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Why are we letting the fossil fuel industry make the rules on climate change action?

In an article in today’s Australian, Janet Albrechtsen waxes lyrical about departing boss of the Minerals Council, Brendan Pearson, who she claims was “shoved out of his job as boss of the Minerals Council of Australia by those who prefer feel-good corporate bromides and green myths over energy facts and figures.”

These purveyors of “green myths” were, among others, BHP and Rio Tinto who said they had lost confidence in Mr Pearson due to his unstinting advocacy for coal, something Ms Albrechtsen, on the other hand, considers a virtue, describing Mr Pearson as one of the few “sensible voices” who has “worked tirelessly so that coal, a critical source of baseload power, is now part of a wider national debate about getting energy policy right.”

The article quotes Andrew Michelmore, another former director and chairman of the Minerals Council, as saying “Energy policy was all going in the wrong direction in terms of misinformation” until Pearson’s strong advocacy, based on what is happening in the rest of the world, and working with ministers behind the scenes to settle on an energy policy based on the national interest.

“That certainly influenced the government’s position and the Prime Minister’s position,” Michelmore says.

At the regular climate change talks about the implementation of the Paris agreement, there has been increasing concern regarding the conflicts of interest between fossil-fuel industry and the presence of their representatives at UNFCCC meetings.

Hundreds of business and industry NGOs (BINGOs) are currently accredited as observer organisations with the UNFCCC.  Groups such as the World Coal Association, Competitive Enterprise Institute and International Chamber of Commerce have unfettered access to world leaders and delegates at climate negotiations and the chance to influence key policies and decision-making.

Representatives of companies such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Peabody, BP, Shell and RioTinto have unquestioned access to most discussions, are called upon for advice and hold private discussions with countries that are trying to move the world to stop consuming the products those companies have based their businesses on.

Besides having access to meetings as observers, with no conflict of interest screening, the unprecedented level of corporate influence on the implementation of the Paris agreement was formalised in the global climate action agenda, through which corporations who make carbon-cutting pledges get high-level access to the meetings, can organise side events in the “civil society village”, promote their products in a “gallery” and sponsor the conference.

Australia has been vehement in its opposition to the exclusion of fossil fuel lobbyists arguing that the concept of “conflict of interest” was too hard to define.  We came in for particular criticism from Corporate Accountability International (CAI).

“One of the most notable interventions came from Australia, who laid across the tracks, so to speak, to defend Exxon-Mobil by insisting that the very solutions to climate change would come from the very industries driving the climate crisis, making them the key to the solutions for climate change.

As longs as your business model depends on extracting and burning fossil fuels, you have no place helping to craft climate policy.  Your profit incentive is going to keep you from doing the right thing. And, frankly, corporations have a duty to maximise profits – so they would be in violation of their shareholders if they were doing anything but.”

CAI released a report on 1st May 2017 titled: INSIDE JOB:Big Polluters’ lobbyists on the inside at the UNFCCC. The report singles out the Business Council of Australia (BCA).

“The Business Council of Australia (BCA) member base is made up of 127 CEOs from Australia’s biggest and wealthiest companies. The council serves as a “way in” to the world of policy debate for its members. It is funded by big time polluters that also play a lead role in deciding its priorities, and its president is an executive of a major polluter. The BCA has given almost no nod to the severity of climate change, its causes, or the dire need for mitigation, and it supports the Paris Agreement only insofar as it does not burden businesses. Consistent with this stance, it has opposed climate policies and dismissed key targets of the Paris Agreement as far-fetched.”

Comparisons are being drawn between the UNFCCC and the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, under which the powerful tobacco industry was completely excluded from any policymaking and due note taken of its irreconcilable conflict of interest with public health.

As with the tobacco industry, Exxon knew about the dangers of climate change many decades ago and have funded a misiniformation campaign of climate change denial ever since.  Why the hell are we fighting for them to be part of making the rules?


