A Blog from Ian Lumley of An Taisce at COP 22 in Marrakech
The weight of vested interests at COP 22 in Marrakech
(We will be publishing a series of Blogs from Marrakech by Ian Lumley giving his impressions of the event).
The immediate and first impression formed on arriving at the huge and well organised Conference venue was the prevalence of so many males in the cloned global business gear of dark blue suit and unadventurous ties. I was reminded of the annual Environmental Law conference in Cork which I have attended over many years where the presence of lawyers representing business and vested interests has become increasingly more prevalent.
The speaker platforms in the forum’s "Side Events" for key climate issues have a remarkable similarity. In so many cases the panel consisted entirely of lead international lobbyists for the industry or sector they represented. There was a common thread to the three different events attended on agriculture, aviation and shipping. In all cases, there was a full recognition by the panel speakers that “we all must all take action on Climate change.” But the response proposed from their sectors in no way addressed the level of emission cuts needed to meet the Paris Agreement.
What prevailed was slick power points providing no more than tokenistic mitigation of the emission impact growth of their respective sectors. Critical or contrarian voices were clearly excluded from the panels. Speakers inevitably ran over time so audience response and questioning and responses was limited, and, for some events, curtailed.
The agriculture session was co-hosted by the Secretary General of the World Farmers Organisation WFO, to which our Irish Farmers Association is affiliated, and confusingly for someone from Ireland another IFA namely the International Fertilizer Association.
The panel presentations were a master class in green washing with Climate Smart Agriculture featuring prominently. There were. lots of power point pictures about helping marginal farmers in Africa and meeting global food needs. Uniting the panel was the assumption that increasing carbon efficiency would secure climate goals. The Canadian representative of the IFA, who insisted that animal protein was necessary for a healthy diet, came up with the concept that the impact of the Alberta Tar Sands extraction could be offset by farmers improving carbon soil management . The Danish farmers’ representative presentation could have been cut and pasted by an Irish IFA spokesperson. The other IFA that is the global fertilizer industry representatives were at pains to say that their chemical products were not incompatible with or in conflict with organic agriculture and were needed to feed a growing population and a growing middle class with demand for animal protein. Consumer demand was treated, and the promotion of the western diet for the growing global middle class, was treated as a sacred principle.
Fortunately, there were some robust questions from the audience opened by New Zealand Nurse Emily Rushdon on the climate and health impact of her country’s dairy expansion. The New Zealand Climate Ambassador Mark Sinclair responded by claiming that emissions would be offset by increased plantation and other forestry. Sounds familiar?
I was able to raise multiple questions on the panels failure to address the incompatibility of continued and increased bovine agriculture with the Paris Agreement, successive and increasingly stronger United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports on the need to move to a plant based diet, WHO reports on the heath impact of red meat and obesity linked to dairy product consumption, and the scientific basis for the claim that animal protein is necessary for a healthy diet. Not very popular issues for the largely agri-business suited audience or the panel.
The session was hosted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). The opening was the plea that Aviation "only" produces 2% of global emissions, with the implication of ‘why are we being given such a hard time?’
An excruciating kiddies cartoon clip was presented on the three planks of the ICAO climate strategy: efficiency, alternative fuel research and offsetting. Great play was made of the increasing fuel and carbon efficiency of each generation of planes, but not addressing the nullification of any gain by increased aviation and plane numbers. Future efficiency and improvement was left to distant timeframes in the next decade, not addressing the service use timespan of a plane. Research into alternative fuels, but not propulsion technology, was presented as a major commitment of the industry. Finally there was carbon offsetting by which support could be given to projects such as wind turbines in Africa. It required a lot of restraint to sit through the cartoon graphic presentation, the planes were made to look like cute toys in a kiddies colouring book.
The event was hosted by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and Chamber of Shipping representing their global industry. The IMO opened with the frank admission that based on different global shipping demand growth projections, emissions would increase by 50% to 250% by 2050. However, the response was a feeble one of research, "roadmaps" and distant targets on improvising emission efficiency. The parallel pollution impact of bunker fuel was evaded. What can be expected from an industry that hides behinds flags of convenience like Cyprus and Panama concealing real ownership. The reason why the global shipping industry is so effective at lobbying for non regulation is because it is delivering increasingly cheaper transport for the global consumer economy,
These presentations gave some insight into the scale and effectiveness of global industry lobbying, most of which goes on behind the scenes. The speakers were invariably Secretary General or Executive Director of their organisations. There are the people with the machines that influence politics and the media. The message has now been slickly shifted to a climate friendly one, but the response is tokenistic and the real business is business as usual.
Ian Lumley, Marrakech
Ian Lumley, Heritage Officer, An Taisce. Tel: +353 1 454 1786
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland
 An Bord Pleanála decision http://www.pleanala.ie/casenum/RL3490.htm
About An Taisce
An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.