While the cardinal rule of politics is “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” the funders of the Paris Climate Summit want you to kiss the hand that chokes you.
The financial conflict of interest behind the Paris summit—with about 20 percent of the budget brought to you by corporations—is basically an open secret. Corporate Accountability International (CAI) has mapped out the connections between energy corporations sponsoring the event, policymakers, and international bodies to show exactly how well choreographed the conference has become: back-channel diplomatic horse trading, showcases for “business innovation,” a perfunctory nod to “civil society groups” and a tightly controlled smattering of protesters.
With every corridor festooned with corporate logos, the atmosphere of COP21 reflects the ethical questions left off the table. Arguably, corporations have every right to participate in the summit as “stakeholders”; you could even say that under the “polluters pay” principle, industry has a duty to help implement a transition to a clean energy system. But the idea of “being part of the solution” only goes so far for an industry that essentially embodies the entire problem through its very existence. Since policymakers have apparently proposed emissions reductions that utterly disregard scientific projections, environmentalists fear industry lobbyists could goad governments to further lower the bar.
CAI analyzes four major COP21 sponsors that have seized Paris as a prime business opportunity: Engie (formerly GDF Suez), Suez Environment, banking conglomerate BNP Paribas, and French utility Électricité de France (EDF). These companies have lately eschewed historical associations with polluting fuels and proclaimed their commitment to progressive investment in clean energy. But CAI argues sponsorship deals let “corporations responsible for causing the climate crisis greenwash their brands while continuing to make no meaningful changes to their polluting operations.”