Greenwashing Report from COP24, Katowice, Poland by Ian Lumley, Advocacy Officer, An Taisce.

Thought it would be hard to beat the Bord na Mona “Naturally Driven” or the Bord Bia “Origin Green” slogans for green-washing but the Polish coal industry must get the international award. UNFCCC COP24 is being held in Poland’s main coal mining area with major sponsorship from the State-owned JSW coal company and other fossil interests. The display at the entry to the National exhibition pavilions featured the wonders of coal as a base ingredient in soap and cosmetic beauty treatment, and managed to ignore climate and air pollution impact.

Outside in a city of over 300,000 people the air quality impacts of coal dependence are overwhelming. When the winter fog sets in from the early evening the suburban area, where I have been fortunate to get accommodation, has open fire burning like a smoggy Irish city fifty years ago. Polish President Andrzej Duda at the COP opening on Monday proudly stated that Poland has coal reserves to last 200 years. Poland competes with Ireland as the most delinquent EU country on climate performance and is captive to its coal industry, in the same way as so much of Irish politics and public service defers to the bovine lobby. With citizen and NGO legal action mounting on climate and air pollution gaining ground across Europe, this highlights concern at the way the ruling Polish Law and Justice Party is undermining the hard won maintenance of an independent judiciary.

Greenwashing has been very much the underlining theme of events and presentations attended over the last few days. A COP is divided into parallel worlds. There are the big "plenary" sessions which can be followed on line. But the real business of negotiation is done in the closed access labyrinth of meeting rooms restricted to national Governments working on the agenda which this year focuses on the “rule book” for Paris Agreement accounting. For an observer or NGO attendee there is the daily choice of continuous press conferences and at any one time multiple “side events” in the big seminar rooms and the smaller EU and individual national pavilions, with the absence of the US being so conspicuous.

The NGOs at COP seem to spend much time and energy having press conferences only attended by each other, which is great for networking. Much more interesting is to attend sessions hosted, convened or dominated by industry and business representatives. At nearly all of these events I found myself the only NGO person present, or certainly the only one to take on the burden of asking serious questions to EU, UN and industry platform speakers. These events give an insight into the power and range of industry lobbying of UN Agencies like the Food and Agricultural Organization and the EU so much of which is hidden. The ratio of industry to public interest lobbying personnel in decision-making cities like Brussels is dramatically disproportionate. While lobbying is generally thought of as focused on politicians what is very obvious at COP is the level of interaction between industry representatives and senior UN and EU policy makers; sharing public platforms and chatting afterwards before running off always busy to go somewhere else, invariably not to another session with a public platform. What then must go on in both formal and informal contacts in the more plush hotels of nearby Cracow, where so many of the representative delegation parties stay, can only be imagined.

The European Gas industry is rebranding itself as “Gas for Climate” and confusingly throwing both hydrogen and agricultural-sourced bio-methane together under the label “Green Gas”. This was the theme of a gas industry led event in the EU Pavilion on Wednesday, with senior EU Commission representation on the platform. There was welcome information on a northern Netherlands’ initiative of using redundant fossil gas infrastructure for hydrogen storage generated from surplus wind, then used to generate electricity during slack wind periods. But it was the Italian Gas industry talking up of the potential of "green" biogas that was so striking. The continued fossil gas consumption was justified on the basis that a progressively increased amount of agricultural-sourced bio-methane would achieve magic carbon neutrality by 2050, the argument which Gas Networks Ireland is using to justify expanding the gas pipeline grid. If the gas industry is so confident of achieving this, why is fossil gas exploration continuing in areas like the Irish offshore waters and fracking being developed in England ?

One Norwegian gas industry representative in the audience was so enthusiastic about biogas capture that he asked the Italian bovine gas industry speaker if the methane from cattle could be captured with some sort of containment system. The answer was that slurry management was improving, but that there were practical issues with sealed animal housing.The presenter for the fracking/shale gas lobby was positively gushing in reporting that the extraction cost was falling in the same way as renewables, and that the benefits of gas were being brought to countries that did not previously have it. Questioned on methane leakage and seismic impact were brushed off with the answer that better technology was capturing fugitive methane, and that the seismic impacts were all under 4 on the Richter scale and therefore not earthquakes.