18 comments

  1. Joseph Carli

    Planet-f#ckin’- Janet…This is the problem..we got Murdoch media wankers self-promoting themselves as legitimate arbiters of public opinion on everything from booze/gambling laws to outer-space technology…and as to the minerals lobby having the slightest interest in climate change when they seem to live their lives out in temp-climate controlled bubbles..like those cities we see in the Arab states that sell the fossil fuel shit..and barely a tree in sight..WTF!
    Media mugs like the Planet J’. need to be brought before a Citizen’s Tribunal one day soon to answer for their destructive behaviour.

  2. Glenn Barry

    The tobacco industry comparison is a very apt one, not unlike the NRA influence of gun control debate in the US.

    Some glaring inconsistencies in the integrity of our energy policy debate are getting public airing, the most recent of which is between the National Party and coal/fossil fuel lobbying.

    It never ceases to astonish me that with the National Party’s passionate advocacy and lobbying for the coal industry that they gain election from farmers – those very farmers already experiencing climate change effects like changes in rainfall patterns and heatwaves

  3. guest

    It is amazing how the Murdoch media uses people who are in no way qualified to comment on Climate Chance/Warming. Some time in the future we can expect Murdoch to tell us that they said CC/W is of concern years ago, and set out to represent alternative truths (to sell newspapers and cosy up to the customers on the Right). Meanwhile Murdoch himself has Twittered utter nonsense about CC/W and ridiculed science “elites” and academics ever since.

    You will notice that Albrechsten gives no scientific data about the efficacy of High-Intensity Low-Emissions power generators. Her scribble is all about the lovely people associated with the Minerals Council, who of course have vested interests.

    My understanding is that we have 4 HILO generators here in Oz. They apparently run at 10% lower emissions than our ageing regular generators, which is not exactly high praise when some of those generators are not exactly clean.

    As well, working at high intensity they are likely not to work for extended periods above present life-times of generators. They produce pollution which we know is dangerous to health – and that is even before the coal actually is burnt.

    So here we are spruiking coal to be dug up and shipped by a foreign company urgently trying to get finances to avoid massive debt – and that company is willing to do that (as is its supporters in our Government) at the expense of the population, and ultimately at the expense of the planet.

    Our present Government is currently talking about “cheap, reliable and affordable” energy, but it totally (despite its claims) does so at the cost of cooking the planet over time.

    There is no alternate “science” supporting denier/skeptic “argument”. There are no super technologies which do not produce CO2 but which do contribute to CC/W (AGW, etc) and to chemical dangers (eg, mercury) to human health.

    For the fossil fuel promoters it is all about the money and business as usual. Never mind the coal becoming a stranded asset when no one will bank on coal.

  4. John

    “An investigation of the financial statements of the MCA shows the not-for-profit association has booked revenues of more than $200 million over the past 11 years. Revenues peaked at $35 million, $32 million and $37 million in 2010, 2011 and 2012 when the group was busy fighting the mining tax, the carbon tax and the Renewable Energy Target.”
    https://www.michaelwest.com.au/the-minerals-council-coal-and-the-half-a-billion-spent-by-the-resources-lobby/

    Obviously they need to have their tax-exempt status reviewed.

  5. margcal

    KL: “Why are we letting the fossil fuel industry make the rules on climate change action?”

    For the same reason we allow so-called developers to change the shape of our built environment … and build in national parks, green wedges and other crown and supposedly preserved landscapes.
    i.e. too many stupid people vote for politicians who aim to line their own pockets rather than look after Australia and Australians.

  6. Phil

    I know you asked this rhetorically Kaye – “Why the hell are we fighting for them to be part of making the rules?” but I feel it opens up to a response: I see ample evidence in the ruling LNP coalition’s seemingly irrational support for coal and fossil fuel of widespread corruption – writ large.

    No other reason for this governments passion for coal and fossil fuels stands long under scrutiny.

    Dark money, special favours, and promise of secure high paid employment post parliament are just a few of the ‘inducements’ to run a policy of continuing the addiction to coal pollution over clean renewables. I think there is widespread denial within the Australian electorate about the depth of corruption in the Coalition government just as there is widespread denial amongst conservative voters about the facts of climate change.

