Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Greenwashing the Paris Conference?

It is one of the many paradoxes that haunt the climate struggle: the COP21 needs to assemble 25,000 delegates from 195 nations to hash out an agreement. That assemblage costs money, maybe 170 million Euros. Who can pay? Not the host French government, already under pressure to reduce its fiscal debt. So who has that kind of cash? Big corporations. And that's who will be sponsoring the climate conference (here, in French). Which corporations?

  • EDF, the French energy giant, heavily involved in overseas coal production (who will supply electric car recharging stations)
  • Paribas, the French bank most associated with fossil-fuel investments
  • AirFrance, flagship of one of the worst polluting industries
  • Renault Nissan, auto manufacturer (and supplier of electric cars for the conference)
  • Suez Environnement, the waste management subsidiary of utility and energy giant GDF Suez (will manage waste disposal for the conference)
  • LVMH, the luxury goods conglomerate (Dior, champagne, cognac)
  • ERDF, an EU-sponsored regional development firm
In sum, major players in the existing energy-and-growth economy are choosing to direct their corporate philanthropy to COP21. Change of heart? Or just a chance to fend off criticism with this largely symbolic identification with the climate movement? Is this a bad thing? Not if one imagines that serious energy transformation can occur without displacing the corporate powers that created the current (disaster-bound) regime. Otherwise, yes: the appropriation of the Paris conference by the very sectors--finance, industry, transportation, etc.--it needs to confront is not good news. Greenwashing is obfuscation. It may help pay some short-term bills, but it makes the overall task that much harder.

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