In the long lead-up to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21), most countries did not act in the way that many had wished as they failed to adopt the necessary measures required to effectively mitigate the impact of climate change.
Despite grandiose pledges to reduce carbon emissions, industrialized nations and the world’s largest carbon emitters have continued to pollute the planet at an alarming and unprecedented rate.
The world’s largest economies, known as the G-20 countries, currently represent around 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and spend 15 times more on fossil fuels than they do helping poor countries adapt to climate change, according to a recent report carried out by Oxfam.
For many climate change activists, this is in part due to an unwillingness and inability by lawmakers to take on influential corporate lobbyists to the extent required to adequately tackle global warming.
This claim is supported by a recent investigation carried out by InfluenceMap.org, a U.K.-based NGO which revealed that nearly half of the world’s top 100 global companies are trying to subvert climate policies by lobbying, advertising, and influence peddling.
Similarly, civil society organizations argue that this year’s COP21 negotiations have become ethically compromised due to intense pressure exerted by corporate sponsors, thereby undermining efforts to reverse the trend of climate change.
During climate change negotiations, policymakers are often encouraged by extractivist industry groups to endorse watered-down and market-based climate legislation such as cap-and-trade programs, ratcheting mechanisms and carbon trading schemes.
To ensure the continuation of “business as usual climate change policies,” corporations pursue a wide range of activities, which includes direct “financial donations” to lawmakers as well as lobbying negotiators on technical matters.
As pointed out by InfluenceMap, corporations from the fossil fuel industry are also allowed to participate in UN climate change negotiations with representation from “trade associations” or from “nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)” on the basis that they are nonprofit, despite their strong ties to for-profit corporations.
The painful irony of corporate influence at climate change negotiations was recently articulated by Twitter user Lee Brown who stated:
The participation of extractivist lobby groups at the #COP21 summit is like inviting Dick Cheney to a peace and human rights conference.
— Lee Brown (@leejamesbrown) November 24, 2015
Latin America’s Climate Leadership
Despite strong corporate lobbying efforts, in the last decade, grassroots movements across the globe have emerged in response to the devastating actions yielded by global extractivist industries and the governments that support them.
The growing frustration among climate change activists took a historic turn in 2010 when individuals from around the world met in Cochabamba, Bolivia for the World People’s Conference on Climate Change in search of leverage to influence climate policy at both the national and international level.
One of the innovate policy proposals discussed during the event was the concept of “climate debt,” the idea that rich countries owe reparations to poor countries for the climate crisis.
“It was always clear that the power of the argument was less in its likely applicability and more in turning the idea of debt on its head, showing that rather than the poor being in debt to the rich as we traditionally understand third world debt, the rich were in debt to the poor for their carbon emissions,” Nick Buxton from the Transnational Institute told teleSUR English.
— teleSUR English (@telesurenglish) December 1, 2015
Skipping ahead to this year’s negotiations, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa announced that he would propose “climate debt” to the international community, in efforts to rectify the unfair reality of climate change.
“We are going to promote the idea of environmental justice, which makes the biggest polluters pay for the contamination they created and forces rich countries to compensate poorer nations for climate change,” President Correa said Wednesday.
However, this is not the first time Correa has purported the notion of an “climate debt” from rich to poorer countries. Back in 2007, the Ecuadorean president asked U.N. member states to contribute to an innovative carbon sequestration program, known as the Yasuni ITT initiative. The project promised to leave untouched an estimated 846 million barrels of oil underground in exchange for $3.6 billion, around 50 percent of the estimated value of the recoverable reserves. Ultimately, though, just over US$100 million was pledged. Of that only US$13.3 million was actually donated, forcing the government to abandon its plan not to extract oil from the Amazon.
Hence, before arriving in Paris for this year’s climate talks, President Correa expressed skepticism describing the global environmental crisis as not just a technical problem but also a political one. “I don’t have very high expectations because at the end of the day this [climate change] is an issue of power rather than justice,” Correa stated.
President Correa’s skepticism is also shared by many people involved in the larger climate justice movement, who perceive a lack of commitment by the international community to fulfill their demands and implement solutions such as climate debt.
“In terms of why climate debt never gained more traction, it obviously comes down to power politics, i.e. the US and European Union refused to even countenance it because it would require radical redistribution of wealth and a major acceptance of responsibility for radical cuts,” Buxton told teleSUR.
Nevertheless, as planetary temperatures continue to rise, the world’s glaciers melt. And as forests disappear it is imperative that global leaders reach a legally binding agreement requiring nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
However, the credibility of the COP21 discussions largely depends on the willingness of lawmakers, representatives and non-state actors, to reject the positions put forth by powerful corporate interest groups.
Instead, “Governments need to have the voices of the most vulnerable people ringing in their ears as they negotiate, and they must ensure that the agreement reached addresses their needs,” anti-poverty charity Oxfam recently noted.
Similarly, the success of the Paris talks should also be determined by the degree to which leaders choose to adopt policies that pose a fierce challenge to status quo climate change legislation and market-based solutions.