If we want a breakthrough in tackling the climate crisis, get rid of fossil fuel corporations from decision-making tables

The climate column: It is time for our governmental bodies to relegate the climatically genocidal fossil-fuelled industries to their rightful role as consultees

Donnachadh McCarthy@DonnachadhMc
Monday 08 February 2021 17:21
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Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology has been touted by some fossil fuel companies as a solution to the climate crisis
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology has been touted by some fossil fuel companies as a solution to the climate crisis

We need to urgently remove the fossil fuel corporations from the climate emergency decision-making top tables.

Rebecca Heaton, the head of policy at Drax, which is attempting to build Europe’s largest fossil-fuel power station, holds one of the eight seats on the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the statutory body that advises the UK government on “reducing” carbon emissions.

The deputy chair of the CCC, Julia Browne, holds shares in BP, Lloyds Bank and Rolls Royce. BP is the world’s seventh largest oil corporation, Rolls Royce is the world’s second largest manufacturer of aircraft engines and also produces engines for natural gas power stations, and Lloyds Bank is one of the largest UK investors in fossil fuels.

Then there’s Mallika Ishawaran, who is the senior economist at Shell – the fifth biggest oil corporation in the world. She is one of just nine members of the CCC’s advisory committee on the UK’s Net Zero target.

The sole independent member of the Commission’s recent appointments board is Sarah Hogg – a director of Rupert Murdoch’s Times Newspapers, a shareholder in Shell and a former director of British Gas, one of Britain’s largest oil and gas corporations.

Rupert Murdoch’s papers internationally have been notoriously oppositional to the battle to tackle the climate emergency. Even his own son James Murdoch, earlier this year, publicly expressed his frustration with News Corp’s coverage of the climate emergency.

So what do Drax, Shell, BP and Rolls Royce have in common, other than their massive investments in the fossil fuelled economy? They all are proponents of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology as a major part of the solution to the climate crisis. CCS has been touted for decades as the magic bullet that would allow the fossil-fuel industry to continue business as usual, by capturing carbon emissions and storing it underground. When I asked the CCC, they admitted that the technology is economically unproven. Yet, the recent annual report to parliament by the CCC had literally 84 direct mentions of CCS.

Meanwhile the huge issue of “embedded carbon” – the carbon emitted during the manufacturing of a product, such as electric vehicles – failed to get a single direct mention, although it was alluded to a couple of times. There were 43 positive mentions for high-embedded carbon electric vehicles but zero for low carbon e-bikes.

The CCC website states that one of the two duties of its members is to “avoid conflicts of interest”. But how can the public be sure that the repeated CCS recommendations mentioned in the Committee’s report to parliament were not influenced by the conflicts of interest mentioned above? And what role did Rebecca Heaton have in making CCS a major plank of its recommendations on achieving net zero carbon by 2050?

The CCC responded: “All members of the Committee are recruited as experts in their individual fields, reflecting the breadth of expertise required to advise on an issue of this complexity. We are proud of the diverse views represented around the Committee table. Decisions made at the Committee are formed by consensus, bringing these views together.

Members of the Committee are required to adhere to the principles of public office. The Committee has a clear policy on conflicts of interest and a register of Committee members’ interests. These are disclosed and reviewed regularly. Our processes for managing conflicts of interest have been independently reviewed by the Government Internal Audit Agency and assessed as robust.”

However, the Committee has an additional transparency issue. In the CCC report to parliament it thanked, “a wide range of stakeholders who engaged with us or met with the Committee bilaterally.” I was concerned that this list may hide a tranche of other fossil-fuelled interests, so I asked for the list of stakeholders.

The CCC refused to supply the list, stating: “We don’t hold lists of stakeholder engagement for individual reports as engagement with stakeholders often covers a range of aspects rather than being focussed on one particular report.”

Corporate capture of the government’s regulatory systems is where an industry is able to indirectly and legally influence the decision-making processes of a governmental regulatory or advisory body by having current or former shareholders, directors or employees from the industry directly involved in the decision-making processes.

I have a friend who was a senior officer in the Department of Health tasked with tackling the lethal health impacts of tobacco smoking on the UK population. For years, they were involved in inter-governmental initiatives seeking to tackle this health crisis. He said that for years very little or no progress was made until they finally managed to get an agreement that the tobacco industry could no longer have seats at the decision-making table.

They could naturally be consultees, along with the campaign groups seeking to tackle the smoking crisis, but they could no longer sit at the decision-making tables. My friend said this quickly led to positive breakthroughs on banning tobacco advertising, redesigning cigarette packs with health warnings and banning cigarette displays in shops. This has led to a dramatic drop of 25 per cent in the number of people smoking in the UK just since 2011 and so many lives saved.

It is time for our governmental bodies both at UK and international level (including the UN Climate Summit, COP26, in Glasgow), tasked with protecting our populations and what is left of nature from the existential climate emergency, to likewise clear out the climatically genocidal fossil-fuelled industries from the decision-making tables and relegate them to their rightful role as consultees, not decision makers.

Then we might start treating the emergency with the serious urgency it demands.

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