It was also worrying at a later event on Air Pollution in the EU Pavilion that arguments for gas transport vehicles were being advanced as a solution for urban transport pollution. This was in response to presentation by representatives of the EU Court of Auditors of an EU-wide Air Pollution report. Just as the EU made a fatal error in supporting particulate matter polluting diesel over petrol for climate mitigation reasons, there is now the problematic scenario that the response to air pollution could result in promotion of Compressed Natural Gas ( CNG ) for transport, with a bit of green-washing diversionary biogas thrown in. The effect of this would create a lock-in to an inefficient technology which does not achieve the emission reduction needed for the decade ahead. The EU Horizon Fund has already made a €20 million grant for a pilot gas fueled HGV initiative in the west of Ireland. The EU DG Environment representative was unaware that another arm of the EU was already supporting gas transport in this way.

At a presentation on the World Bank led report on "Bringing the Concept of Climate Smart Agriculture to Life - Insights from CSA Country Profiles across Africa , Asia , and Latin America" there were many positive initiatives highlighted in developing countries. Absent was consideration of how the "Climate Smart" brand has been hijacked by New Zealand and Ireland to greenwash export driven bovine intensification, where any gains in soil, grassland, fertilizer or feed management are being nullified by increased production as shown by the 3% annual rising agricultural GHG emissions from Ireland. The "Natural Resources Officer, Climate and Environment Division, Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Department" representative of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization was not keen to hear this, and fobbed the issue off to someone else.

Another major presentation was the "World Resources Report - Creating a Sustainable Food Future" by the World Resources Institute in collaboration with the World Bank, the UN Environment, and UN Development agencies. Included as a major heading in the report was the potential to reduce methane emissions from ruminant animals with new feed supplements. Was able to raise the sustainability of these new feed sources in achieving the real emission cuts needed, as well as the impact of the product sourcing, particularly from the extraction of sea vegetation and fish life on the marine ecosystem which is a mounting issue for Ireland with the Bantry Bay kelp extraction and new Killybegs biomarine ingredients processing factory.

The greenwashing veneer is all-pervasive at COP. London-based Associate Director Stephen Cook of the global Arup engineering consultancy made his company sound more like an eco agency in participation in a presentation in the WWF pavilion on "Renewable Energy for Cities" on Tuesday. When questioned on how can professional firms ethically justify working on energy and road projects that worsen climate impact, and the achievement of UN SDG 11 on "Sustainable Cities and Communities" objectives, the response was evasive. A probable no to Arctic drilling but fudging otherwise. Meanwhile Arup is heavily involved the €630 million N6 Galway Ring Road scheme which will worsen climate impact and private car dependence.

At the coffee and biscuit (and because its Poland bits of chopped up sausage) networking after some of the sessions there is an opportunity to make contact with platform speakers with much handing out of cards. However experience from previous years shows that there is little or no follow up to invitations for dialogue. UN Agency and high level EU engagement with Advocacy NGOs internationally remains as tokenistic as it is with Irish Government Departments and agencies.

Industry representatives of course know the issues and sustainability arguments, but the combination of self-interest and self-delusion makes it impossible to envisage anything other than "business as usual" whether for fossil fuel or animal agriculture. This is why like some toxic sludge like algal bloom, a conscience-salving green message veneer is now overwhelming us, like the promotion of biodegradable throw away coffee cups, and must be seen through for the fraud that it is.


For further information, contact:
Ian Lumley, Advocacy Officer, An Taisce: +353 1 454 1786
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: [email protected]
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland

Reports from COP24:

  1. Polish Coal for Soap and Cosmetics Exhibition - Ian Lumley's report from COP24
  2. Some Positive News from COP24 - Ian Lumley's 2nd Report
  3. Professor Sweeney's 1st report from Katowice
  4. Professor Sweeney's 2nd Report from Katowice
  5. A Comprehensive and Hard Hitting Report from COP24 by Ian Lumley
  6. Professor Sweeney's 3rd report from Katowice

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.