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The Campaign to Kick Out Fossil Fuel Companies from The UN Climate Talks

A decade ago, public health advocates successfully isolated tobacco companies from UN negotiations about regulating the industry — and now climate activists are trying to do the same with fossil fuel companies.

by Peter Rugh
May 27 2015, 5:15pm

Photo by Paul Sakuma/AP

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Civil society groups have launched a campaign to curb what they warn is an overbearing corporate influence on UN climate change negotiations, which aim to reach a deal in Paris at the end of the year on curbing global greenhouse gas emissions.

"All eyes are on Paris as the moment for strong climate policy," said Katherine Sawyer with Corporate Accountability International (CAI). "What we aim to do is provide the space for governments to create those policies by removing fossil fuel interests."

CAI led a similar campaign at the turn of the century that removed tobacco companies from the negotiating table as the World Health Organization crafted its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which went into force in 2005 and put in place limits on tobacco advertising and warnings on tobacco packaging. 

Related: The Great Recession may have been the best chance we had to address climate change

CAI is circulating a petition that calls on nations to protect "the UN climate talks and climate policymaking around the world from the influence of big polluters."

The fight against tobacco over a decade ago mirrors in one very important way the current effort to shield fossil fuel companies from UN climate talks, Sawyer told VICE News.

"One of the biggest parallels between fossil fuel and tobacco corporations is that for both, their profit motive establishes an irreconcilable conflict of interest with public policy aimed at regulating corporate abuses," she said. "Both industries have attempted to paint themselves as stakeholders, all the while undermining lifesaving policymaking."

Environmental groups, like 350.org and Greenpeace, as well as RH Reality Check and Daily Kos, have endorsed the effort.

The UN has increasingly sought to bring multinational corporations into the fold, including fossil fuel companies. Businesses are now in the "vanguard of the movement to take climate action" UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon remarked last week during a business and climate change summit in Paris. Attendees included the European Chemical Industry Council, a lobby group that counts BP, Chevron, and Royal Dutch Shell among its members.

During climate negotiations in Warsaw in 2013, the UN's lead climate negotiator Christiana Figueres delivered a keynote address at a World Coal Association conference. And, over the past decade, the UN Environmental Program has hosted a series of sustainable business forums alongside the annual climate talks. Sponsors of the upcoming event in Paris include the automaker BMW and Vattenfall, which operates coal and natural gas plants, as well as nuclear, hydro, biomass, and wind facilities.

A spokesman for BMW, Kai Zöbelein, told VICE News the company will be "actively involved" in the UN climate negotiations.

"We are calling for a universal, ambitious, and balanced climate agreement with a long-term goal to achieve global net-zero emissions within the 21st century, backed by national contributions that create an upward spiral of ambition," Zöbelein said.

Related: Here's what ExxonMobil thinks about the future

Representatives from the UN's climate change agency did not respond to a VICE News request for comment.

Mark Cooper, spokesman for TransCanada, which seeks to construct a pipeline that would transport over 800,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada to the US Gulf Coast, told VICE News that the company supports "effective climate change policy that ensures responsible development of the world's diverse energy resources that we need to fuel our everyday lives."

CAI's Sawyer told VICE News that the group will present the signatures to UN climate delegates in early June, when they meet in Bonn, Germany to set the agenda for Paris. 

"Last I checked, ninety-eight thousand people have signed on to our petition," she said. "It is really showing that there is an enormous amount of political will in the US and internationally to kick fossil fuel corporations out of the negotiating process."

Follow Peter Rugh on Twitter: @JohnReedsTomb

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