Paris climate politics: Let the corporate lobbying begin

The lobby of the House of Commons. Painting 1886 by Liborio Prosperi, via Wikipedia.

Industry lobbyists could yet succeed in watering down some key messages to be presented at next week's Paris Business & Climate summit, sparking fears the high-profile event will fail to adequately demonstrate the level of private sector backing for an ambitious global deal on climate change.

Documents seen by BusinessGreen reveal how the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) demanded references relating to the "science" behind the need for a 2° Celsius temperature target were stripped out of the guideline messages prepared for speakers at the event. The group also attempted to add a number of caveats on industrial competitiveness and carbon pricing mechanisms to the briefing documents.

The summit, at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, aims to show politicians that many businesses strongly support global action on climate change and want to see an ambitious international deal finalized at the upcoming U.N. Climate Summit thatalso will be hosted in Paris in December.

The event is being sponsored by a number of industry groups, including Cefic, and will feature a wide range of high-profile speakers, such as Tony Hayward, the former BP chief executive who now leads Glencore Xstrata; Philippe Marchessaux, chief executive of BNP Paribas Investment Partners; and Georges Plassat, chief executive of the supermarket giant Carrefour.

The summit's editorial committee, consisting of organizers and sponsors, has put together a three-page document of the key messages to be handed out to participating companies as a background briefing to help them craft speeches and media messages.

Was the steering committee steered awry?

As a "summit partner" sponsor, Cefic sits on the steering committee that must approve any texts drawn up by the editorial committee.

Leaked documents seen by BusinessGreen reveal how Cefic's executive director, William Garcia, demanded a series of changes to the proposed guidelines that sought to water down messages on carbon pricing and national post-2020 greenhouse gas reductions pledges, known as INDCs.

Emails show how Cefic asked for the word "science" to be deleted from a line declaring that leading businesses were "setting long term emission reduction targets in line with the science of 2° C."

Garcia also proposed that the document include a line arguing that countries' national carbon reduction pledges must take account of "national and global competitiveness."

Specifically, he requested a number of changes to the language relating to carbon pricing, arguing a proposed call for a "global" carbon pricing mechanism should be deleted and instead recommending that businesses should call for "meaningful ... carbon pricing mechanism or similar economic signals." He also suggested that speakers should be briefed on how any carbon pricing mechanism should avoid the problem of "carbon leakage" whereby big emitters could relocate to other countries with less stringent carbon regulations.

In addition, Cefic sought to modify a call for the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies by adding that subsidies for "other mature non-fossil energy sources" also should end.

The most recent iteration of the document seen by BusinessGreen suggests the industrial group succeeded in removing a call for a "global" carbon price. It remains unclear as to how many of its other recommendations will be included in the final version of the document.

A showdown at the summit?

However, Cefic's intervention sparked anger among other stakeholders of the summit. One industry insider with knowledge of the proceedings accused Cefic of seeking to undermine the meeting's level of ambition.

"It's supposed to be driving action towards something that is ambitious," said the source, who asked not to be named. "On the one hand we are saying that want this to lead to something meaningful in December, but on the other hand we have a business response who wants to be less ambitious than other groups. Such a broad view is a fudged view. ... It becomes so vague when you try to make the tent that big. It's indicative of a larger issue around lobbying and the influence that groups have on policies."

The source added that while they understand the need for consensus building, there is a risk those businesses that want a truly ambitious climate agreement could see their position watered down. "I understand that in order to move everyone forward you have bring these groups on board but at the same time, when do you draw a line in the sand and say five or six months out from what we hope to be a global defining agreement, when do you just start excluding these groups and say, 'No, you can't be involved because we don't feel that your contribution is going to be constructive'?"

A report earlier this year by ShareAction showed how Cefic tried to weaken the European Union's 2030 Climate and Energy Package, saying more ambitious EU climate change targets should be implemented only in the event of a global climate deal. It was also one of six trade associations to lobby against European Commission efforts to try to salvage the EU's emissions trading scheme (ETS) through a "backloading" policy in 2013. The report highlighted how Cefic's stance appeared to be at odds with calls for more ambitious climate action from some of its own member companies.

But Mark Kenber, chief executive of The Climate Group, a supporting partner of Climate Week in Paris, defended the decision to bring together a wide range of industry groups for the Paris meeting.

"This is something that involves businesses of all sectors and all countries, so I don't think it's right for them to exclude this business or that business," he told BusinessGreen. "The point is to show that there is this unstoppable momentum.

"Although there are companies [taking part] from the leaders and those that are followers, all of them are focused on how to reduce the risks of climate change to business and how to we seize the ambition that a low carbon economy creates."

Cefic’s side of the story

A spokesman for Cefic also defended its contribution to the briefing documents, arguing it was entitled to provide its input to the documents and noting that many of its recommendations had not been accepted.

He also explained Cefic's reasoning behind some of the attempted alterations.

On removing the reference to the "science" of a 2° C target, he said the target is an objective set by governments, which is guided by science, and that Cefic never has commented on the target itself. He also insisted that industrial competitiveness is "essential" for all businesses and "must be discussed during any discussions on climate change." Equally, he said "carbon leakage" was a major concern within the European Union (EU), which is why the group wanted a reference to it in the document.

He added that Cefic supports the EU's new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and that it was a strong supporter of the EU Emissions Trading System, but believes alternative carbon pricing mechanisms also can prove effective.

"In the international negotiations part of COP21 in Paris, it is essential that any regimes that create a ‘carbon price’ meet the needs of the nations in which they are implemented," he said. "This can be a trading scheme or a taxation regime."

On fossil fuel subsidies, he said Cefic wanted to create a "levelled play field" by eliminating all subsidies for mature energy sources. He said it also could "drive the long-awaited creation of the EU internal energy market, inclusive of high penetration of competitive renewables sources."

"The European chemicals industry will be the major provider of low-carbon, energy-efficient solutions to climate change," he added. "It is essential that research and development is encouraged at both a national and international level. For this to be achieved, industry must be competitive as profitable companies make investments in both existing and new technologies. Hence it is vital that national INDCs take this into account as stressed by Cefic."

No harm done?

A spokesman for the summit maintained the final messages for speakers were designed only as a background briefing and were not an attempt to dictate or control the output of the event.

"The messaging went through the normal drafting process and what emerged at the end was a strong set of robust messages which was signed up to and agreed to by a broader group than might have been the case otherwise," he told BusinessGreen. "We're trying to reach out to a wide group of people rather than exclude them."

But Cefic's intervention nevertheless has raised concerns in some quarters that industry lobbyists, while being fully on board with the need for ambitious climate action, are also pushing for policy caveats that some fear will water down overall decarbonization efforts.

This article first appeared at BusinessGreen.