Livable Planet

At COP 23, America's Answer to Climate Change is Using More Fossil Fuels

Diplomats from nearly 200 countries are in Germany for the most significant international talks on climate change since President Trump took office and pulled the U.S. out of the Paris agreement.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Historically, the United States has walked away from climate agreements more often that not. By rethinking its emissions pledges after President Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, the U.S. is putting the goal of limiting global warming in jeopardy. While the Trump administration’s attitude marks an unprecedented degree of how big businesses influence decision-making without democratic accountability, American governments have a longstanding tradition of cooperation with the fossil fuel industry to stall climate negotiations.


“The big difference now is there is no attempt to sell the world a different narrative,” Jesse Bragg, a spokesperson of Corporate Accountability, told VICE Impact. Corporate Accountability, a non-governmental organization that monitors the impact of big corporations on public life, just released a climate report, providing telling clues about the current administration’s ties to fossil fuels and how these ties will shape the American delegation’s attitude at COP 23, the twenty-third round of United Nations climate talks to lower carbon emissions and curb climate change.

For Corporate Accountability, the American agenda going into COP23 is twofold: continue to be the world’s biggest emitter by sponsoring the fossil fuels industry while projecting the image that it represents the interests of the American people and the economy at large. The Trump administration is breaking from former President Obama’s leadership and multilateral approach to climate change. Its strategy is dangerously outdated: slow down the talks, avoid making commitments, and push for the deeper inclusion of some of the world's big polluters.

"Look no further than the people Trump put in his delegation. It's a who's who of fossil fuel investors, industry henchmen, and big oil benefactors."

“Under Trump, such an approach is particularly obstructionist because the U.S. has made clear its intentions to withdraw from the agreement,“ said Bragg. “That makes the U.S. a bad-faith negotiator.”


Perhaps the most startling finding in the report is the degree of business infiltration inside delegations attending COP -- and the U.S. delegation is a leading example.

“Look no further than the people Trump put in his delegation. It's a who's who of fossil fuel investors, industry henchmen, and big oil benefactors. Many in the administration either depended on the industry for big campaign cash, or have millions invested in them,” said Bragg. “Moreover, some, like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson owe their careers to the industry. That combined with the fact that Congress in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry, means that under Trump, big oil, coal and gas win, and people and the planet loses.”

Check out more videos from VICE:

According to Corporate Accountability, the American delegation’s priority is advancing the agenda of big polluters, not because it's sound climate policy, but because the Trump administration is accountable first and foremost to a series of corporations and business organizations.

The report highlights two distinct approaches to climate talks: a non-market approach which advocates stricter environmental norms and regulations for production, and the taxation of polluting activities, goods and services, and a market approach which expects technology and business initiative to solve our problems.

It comes as no surprise that the industries and business leaders influencing government delegations sway negotiations towards pro-market solutions like carbon markets. For Corporate Accountability, it’s only logical. Large corporations are afraid environmental norms and regulations will hurt their competitiveness, and are, therefore, very invested in devising pro-market solutions that are designed to let them continue their activities under the facade of climate action.


“We've seen these markets attempted before and fail, yet pro-industry groups and the corporations they represent continue to push them. Groups like the International Emissions Trading Association know that if they can control the talks and stave off regulation, their members can continue business as usual. The dogma is simple: market ‘solutions’ in place of binding regulation,” noted Bragg.

Large corporations are afraid environmental norms and regulations will hurt their competitiveness.

The report’s assessment of Trump’s energy policy since he took office and the forces behind it is also damning.

His administration has slashed the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by nearly one-third. It then rolled back more than 50 environmental regulations, including policies accounting for nearly three-quarters of the U.S. commitment to cut emissions by 26 - 28 percent before 2025. It has repealed the Clean Water Rule, placing the drinking water of one-third of Americans at risk, and approved the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.

These reversals have been advocated and shaped by influential business organizations. For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a renowned lobbying force for fossil fuels has relentlessly supported Trump since he took office.

Simply put, the Chamber of Commerce is out to protect its members, said Bragg. And its members’ interests go against the commitments made by the Unites States during COP21 “But when your members include ExxonMobil, Chevron and other major fossil fuel corporations, that means stopping climate policy in its tracks because good climate policy means the end of the fossil fuel economy as we know it.”


The report also claims that certain companies reject Trump's decisions in public but have been encouraging his administration’s environmental and energy policies behind closed doors.

“Secretary Tillerson's former employer, ExxonMobil, claims to support the Paris agreement and recently even admitted that climate change was real. When Trump started to threaten to exit the Paris agreement, ExxonMobil was one of the big polluters that encouraged him to stay in,” said Bragg.” But it's all a smokescreen, because Exxon continues to fund climate denial and groups like the US Chamber of Commerce that have encouraged Trump to withdraw.”

Only the future will tell if COP23 was a success in accelerating global climate action and moving the implementation of the Paris agreement forward. One thing seems for certain: don’t expect any contributions from the American delegation.

While global leaders are busy debating the future of the planet, you can do your part by getting your local officials to switch to 100 percent renewable energy for the Sierra Club's Ready for 100 campaign.