Socialist Worker

Big business blocks action on climate

Issue No. 1673

THE 'Global Climate Coalition' and the 'Global Climate Council' sound like environmental lobby groups. They were launched in the late 1980s as the threat posed by global warming became clear. A new book by former oil industry consultant Jeremy Leggett exposes how these bodies were fronts for the world's biggest polluters. Their horrifying aim was to fight to prevent serious action on climate change.

'The board membership of the Global Climate Coalition included representatives of the American Petroleum Institute, Amoco, Arco, Phillips, Texaco, DuPont and Dow Hydrocarbons,' explains Leggett. Shell and BP were members, and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers. Coal interests included the American Electrical Power Service Corporation, the American Mining Congress, the Edison Electric Institute and the National Coal Association.' Heading the Global Climate Council was Washington corporate lawyer and 'fixer' Don Pearlman, who had been an under-secretary in the Department of the Interior during former US president Reagan's administration.

Jeremy Leggett used to be an oil industry consultant. But as he grew alarmed at the threat posed by global warming, he ditched his job to work for environmental group Greenpeace. He was present at virtually all the key conferences on climate change over the last decade, and saw at first hand how big business fought to prevent action on global warming.

Leggett tells how in 1990 scientists from across the world met to write a document about global warming. Don Pearlman and the others sat at the back of the conference room and fed arguments to the US delegation, who fought throughout to water down the document. The US was backed by its Saudi Arabian allies, whose ruling elite relies on oil revenues. The US spent an hour and a half trying to get even the words 'climate change' taken out of the document! The Saudi delegates went further and wanted the words 'carbon dioxide', the key cause of global warming, deleted too.

Later, at a 1992 conference on climate change in New York, the Global Climate Coalition went into overdrive. A huge team of lobbyists flooded delegates with unsupported statements such as, 'Stabilising carbon dioxide emissions would have little environmental benefit.' The World Coal Institute put out a 'newspaper' arguing for more greenhouse gas emissions. 'The benefits of increased carbon dioxide have been ignored and warming exaggerated, it said.'

Public pressure meant that later that year, at the Rio Earth Summit, governments across the world signed up to the 'Framework Convention on Climate Change'. But the deal was a sham, the treaty toothless. It had no legally binding targets and no plans to wean the industrialised countries off their reliance on cars.

Some people concerned about global warming set great store by the election of Bill Clinton to the US presidency in 1992. During his election campaign Clinton promised to at least freeze carbon dioxide emissions. His running mate Al Gore made a reputation as a 'green' politician and called for the phasing out of the internal combustion engine in 25 years. But in office Clinton and Gore soon proved they would bow to US big business. One of Clinton's first acts as president was to say that he would only consider a carbon tax 'if it could be accomplished without unduly hampering our industrial competitiveness'.

A few months later Clinton abandoned a carbon tax altogether, and Gore's 'green' credentials faded away. This gave the big businesses Leggett dubs the 'carbon club' the confidence to go full out to stop any talk of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

At one summit Leggett describes how 'the Global Climate Coalition and the Edison Electric Institute each had nine representatives, and the International Chamber of Commerce no less than 16. The International Petroleum Industry Environment Conservation Association sent six, the World Coal Institute four, and Don Pearlman's Global Climate Council three. Scattered among this brigade were representatives from Shell, Exxon and Texaco. There were also over 20 chemical industry lobbyists, there to try and stop the negotiators agreeing to any limits on HFCs [hydrofluorocarbons, a group of potent greenhouse gases].'

One representative from the Ford motor company told Leggett in all seriousness that the scientists had got their figures all wrong - that there was no problem with greenhouse gases and the earth was only really 10,000 years old!

The key meeting that the 'carbon club' was gearing up for was the 1997 Kyoto Climate Summit. A pre-Kyoto poll showed that two thirds of US voters believed global warming was a huge threat. Three quarters agreed with the statement, 'The only scientists who do not believe global warming is happening are paid by big oil, coal and gas companies.' This forced the club to step up its campaign. It spent $13 million on television advertising across the US ridiculing global warming.

The club must have been overjoyed when Clinton then announced that the US would be going to Kyoto with a proposal that meant there would be NO cuts in US greenhouse gas emissions for 20 years. The politicians at Kyoto agreed targets, but they were meaningless. They were set so low that, even if acted upon, they would have 'an insignificant effect', according to a recent United Nations environment report.

As Leggett writes, 'The carbon club maintains that it is defending business and national interests. But the angry tide of climate change will in time wash over economies, grabbing territory and laying waste with the ferocity of the most efficient invading army.'

Key to change

IT IS the burning of fossil fuels that produces carbon dioxide, the single biggest contributor to global warming. 'Greenhouse gases' such as carbon dioxide allow heat from the sun in, but not out. The warming that follows upsets the balance of the world's environment. It is already leading to extreme weather conditions.

The cyclone that has devastated the Orissa province of India could well be part of this pattern. One report states that if global warming continues there could be huge and rapid climate changes, and 'entire forest types may disappear, desertification is more likely to become irreversible, between one third and one half of existing mountain glacier mass could disappear over the next 100 years'.

The Carbon War: Dispatches for the End of the Oil Century by Jeremy Leggett (Allen Lane, £20).

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Sat 20 Nov 1999, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1673
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