Fossil Fuel Reps Invited to COP21 While Protest is Banned in Paris

350.org organizer Cameron Fenton says the voices of indigenous groups and civil society will be silenced while fossil fuel industry is seated at the negotiating table

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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

The UN’s COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, will begin on Monday and run for ten days. Many climate activists see this as one of the most important climate conferences, considering the state of the planet. We have record-breaking global temperatures and extreme weather events causing deaths daily, according to a new UN report. And now for the first time in 20 years of UN negotiations, the aim is to agree on a legally binding agreement on climate and keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. But in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attack, security is tighter than ever before, and President Hollande has banned marches and other public events from taking place during the summit.

With us to discuss the upcoming COP21 and this ban on protests is our guest Cam Fenton. He is the Canadian tar sands organizer with 350.org and the author of a recent Huffington Post article Marching Matters: Ahead of the Paris Climate Talks. Thanks for joining us, Cam.

CAM FENTON: Thanks for having me.

DESVARIEUX: So Cam, we have a ban on major marches during the summit. Why is this an issue when the focus of the summit is really going to be on global leaders coming up with an agreement to limit greenhouse gases? Why does a ban on marches matter?

FENTON: I think it matters in a lot of ways, but foremost because the UN climate talks and the framework that’s been built, it’s a lot different from a lot of other global summits, where you know, if you have a G8 or a G20 summit there’s a massive fence and you have the people outside and the government’s inside, and there’s sort of this very, very clear sort of conflict. At these UN climate talks people and civil society are, have been since the beginning, invited inside because they are not just sort of there as observers but a huge part of moving the negotiations forward, of raising key issues, of challenging governments and of holding sort of the worst actors accountable.

And so I think when you take out that element and when you remove it you silence a really important voice. Not just in the streets, but also that sort of has the ability to influence and impact the outcome of the negotiations. Especially around issues like the ambition of countries to actually meet the kind of climate targets we need, and the inclusion of things like equity and justice in an agreement coming out of Paris.

DESVARIEUX: All right, Cam. Let’s really break down what is ahead, what is the specific agenda coming out of Paris. What will these leaders be discussing?

FENTON: So they’re going to be discussing sort of the followup to the agreement that came out of Copenhagen. So you remember at the end of the Copenhagen climate talks, Barack Obama kind of flew in at the last minute, got everyone together and they signed a one-page deal, basically, that committed governments to sort of voluntary targets with a agreed-upon 2 degree ceiling on climate change. This is sort of the, the Paris talks are supposed to be when we lock in the formal agreement after that.

And so this is sort of the next round where they’re going to dictate sort of the coming 20 years of ambition and targets, and sort of emissions reduction goals, as well as a lot of the mechanisms around financing for global South countries, being able to talk about how we move from the fossil fuel economy of today to the clean energy economy that’s already taking off around the world and sort of making that transition as quickly as it needs to happen.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Let’s also talk about the role of fossil fuel companies. I know you’ve done some research and looked at this. Do we have a sense of what level of presence fossil fuel companies will have at this summit?

FENTON: Yeah. I mean, it’s been increasing over the years. I remember, they sort of–for a long time fossil fuel companies have shown up through the guise of being a part of the business stakeholder groups. And there’s a lot of organizations that represent and bring fossil fuel company representatives as delegates to these.

But starting in Poland a few years ago we started to see fossil fuel companies playing a much more prominent role, where a coal company was actually a sponsor of UN climate talks in Poland. And that sort of pernicious influence has been stepping up year after year after year, which I think should be a big concern where we’ve seen, you know, just this year it come to light that ExxonMobil not only knew about climate change for 30 years but actively decided to deceive the public in order to promote and be able to continue their business as usual operations. And so I think what we’re seeing now is fossil fuel companies showing up, but also showing up with sort of a smile on their face and this idea that, to push forward, that they deserve to be sort of at the table, as we’re all in this together.

And I think that’s a challenge. Because while people are there pushing for, you know, real and just climate action, well, governments are there trying to negotiate. The fossil fuel industry is one of the only players at the table who has a vested interest in us not solving climate change. They have a business model based on burning all the fossil fuels they can, and we know for a fact that we just can’t do that and actually meet our climate targets. And so I think that’s the challenge, is that you really have a dangerous actor who’s in the room now, who’s sort of coming to the table pretending to be there in good faith. But it’s really hard to trust that knowing full well where their true intentions lie.

DESVARIEUX: All right, Cam. I’m going to ask you to consult your crystal ball here and talk about probable outcomes out of COP21. And also just juxtapose that with what you would like to see. What would be an ideal situation?

FENTON: Yeah. I mean, I think the likely outcome is going to be a very vaunted sort of political statement that really doesn’t meet the sort of, and doesn’t close the ambition gap that we’re currently seeing. So countries are going to come out of this saying that they’re taking climate change seriously, that they’re committed to meeting 2 degrees. But as we actually parsed through the numbers it’s probably going to show that there’s a long way to go.

And so I don’t think, you know, the difference between this summit and the ones in the past like Copenhagen, though, is I think that–I don’t think a lot of people are looking at this and thinking that it’s actually going to come out with the plan to save the world. And I think that’s like, that’s at least one step forward. You know, an ideal or an appropriate [inaud.] outcome to this would be something that puts a hard cap on carbon emissions, that leads to governments and countries around the world passing legislation to keep fossil fuels in the ground. I think we know right now that the measure of climate leadership at this point is how you act to keep carbon and fossil fuels in the ground in the first place. I think Barack Obama sort of set a new standard on that when he rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, the first time a world leader rejected a piece of fossil fuel infrastructure specifically because of its impact on the climate.

And so I think what we would love to see and what would be an amazing outcome would be something that actually acknowledges that we have to keep the majority of fossil fuels in the ground, that commits government to pass legislation that does that, and then builds a global framework that holds people accountable to that and provides the resources and support for global South countries and communities on the front lines of climate change to be able to both adapt to climate change, to mitigate it, to respond and rebuild after some of the massive climate impacts that we’re seeing happen today, and also to leapfrog forward technologically to be able to implement clean energy solutions in a just way here and now.

DESVARIEUX: All right, Cam. We’re certainly going to be tracking this story and see what the outcome is. But thank you so much for your analysis.

FENTON: Thanks for having me.

DESVARIEUX: And we should mention, Real Newsies, that we will be there in Paris covering the summit, so be sure to check out our stories as we will be having them on a daily basis here on the Real News. Thank you so much for watching the Real News Network.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

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