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Issue #1804      November 22, 2017

Culture & Life

Big finance goes to COP

Each year countries meet at the Conference Of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to discuss international action to tackle climate change. This year, the Parties meet in Bonn, Germany, for COP23 – where the host country is Fiji. The UK Youth Climate Coalition has been sending a youth delegation to these talks every year since 2008, to raise the profile of young people in the negotiations and push for more ambitious action to tackle the climate crisis. Naomi Kreitman and Lise Masson write from the first week on the conference floor.

Each year at the UN climate negotiations, we UK youth bring our determination for climate justice to the discussion. We don’t come to the talks with high expectations. But this year the UK has gone above and beyond to surprise us with their lack of leadership.

Barclays have even been major investors in Third Energy, the company set to start fracking in North Yorkshire before the end of the year, although following a long-lasting campaign of public pressure they have begun selling their shares.

From advertising Barclays at their UN pavilion, to dismissing questions on crucial climate related policies such as fracking, or advocating for fossil fuel companies to be involved in the negotiations, they didn’t miss an opportunity to disappoint.

When we first walked into the conference centre this year, we were confronted with a Barclays-branded UK pavilion; from screens to flyers, the place looked more like a Barclays booth than a country’s pavilion.

Barclays is one of the dirtiest banks of all. From gas pipelines in the US to coal in Colombia and tar sands in Canada, they invest heavily in fossil fuel infrastructures. They have even been major investors in Third Energy, the company set to start fracking in North Yorkshire before the end of the year, although following a long-lasting campaign of public pressure they have begun selling their shares.

Yesterday we challenged the UK delegation, which has promoted its “leadership and ambition”, on this – how can the UK pavilion be sponsored by a bank investing in projects that are fuelling the climate crisis?

Their response was appalling. The delegates weren’t content simply to argue that the sponsorship of their pavilion by one of dirtiest banks was an ideal opportunity for Barclays to combat climate change. It wasn’t enough to attempt to cover up this obvious greenwashing under good intentions.

No. According to the UK delegation, the only way to tackle the climate crisis is to work hand in hand with the fossil fuel companies: to allow them to be “part of the solution”, and part of the negotiations.

This ignores that these companies are building their profit on the extraction of fossil fuels, on wrecking our climate, and on destroying lives. That these companies have had decades to prove to us they want to be part of the solution.

Instead they have fought to sell every single drop of oil, unit of gas, and piece of coal. The UK delegation should follow the precedent of the World Health Organisation – who closed their doors to the tobacco industry.

But the delegation told us: “we will have to agree to disagree”.

This issue has been at the centre of heated debates in the UNFCCC space for the last several years now. This year again, civil society reiterated their demands for the negotiations not to be disrupted and influenced by fossil fuel companies and businesses, calling out the obvious conflict of interest in having this industry involved in the negotiating processes.

“It’s clear the call for a conflict-of-interest policy is growing as parties and observers recognise how kicking Big Polluters out will create space for other issues in addressing the climate crisis,” says Jesse Bragg, from organisation Corporate Accountability.

This year Becky Daniels, anti-fracking campaigner in Lancashire and mother of three, joined our delegation to COP23. Globally, natural gas is presented as a cleaner fuel with which to transition to renewable energy – despite the fact that gas extraction methods, and the release of methane into the atmosphere, have huge consequences for the climate and for local communities.

In Lancashire, Becky and her community are opposing fracking plans from the UK government – which has overturned local decisions not to allow the harmful extraction method – and shale gas company Cuadrilla.

We know from experiences abroad that fracking poisons the water and air, as well as fueling climate change. In Lancashire – like all over the world wherever fossil fuels projects are being pushed forward – communities are mobilising to say no to fracking.

New gas extraction infrastructure is being invested in, planned and built, in the UK and abroad. We are at a pivotal moment, and so the conversation about gas is one that has to happen at COP.

At our meeting with them yesterday, the head of the UK delegation declared that natural gas is “essential” for the transition to renewables, and other representatives scrambled to avoid speaking to us. We were offloaded to other team members – and on several occasions representatives literally turned their back on us mid-conversation to avoid this elephant in the room.

“I was enthusiastic to meet UK delegates,” Becky said “but soon realised that yet again the issue of domestic policies was being avoided – even though they’re harmful to the global climate.”

The UK delegation and the representatives at the pavilion gave the excuse that they could not talk about domestic issues – that this was beyond their job description. “We only deal with international matters,” they said.

If so, why do they advertise for a national bank at their pavilion? Why do they provide a platform for Pavegen, a UK energy and data company? And why do they emphasise at any opportunity the work the UK has done on decarbonisation?

It is important here to remember that a key part of this COP is discussion on the NDCs – Nationally Determined Contributions, i.e. each country’s plans to lower their own emissions. If so, the activities of our banks are crucial to tackle. But they talk national only when it suits them.

New Internationalist

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