After the revelation that 90 companies have produced 63 per cent of the cumulative global emissions of industrial carbon dioxide and methane between 1751-2010, the role of corporations in the climate change debate was thrown into a new light. This could not have been more relevant than at the COP talks in Warsaw.
The ‘Climate Express’, a train that transported 700 campaigners to the COP-19 talks in Brussels. As it pulled into Warsaw, it seemed to be thrumming with optimism about the push for climate change justice. Amid fervent conversations about the role of renewable energy and the possibility of ‘clean coal’, it was easy to be swept along with the enthusiastic vibe. However, after a short spin in the Polish capital, a shattering sense of powerlessness seemed to pervade the carriages on the return journey.
This year, significantly fewer journalists were granted access to the UN climate change discussions than have been in previous years. The demonstration which took past last Saturday was also treated with a similar, medieval level of secrecy. The bright-eyed and enthusiastic climate activists were welcomed to Warsaw Central Station by heavily militarised police, and were led on a demonstration which took them away from the stadium and the all important discussions.
The march ended with a rally that took place in a park, which was described by a Polish journalist for Reuters as ‘the dodgy part of town where you would be crazy to go to’. This sort of handling of demonstrations is not newsworthy. It was, however, particularly poignant when the demonstrators crossed the Poniatowski Bridge, famous for its impressive light display. As if by magic, the lights were turned off during the crossing. It was almost as if the protest was not supposed to be seen.
As is the case every other year, the pre-COP talks were crucial in determining the content of the following fortnight. This year was unique though, in that Poland invited representatives from the corporate sponsors to sit in these talks on the so-called ‘business day’, in order to influence the way that the global community should begin to tackle the crisis of climate change. This year, the sponsors, or ‘partners’ included BMW, Emirates, LOTOS group, ArchelorMittal and Alstom. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s yearly talks have become increasingly over-attended by corporations. This year infinitely surpassed the previous years in this regard. How can a 20 per cent reduction in climate emissions be taken seriously if the UNFCCC is at the mercy of enormously powerful companies? Companies which have vested interest in preserving the longevity of fossil fuel consumption at that. Their existence depends upon it.
There is widespread talk that the real push for meaningful policies to tackle climate change will happen at COP Paris 2015. The potential for a brutal climate catastrophe has just been seen in the Philippines, and to talk about delay in the face of such devastating human and environmental destruction seems incomprehensible. Yeb Sano, the head of the Philippines’ delegation to the UN climate talks, challenged climate skeptics to ‘get off their ivory towers’. This seems particularly relevant when considering the insidiously growing role of massive corporations.
The delegates who entered the Polish football stadium were hospitably greeted with an Emirates bag and a LOTOS group pen, whilst earnest corporate lobbyists all jostled to put forward their ‘solutions’. I hope that in these crucial last days of the COP talks, the world leaders are working towards sustainable, practical and immediate solutions to the single largest challenge facing humanity. I do fear, however, that like the concerned activists marching over the bridge in Warsaw, the rest of us are being kept firmly in the dark.