Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Corporations spending billions to exert 'undue influence' to prevent global climate action

By Mike De Souza
Postmedia News 
November 22, 2011

A handful of multinational corporations are "exerting undue influence" on the political process in Canada, the U.S. and other key nations to delay international action on climate change, alleges a new report released Tuesday by Greenpeace International.

The report documents a series of alleged lobbying and marketing efforts led by major corporations and industry associations, representing oil and gas companies as well as other major sources of pollution in Canada, the U.S., Europe and South Africa, which is hosting an international climate-change summit that begins next Monday.

South of Canada's borders, industry stakeholders are investing about $3.5 billion per year to lobby the U.S. government on a variety of issues, as well as financing American politicians who "deny" scientific evidence linking human activity to dangerous changes in the atmosphere that contribute to global warming, estimates the report, titled: Who's holding us back? How carbon intensive industry is preventing effective climate legislation.

"Carbon-intensive corporations and their networks of trade associations are blocking policies that aim to transition our societies into green, sustainable, low risk economies," said the report, authored by Greenpeace staff from around the world, based on national lobbying registries and other public records from government and industry.

"These polluting corporations often exert their influence behind the scenes, employing a variety of techniques, including using trade associations and think-tanks as front groups; confusing the public through climate denial or advertising campaigns; making corporate political donations; as well as making use of the 'revolving door' between public servants and carbon-intensive corporations."

The report raises questions about activities of energy industry companies including Shell, Koch Industries and Eskom, as well as BASF — a chemical products company, BHP Billiton — a mining company, and ArcelorMittal, a steel company created from a merger that followed the takeover of Canadian-based Dofasco by Europe-based Arcelor.

Most nations at the upcoming international summit in Durban, South Africa, have publicly said they hope to extend targets to reduce pollution under the Kyoto Protocol, the world's only legally-binding treaty on global warming. But Canada, along with Japan and Russia, has openly indicated that it plans to walk away from the agreement which set targets for developed nations between 2008 and 2012 as a first step toward stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.

"Canada goes to Durban with a number of countries sharing the same objectives and that is to put Kyoto behind us and to encourage all nations and all major emitting countries to embrace a new agreement to reduce greenhouse gas in a material way," Environment Minister Peter Kent said Tuesday in the House of Commons in response to questions from NDP environment critic Megan Leslie.

Representatives of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, one of the lobby groups singled out in the report, have explained it supports balanced climate and energy policies that allow for growth of all energy sources to meet rising demands in the decades to come. But meantime, the association says its member companies are already adapting to new policies and pollution taxes from jurisdictions such as Alberta and British Columbia, while investing in new technologies to prepare for stronger standards in the future.

Natural deposits in Western Canada, also known as the oilsands, are believed to contain one of the largest reserves of oil in the world, but they require large amounts of energy, land and water to extract the fuel from the ground, with an annual global warming footprint that has almost tripled since 1990. The annual greenhouse gas emissions from this sector are now greater than those of all cars on Canadian roads and almost as much as the pollution from all light-duty trucks or sport utility vehicles driven in Canada.

The Canadian lobby group has opposed policies in jurisdictions such as the U.S. and the European Union that would discourage consumption of fuel derived from the oilsands or other sources that have a heavier footprint than conventional sources of oil.

The report highlights say the federal and Alberta governments have also been partners in a taxpayer-funded "advocacy strategy" led by Canada's Foreign Affairs Department to fight international climate-change policies and "promote the interests of oil companies."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government and its Liberal predecessors have repeatedly pledged to regulate pollution from the industry without following through on their commitments. Kent also promised to introduce a plan to tackle emissions from the oilsands sector this year, but later retreated on the commitment.

"The reason that Canada has actually made it in here (the report), is because the Harper government has acted with and on behalf of tarsands companies to undermine international action on climate change," said Greenpeace Canada climate and energy campaigner Keith Stewart. "When we look at this globally, if we're serious about avoiding climate catastrophe, we can't afford to let the Harper government and the tarsands industry grow the markets of dirty oil at the expense of cleaner alternatives."

The report highlighted a pattern of industry lobby groups and chambers of commerce running advertising campaigns against any proposals to tackle climate change by warning people in the general public that their respective countries were acting alone and would kill jobs by adopting measures to reduce pollution. It also noted that some companies, which claim to defend action on climate change, are actively supporting industry associations that are seeking to undermine progress on the issue.

The Greenpeace report also coincides with the mysterious release on Tuesday of emails from a British-based climate research unit that was at the heart of controversy prior to a 2009 climate change summit when the stolen correspondence was used by climate skeptics to allege an international conspiracy by scientists to mislead the planet about the consequences of rising greenhouse gas emissions.

A series of independent inquiries have dismissed the conspiracy theories and cleared the scientists involved of any wrongdoing, but those responsible for stealing the emails were never caught.

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