tanks.

CFACT’s so-called “climate realists” addressed a Polish Independence Day rally during the conference in Warsaw. They argued that UN programs to restrict energy options in the name of fighting global warming, impoverish people and strip away important freedoms. David Rothbard told the crowd that UN global warming programs are attempting “a complete economic transformation of the world.”

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) was an key organiser at COP 19. WBCSD activities at COP 19 were sponsored by Shell. Other members of the Council include BMW, GE, Bayer, and Entergy. On 15 November they hosted a high-level panel discussion focused on the “role of the GCF [Global Climate Fund] in catalysing investment into clean energy by facilitating the deployment of capital at the scale and in the direction required to stay inside 2degrees C.” In other words, how corporations can get their hands on the GCF.

Peter Bakker President of WBCSD has declared climate change to be “the greatest new business opportunity to appear in decades…” Business is beginning to realize that climate change may be, well, bad for business. “The cost of climate change adaptation is frighteningly high. Since climate change mitigation is cheaper than adaptation, the business case for taking concrete steps sooner rather than later is much clearer.”

The steps to be taken involve using carbon capture and storage and other technologies. Unfortunately investment in CCS has been falling and the technology has not been successfully implemented commercially. A CCS demonstration coal-burning power plant in West Virginia shut down its carbon capture equipment in 2011 because it could not sell the carbon dioxide or recover the extra cost from its electricity customers. The equipment consumed so much energy that, at full scale, the project would have sharply cut electricity production.

Such fundamentalist belief in this failed technology explains why the business community is involved in ensuring that no binding emission reduction targets are ever set. These people are unable to break out of the spectacle which generates an unswerving belief in the efficacy of the commodity form. They are convinced that they can keep safely using fossil fuels because carbon capture will save us.

Another body very active at COP19 was the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA). Its members include BP, Dow Chemicals, Alstom Power, Citigroup. Through this body, the most powerful energy, financial and pharmaceutical companies in the world were making submissions to COP. This must be the most powerful lobby group in the world.

The IETA Submission to UNFCCC, stated:

“IETA is convinced that a global carbon market is the most efficient way for governments to achieve the necessary emissions reductions in the longterm.”

This reflects more fundamentalist belief in commodity solutions, revealing, according to Debord, that “social space is continually being blanketed by stratum after stratum of commodities.” Corporations believe that “alienated consumption is added to alienated production as an inescapable duty of the masses.”

“The entirety of labor sold is transformed overall into the total commodity. A cycle is thus set in train that must be maintained at all costs: the total commodity must be returned in fragmentary form to a fragmentary individual completely cut off from the concerted action of the forces of production.”

The trading of carbon as a commodity is an intensification of the spectacle which now dominates all social life. It is now almost inconceivable to imagine a life where consumption of commodities is not at the center.

Corporate solutions for addressing climate change involve trading our dependence on one type of commodity, oil, for carbon as an alternative commodity, maintaining control by the same corporations. Turning carbon into a product to be traded has done little to address climate change. A conversion of our society away from dependence on commodities, which actively interfere with our capacity to address real social conditions, is the only way we can save ourselves. The society of the spectacle and our dependence on commodities blinds us to our danger.


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