Experts from four continents: polluters are using ‘net zero’ to undermine ambition at COP26
GLASGOW – As climate change threatens people and the planet, COP26 poses a crucial opportunity to solidify commitments that will protect life in all its forms. While heads of state preemptively congratulate themselves on the success that this year’s climate talks will be, millions of people, especially across the Global South, are suffering the impacts of the climate crisis, global vaccine apartheid, and ever-growing inequality.
What’s the cause for celebration among the corporate elite and heads of state? The growing popularity of ‘net zero’ pledges, which are the fossil fuel industry’s latest marketing attempt to convince the public that they can realize ‘carbon neutrality.’ In reality, these schemes are just Big Polluters’ ‘get out of jail free card’ to avoid truly cutting emissions to zero or answering for decades of deception about their role in fueling the climate crisis. Later this week, CEOs of Exxon, Chevron, BP America, and Shell will be called in front of the U.S. Congress to answer for decades of deception.
“Big Oil not only lied to the American public about the reality and dangers of the climate crisis, they continue to churn out propaganda that downplays their central role in the greatest existential threat to humanity of our time,” says Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA), chair of the Oversight Environmental Subcommittee, hosting this week’s Congressional hearings. “The fossil fuel industry’s ‘net zero’ campaign is just one more way Big Oil is trying to deny responsibility for their central role in climate disruption, as extreme weather, flash floods, fires and record breaking temperatures wreak havoc for life on earth. Thursday’s hearing is the fossil fuel industry’s Big Tobacco moment and just as it was for Big Tobacco, Big Oil must know they’re no longer going to be able to lie and get away with it.”
But these polluters will continue to parade a ‘net zero’ agenda at COP26, as revealed in Still a Big Con: How Big Polluters are using ‘net zero’ to block meaningful action at COP26, new research out today from Corporate Accountability, Corporate Europe Observatory, Global Forest Coalition, and Friends of the Earth International. In the lead-up to this year’s negotiations, all boasting ‘net zero’ pledges, BP and Shell have each met with UK officials more than 50 times; Microsoft continues to hold contracts with Exxon while sponsoring COP26; and BlackRock, still heavily invested in coal, is both lobbying the EU and advising it on climate finance.
“Big Polluters have pulled out all the stops promoting their flakey ‘net zero’ plans on the road to COP26, from schmoozing decision-makers and sponsoring conferences to rubbing shoulders with the Queen of England.” says Pascoe Sabido, researcher with Corporate Europe Observatory. “But look behind their vague ambitions and you see a chilling future of climate chaos and continued planetary destruction. These climate criminals should have no seat at the table while they continue to try and burn it down. Why has the UNFCCC not kicked them out already?”
While polluters are playing their cards via governments and greenwashing gambits, this year’s Conference of the Parties is no game of Monopoly. Billions of lives are at stake, no matter how much Big Polluters stand to profit from continued delay of climate policy that can protect people and the planet.
Leonela Yasuní Moncayo, youth activist with UDAPT (Union of Affected Peoples by Chevron/Texaco), speaks from her firsthand experience in Ecuador. “The Amazon, my community and I, our skin shows the destruction and disease that big polluting companies have left in their wake. My present and future cannot depend on the will of corporations. They have shown that they will stop at nothing to make a profit, even when our rivers fill with oil, our lungs with gases, our bodies with cancer, our plants with poison and the air with smoke.”
Without drastic action by governments at the UNFCCC and at home, the corporations that brought us this crisis will retain access to those decision-making spaces at COP, where rules for real solutions, as well as dangerous distractions like carbon markets, could get finalized. It’s impossible to write strong climate policies with polluters in the room—but there is already a strong international precedent for protecting policy from industry influence.
“The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) provides tools that can protect policymaking from interference by the tobacco industry—which prioritizes profits over the health of the public and of the planet,“ explains Dr. Adriana Blanco Marquizo, Head of the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC. “Some features of the WHO FCTC that make it a strong protector of public health—such as articles on liability and conflicts with commercial and other vested interests—may also help to protect climate policy from industries that pose a danger to people and the planet.”
As evidenced by the strength of the WHO FCTC, negotiating international policies without industry interference can save lives. Further, in place of any empty ‘net zero’ scheme brought forward by the likes of BP and Microsoft, there are real solutions that governments can deploy. People most directly impacted by these intersecting crises are closest to the solutions, as on the African continent.
“Africans are clear: we must set the agenda for African policymaking, not corporate shills,” says Aderonke Ige, Associate Director at Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa. “It is we who experience vaccine apartheid and climate disaster. ‘Net zero’ is a death sentence for Africans. COVID-19 remains a mortal threat. Not only do we demand life—we demand to be in leadership on real solutions to addressing these crises.”
It’s time for governments around the world to reject dangerous ‘net zero’ distractions—and boldly advance a plan for real zero, real solutions, and a just, livable future.
- Pascoe Sabido, researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory, on key takeaways from original findings about polluter influence at COP26.
- Dr. Adriana Blanco Marquizo, Head of the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, on legal precedent from tobacco control policy and potential applications in international climate policy.
- Representative Ro Khanna of California (D-17), spoke about the upcoming House Oversight Committee hearings on Big Oil’s historic disinformation campaign, and the importance of fossil fuel accountability efforts.
- Leonela Yasuní Moncayo, 11 year old youth plaintiff in the case of gas flaring in the Ecuadorian Amazon against the Ecuadorian state, and member of UDAPT (Union of Affected Peoples by Chevron/Texaco) on the urgent need for action to address historic harms and protect a livable future.
- Aderonke Ige, Associate Director, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, on the need for real solutions over corporate greenwash.
The event was moderated by Scott Tully, a member of Glasgow Calls Out Polluters (GCOP), a grassroots group organizing for climate justice at COP26.
Speakers are available for additional questions or comments upon request.
Lena Greenberg (they/them), Media lead,
+1 646 620 5344, firstname.lastname@example.org
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