Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Copenhagen climate summit: companies turn up the heat

Many have already dismissed next week's Copenhagen climate change summit as a political talking shop: long on ambitions and short on achievement. It depends what you define as accomplishment.

By Rowena MasonPublished: 9:37PM GMT 01 Dec 2009

For what could be more certain to influence the course of global political history than a hothouse of lobbyists with vested interests blooming into friendships with key negotiators?
The most furious activity is likely to centre around the most powerful countries, according to Ben Stewart, a Greenpeace officer, who will be making it his business to know who companies are wooing next week – and doing his own share of influencing as well.
"What's different about the UK is that it isn't susceptible to the same corruption as the US political system when it comes to lobbying," he says. "That's why Big Oil won't be wasting its time and money hanging around Ed Miliband. It will all be done through the US."
A survey by the Center for Public Integrity recently found that there are five climate-related lobbyists circling every US senator – four times the number six years ago. Another think tank estimates that US energy companies are spending $102.7m (£61.8m) on politicians ahead of the talks.
"Lobbyists come in many different forms," Mr Stewart says. "Some are in the open, while others are in the vibrant fringes behind closed doors. They can be very effective at killing proposed legislation."
Many big companies will leave the dirty work to their industry pressure groups, betting on the fact that there is safety in numbers if some arguments undermine the strength of their commitment to tackling climate change.
The key Copenhagen Business Day does not list company delegates, but its website shows almost every industry represented by an umbrella body: from the International Chamber of Shipping to the World Coal Institute.
The demands of these groups will range from the overarching to the extremely niche. But the key issue for most industries will be global carbon trading policy, which President Obama is trying to push through the Senate, but developing countries have resisted.
Even companies such as Shell and Exxon have come out in favour of a cap-and-trade system in recent years, in a concession that could mean less punishing taxes or emissions targets.
Wholeheartedly on the side of a tough system, Alexandra Galin, policy manager for the Carbon Markets & Investors Association (CMIA), will be evangelising about the cause at Copenhagen, claiming that for any British steel worker put out of a job if businesses move abroad due to carbon trading, there will eventually be a sparkling new low-carbon position. "Global carbon trading could bring so many new industries," she enthuses.
But for the oil majors and heavy industrial users of energy, there is important room for manoeuvre on which industries will be granted exemptions, how many allowances will be given away free and which countries can wriggle out of promising to implement trading in future.
It is, of course, easy to cast the array of slick spinners for every possible argument in a simplistic light. The Angry Mermaid website, run by climate campaigners, is currently running a disparaging competition to find the world's most manipulative lobbyist, from a shortlist including Shell, the European Chemical Industry Council, and the International Air Transport Association.
But one of the criticisms of the Kyoto treaty was its failure to represent the interests of private companies, or what the UN calls BINGOs (Business and Industry Non-Governmental Organisations). Companies claim that they only want politicians to listen and stop walking into overly ambitious promises that industry cannot deliver.
Organisers of the oversubscribed Copenhagen Business Day say many thousands of companies have applied for accreditation.
"I understand there is much more business interest than there was at Kyoto," says Carlos Busquets, policy manager at the International Chamber of Commerce.
"It's not just the oil and gas representatives, but companies like GE and Siemens who are selling green technology, plus all the big banks looking for business. It is much more than networking – we are likely to see foundations of deals being done."