I tried to kick polluters out of the climate change conference… but ended up getting kicked out myself.
I’m still here at COP24, the UN climate talks in Katowice, Poland (see part one for a low-down). Still deprived of natural light in these bright white negotiating halls. Still flabbergasted by just how blatant industry’s greenwashing is.
The first four days felt more like four weeks – perhaps because no-one can tell whether it’s night or day without checking their phones – but now we’re into the business end of things.
Wednesday of week one. Everyone has finally got to grips with the sprawling complex of corridors and negotiating halls and things are running smoothly(ish). Our public event inside the talks on corporate influence is going well, I’m rattling off a few facts from our newly published research into the fossil fuel companies sponsoring COP24 when I look up. Someone in a suit – who turns out to be from the UN secretariat – has picked up our hand-out, which is sitting on a table at the back of the room. She’s scribbling all over it, redacting all mentions of Poland and the EU, of which there are many, claiming we’re not allowed to criticise them. So we’re in a climate conference sponsored by coal, oil and gas companies, but we’re not allowed to criticise them. Has the world been flipped upside down? She hands the redacted hand-out to my colleague and says if we don’t change it there will be serious consequences. Does that include what I’ve just said from the panel? Either way, I have a feeling she’s not going to like our plans for the afternoon.
If the world’s most polluting countries all decide it’s a good idea to parade their green credentials at their pavilions, all conveniently located next to one another, it would be rude not to respond. So we lead a pack of journalists through the maze, with activists from each country calling out the blatant pro-fossil fuel greenwashing. Staff at the UK government pavilion are particularly furious, crowding around the poor activist playing the role of security liaison. First claiming we didn’t have the right to film in front of their “Green is Great” branding, and then demanding we stopped being so mean. How dare we mention that it gave a green light to fracking! For some reason, them supporting the practice of pumping large quantities of toxic chemicals underground in order to extract fossil fuels wasn’t in their promotional materials, which focused on renewable energy and electric cars. Must have slipped their mind in the rush of pre-COP preparations.
Thursday begins early. I’m organising another public event, this time outside the official venue (natural light – hoorah!). It’s on the push for so-called ‘renewable’ and ‘decarbonised gas’. Another hair-brained techno fix which would paint the gas industry green while keeping us hooked on fossil fuels. I was expecting an activist audience, but someone from BASF introduces themselves, the largest chemical producer in the world and a massive user of gas. It made for an interesting discussion, as they were definitely on the ball. They wanted us to keep drilling for fossil gas, despite the impact on communities and their environments (“we are deploying a technology that will minimise the emissions”), but surprisingly they agreed with most of the criticism I laid out. Or were they just being sneaky, and have since handed their boss a 400-page report on how to counter our arguments? I thought I was supposed to be chasing them around. The hunter has become the hunted.
Back inside the talks it’s officially “Business and Industry Day”, designated by the UN authorities as the special day just for business and industry, with side events and panels dedicated to private sector solutions. Really, every day is business and industry day – every day is promoting private sector solutions from the same corporations that caused the problem. But today is even more special, an officially annointed day to raise visibility. Luckily the youth groups at COP24 are having none of it and organise an ironic action at the entrance. They pretend to be from the info desk and apologise for the lack of progress, “Suuuuper sorry about this but it’s business and industry day… so things are going to be delayed because they’re obstructing the negotiations.”
“If you’re a coal, oil or gas company, feel free to greenwash til your heart’s content; but try and call it out and you’ll find yourself de-badged”
Friday, here. Groups gather first thing to call out the massive loans given by the European Investment Bank (EIB) to new gas projects, like the Trans Adriatic mega Pipeline, TAP. Local communities are resisting in Southern Italy, where TAP is supposed to land, as they know it spells the end for local tourism and agriculture. The EIB is supposed to be a public bank, but for some reason thinks it’s OK to give €1.5bn to a new fossil gas pipeline like TAP.
Later that day a public event calls them out. I’m supposed to be speaking at it, but instead find myself being marched out by security and having my badge taken off me. Two hefty uniformed guards come and find me sat among the computers in the media centre. “Excuse me sir can we see your badge” before radioing to their colleagues that they’d found me. Turns out I’d been caught on camera the night before sticking health warnings around the venue. Think cigarette packets with warnings about male impotence or throat cancer, but instead they say things like “WARNING: a transition from coal to gas still means climate chaos”. Other ones called out the plans to build new gas infrastructure, which many of the countries and multilateral development banks strutting their stuff at COP24 are engaged in.
When I finally make it to the security office (not a simple task when you’ve got the UN equivalent of the chuckle brothers leading the way) they produced the stickers and claimed they’d spend a whole day hunting through footage and doing real detective work. You’d have thought they’d thank me for giving them something to do. Unfortunately not. They take the badge from around my neck and escort me off the premises, with a decision on whether I’ll be allowed back next year to be taken after the COP has finished. Note to self: if you’re a coal, oil or gas company, feel free to greenwash til your heart’s content; but try and call it out and you’ll find yourself de-badged. Or you will if you get caught (surely the lesson?). The plan was to kick the big polluters out, rid the UN talks of their harmful influence. #PolluterOutPeopleIn. Instead it’s me on the outside and they’re free to do their thing. Sitting in the Climate Hub, I read on twitter that a Shell executive boasted to the COP24 Business Hub that Shell helped write the Paris Agreement. That’s what I’m supposed to be in there covering. Crap. But luckily there are still a lot of pissed off people ready to call out the corporate bullshit. The show must go on, just not with me on the inside.