  7. guest

    It is disappointing to see how argument about anything is framed by ideological biases. On The Drum an LNP person was talking about the fact that China is going to introduce an ETS by 2020 but was sidetracked by his desire to attack states and their different responses to energy supply. He said that South Australia is a “basket case” because it has a high renewables target and now they have blackouts.

    I seem to remember that even at the time, a year ago, there were blackouts occurring where coal was the major source of power. And of course it was not the renewables which brought 22 power pylons down in high winds in SA. Nor has SA had a year of blackouts since.

    Why is it that everything is viewed through the jaundiced lens of ideology and even when the truth of the matter is explained, the ideology remains stuck as if it was an “alternative truth”.

    As was pointed out, the states have had to find their own way because the Federal Government is stalled by its internal bickering and is stagnant and devoid of an acceptable plan of action for Oz as a whole because it cannot see past coal as the energy source of choice.

    So it is laughable that the Coalition can try to claim that it puts science ahead of ideology, when in fact the opposite is the case. To see them airing their ignorance and jaundiced ideology in public is embarrassing and disappointing.

  8. helvityni

    Spot on, margcal !

  9. Kaye Lee

    “even when the truth of the matter is explained, the ideology remains stuck as if it was an “alternative truth”.”

    A recent interesting study found “Higher levels of cognitive ability were unambiguously associated with greater levels of support for egalitarian worldviews.”

    Lower cognitive ability made people less able to “engage in abstract thinking and process complex chains of ideas, separate arguments based on facts from unfounded ones, not feel threatened by changes in the status quo and critically engage with new or diverse viewpoints.”

    They rely on “emotional” or “philosophically, historically or empirically flawed” arguments rather than “rational, evidence-based” arguments.

    They were discussing how this applies to attitudes to marriage equality and to women’s emancipation but it applies equally to community attitudes to climate change. Some cash-for-comment politicians and shock jocks tell them they are being ripped off – the whole thing is a hoax – and no amount of evidence will shake that belief.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-26/same-sex-marriage-cognitive-ability-link-hilda-survey/8984744

  10. Keith

    guest

    The Liberal fellow irritated me also. It is going to be very interesting with the steel works in Whyalla progressing towards renewable energy through its new owner. We have been warned several times about the impact of climate change in relation to human and economic costs; yet, did not begin to transition to more appropriate energy forms when first warned.

    An Exxon Report from 1980:

    http://cdn.exxonmobil.com/~/media/global/files/climate/02_technological-forecast-on-co2-greenhouse-effect-1980.pdf

  11. Keith

    Kaye

    Anthony Watts from the WUWT pseudo science site has been asked what motivates him to spend so much time trying to debunk climate science. The answer was not because he believes the science to be wrong as might be expected; but, he was worried about government regulation. The response reminds me of teenagers who are not able to learn vicariously.

  12. Zathras

    Science Historian Naomi Oreskes explains most of this in her book “Merchants of Doubt”.

    Not only does she detail the methods used to “blur the science” by the tobacco industry she names the people behind it and some turn out to be now behind the climate denialist movement.

    Likewise the DDT and acid rain defence campaigns were planned but their pockets were not deep enough (although DDT is still waiting to make a comeback).

    People seemed willing to accept there was a human-induced hole in the ozone layer not so long ago but there was no real attempt to challenge the science because the (chemical) industry that created the problem also provided the solution, so there was no significant cost. The fossil fuel industry is different and has much more at stake.

    Behind it all is simply the intention by some to make as much money as possible as quickly as they can and without consideration for long-term consequences.

    Even now, Trump alleges the asbestos scare is the result of US mobsters trying to create a criminal asbestos removal industry for themselves so don’t expect any political support for anything that gets in the way of corporate or individual profit.

  13. Andrew Smith

    This issue has been cooking away for a couple of generations with a key PR point or line in the sand being the Club of Rome CoR with it’s ‘Limits to Growth’ ideology masquerading as science. The CoR was hosted on the Rockefeller estate (founders of Standard Oil/Exxon Mobil etc.), sponsored by VW and Fiat; while nowadays Rockies pretend to have had nothing to do with it and even dog whistle the CoR via PR types….. (ditto their share holdings in Exxon Mobil etc.).

    The CoR allowed these oligarch influencers to present as ‘liberal and environmental’ while cooking up strategies to avoid being the same….

    From science journalist Fred Pearce:

    ‘The “population bomb” is creeping back onto the environmental agenda. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Paul Ehrlich wrote his book of that name and the Club of Rome produced computer simulations of a resources crisis in Limits to Growth, population was the number one environmental issue. Only strict birth control could prevent doomsday.’

    http://e360.yale.edu/features/the_population_bomb_has_it_been_defused

    Pearce also quotes an anthropologist Eric Ross on the CoR ‘it embodies all of the cardinal qualities of cold war Malthusian thinking: it is anti-socialist, anti-democratic and eugenic’ in his well researched book ‘The Coming Population Crash and our Planet’s Surprising Future’ 2010 Beacon Press.

    One of Ehlrich’s old muckers at zero population growth ZPG (supported again by Rockefeller and Ford Foundations) John Tanton, an admirer of the white Australia policy and described as the ‘racist architect of the modern anti-immigration movement’ by the Southern Poverty Legal Center SPLC. Tanton’s aims, in his own words were:

    ‘”I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” – Dec. 10, 1993, letter to the late Garrett Hardin, a controversial ecology professor.’

    https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/john-tanton

    The same thinking and messaging was transmitted through veiled attacks on science, universities, etc. as part of new architecture for political media aka FreedomWorks as outlined by Jane Mayer i.e. produce right research outcomes in a university, offer to compliant busy media to transmit, lobby MPs directly and encourage nativist grass roots word of mouth, micro parties etc.

    At best it gridlocks parliamentary democracy precluding analysis and good policy development on e.g. environmental regulation, media competition, renewable energy, public transport, urban design etc.; in the US similar but other issues too e.g. gun control.

    Worse, in Australia a friend with the Greens drives an up market car on solo commute to work with all the benefits of tax breaks or fringe benefits, cannot explain their policies on transport, taxes or immigration; when he hits congestion on the roads at peak hour he blames ‘immigrants’ (even though an immigrant from the UK…), not unlike Nigel Farage. It’s a whacko world out there…..

  14. stephengb2014

    It seems to me that the commentary policy of the Right side of politics is to just claim the exact opposite of reality.

    I have given up trying to suggest anything different to the Right (when you keep bashing your head against the wall at some point your head is going to hurt)!

    The trouble is that, this is probably the precise aim of their policy.

    S G B

  15. totaram

    Andrew Smith: It is indeed a whacko world out there, when you can accuse Club of Rome of being “racist”, and suggesting that population growth is not a problem. You are aware I am sure that if the entire population of the earth were to live the way the average US citizen does, the planet would suffer a system collapse.

    And fake news? This person is not “with the Greens” as you put it, when he cannot even explain a simple policy of theirs. The “upmarket car” might be a hybrid or even a Tesla for all you know.

    “Worse, in Australia a friend with the Greens drives an up market car on solo commute to work with all the benefits of tax breaks or fringe benefits, cannot explain their policies on transport, taxes or immigration; when he hits congestion on the roads at peak hour he blames ‘immigrants’ (even though an immigrant from the UK…), not unlike Nigel Farage. It’s a whacko world out there…..”

  16. Kyran

    Whether it’s conflict of interest, cronyism, nepotism, whatever, there seems to be little doubt that the ultimate loser is the people. Whilst your article demonstrates an undue influence on the UN, we no longer lose any sleep over the blatant protection afforded vested interests in this country.

    “A new report shines a critical light on the links between mining companies, lobbyists and politicians, pointing to the Indian mining giant Adani as an example of how a company with a questionable record overseas can still gain mining approval in Australia.
    It warns the political mining complex in Australia’s two biggest mining states, Western Australian and Queensland, is “susceptible to corruption” due to key weaknesses in their approvals regimes, including inadequate due diligence investigation into the companies and individuals applying for mining leases.
    It also criticises the “revolving doors” of personnel between government and industry broadly, and political donations regimes.”

    “It highlights the “revolving doors” of personnel between government and industry as a risk in Australia generally.
    It points out 191 of 538 lobbyists (35.5%) registered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, as of September 2016, were former government representatives.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/oct/04/mining-companies-links-with-politicians-susceptible-to-corruption-report

    Just in the off chance you missed our A-G’s contribution last week.

    “The names of the 9 new appointments and 23 re-appointments to seven year terms on the powerful Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) was released on Friday at 4.35pm, when most of Australia had already knocked off work for the football grand final weekend.”

    “Six out of 23 of the senior full-time members on the AAT, that is more than 26 per cent, have identified Liberal links.”

    https://www.buzzfeed.com/aliceworkman/jobs-for-da-boiz-and-some-women

    The article lends more than a little reason to query the process. Whilst it would be unfair to suggest that all of the appointments are based on ‘pedigree’ rather than ‘merit’, that such a suggestion can be easily prosecuted is cause for considerable concern.
    We used to have independent tribunals making these appointments. Can anyone remember the reason for changing it to this partisan ad-hoc process?
    “Why the hell are we fighting for them to be part of making the rules?”
    Indeed.
    The link for the TIA Report (which I haven’t read yet) is here.

    http://transparency.org.au/our-work/mining-for-sustainable-development/mining-in-australia/

    Thank you Ms Lee and commenters. Take care

  17. Andrew Smith

    totaram

    Can you explain the Club of Rome and related theories and/or constructs adopted or developed?

    I did not go looking for it, it fell in my lap. A professor of management (who’d studied in US) presented a video in a management seminar in Europe to a diverse international audience of mostly professionals; Herman Daly’s ‘steady-state economy’ within the context of the Club of Rome.

    Think this is the same video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mcKCjfKrUA and many more like it, especially using unrelated academics to present same theory, but for a younger audience.

    The reaction from participants (first was that Daly presents like a ‘good old boy’), the professor did warn of heated discussion, many of African or Asian nationality were in angry silence and/or walking out, why?

    The theory is a mix of Malthus, Ricardo, Smith, Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’, Ehrich’s (the butterfly expert) ‘Population Bomb’ et al., proposes the primacy of the nation state, border control, zero economic growth, visa/immigration restrictions, ignore services, withdraw from trade agreements or blocs and supranational bodies; aka Brexit and Trump. The one that got participants was the demand that they stay in their own country, no need for them to migrate….. seeing the reaction the professor, quite embarrassed, then apologised for and explained ‘astro turfing’.

    Daly’s and Club of Rome theories are basically socialism for the top 1% including global oligarchs who have integrated with nation states and their political/media establishment to shape and influence policy; while the 99% of lower orders have to compete due to neo-liberalism and/or ‘immigrants’, and follow orders from authority.

    Related, I’m not against Greens, they are a broad church, but one is sceptical of prospective and actual MPs who avoid science based evidence (because they are illiterate?), hence I’m uneasy with Bob Brown’s quasi colonial views demanding that ‘immigrants’ i.e. mostly international students from Asia, return home. Would he ever suggest that to Europeans, British or the significant numbers of Australians trying to work and/or live elsewhere? No, none of his business.

    Meanwhile the person in the Greens is a friend, drives a brand new Baider Meinhof Wagen (BMW), thinks Australians are all stupid (dual Oz/UK) and complains openly about how ‘brown people are going to outnumber white people’.

    Meanwhile, as I have asked the Greens friend, why is there never any discouragement from using fossil fuels, cars etc. nor encouragement to walk and cycle more, by Australian media and politicians

  18. Max Gross

    Wilful sabotage for the sake of squeezing out that extra buck…

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