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COP21 sponsors reflect French government’s inconsistency regarding environmental protection

COP21 sponsors reflect French government’s inconsistency regarding environmental protection

GDF-Suez, a peculiar view on environmental responsibilities

On May 27 2015, Laurent Fabius, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, announced the first twenty companies to sponsor COP21. Between November 30 and December 11, France will be hosting over 180 heads of States Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at le Bourget, in order to reach a climate agreement to maintain global warming below 2°C (which would enter into force in 2020).

The French Government had made an appeal for donations (with the UN’s backing) from French companies in order to obtain over 20% of external funding. Although COP21’s General Secretariat was initially planning on €165 million of available budget, the French Government seems to be counting on nearly 187 million euros, hence an even more important need for external funding.

The insurers AXA, the French State reinsurance company CCR (Caisse Centrale de Réassurance), Generali, BNP Paribas, la Caisse des dépôts et consignations (CDC), Suez Environnement, the Syndicat des eaux d’Ile-de-France water company, Derichebourg, EDF, ERDF and Engie (formerly GDF-Suez), Air France, Galeries Lafayette, Ikea, JCDecaux, LVMH, Michelin, La Poste, Renault Nissan, and ACI are the first twenty companies participating, which will allow them to benefit from the “Paris 2015 Official Partner” logo for a full year.

Numerous NGOs have criticized the attribution of this label as a means to greenwash the environmentally harmful activities of these sponsors.

A number of environmental NGOs (Friends of the Earth, Attac France, the Corporate Europe Observatory, WECF and have jointly reacted to this announcement though a common statement, according to which “the sponsor list for COP21 includes French multinational companies that are incompatible with the environment”.

According to Malika Peyraut from Friends of the Earth, “the majority of these companies massively emit greenhouse gases, and are responsible for climate change, as is the case for EDF or Engie whose coal-fired plant emissions alone are responsible for nearly a half of French emissions”. Maxime Combes (Attac France) poses the question; “would we trust tobacco companies to fight smoking and if not, why are we doing this for the environment?”

“These partners have been chosen for their compatibility with high environmental standards”, says Fabius. He claims that “all of these companies are eco-friendly [and] are truly committed to the environment”. He adds that even though “a number of companies have been accepted, numerous others (…) were rejected, and it is important to make sure – which we do – not only that these companies do not have a negative impact but that they are truly committed to the environment”, he insisted on May 28 when invited to speak on air by France Inter.

According to Célia Gautier from the Climate Action Network, “what is striking is that the government played no part at all in choosing the leaders of the transition”.

“There is no a priori exclusion” says Pierre-Henri Guignard, Secretary General for the Organization of COP21. He indicated that “The doors are not closed” except for a “scrutiny of their Corporate Social Responsibility report, and their reputation regarding sustainable development”, as well as a “privileged dialogue with companies participating in the Global Compact” (an unbinding international agreement lead by the UN to which companies may voluntarily belong by submitting annual reports regarding their so-called environmentally friendly initiatives). Finally he adds that “in truth, becoming a COP21 sponsor constitutes exemplary behavior in the company’s respective field, being alert to civil society, and justifying their long-term environmental initiatives against climate change”. These environmental impact measurements and controls for companies wishing to participate in COP21’s funding therefore seem rather lenient. According to Armelle Le Comte, advocacy officer for climate and fossil fuels at Oxfam France, “COP21 will be funded by pollution champions”.

These factors are however incompatible with EDF’s recent engagement with hydroelectric dams that have had disastrous environmental effects. It is difficult to imagine how COP21 negotiations could lead to an improvement in the conservation of the Amazon rainforest when two out of twenty COP21 sponsors are shareholders in majorly controversial dams themselves, with a dramatic impact on the Amazon’s ecosystem. EDF is not only a shareholder in the consortium in charge of the Petit Saut dam in Guyana, but also owns 51% of the consortium in charge of the Sinop dam’s shares (as announced in the Brazilian official press in September 2014), as well as the São Luiz do Tapajós and Jatobá dams.

It is now common knowledge that companies such as GDF-Suez (ENGIE)

Alstom and EDF take part in projects with major irreversible environmental consequences in the Amazon and elsewhere. Such is the case of the Nam Theun 2 dam on the Mekong river (in which EDF is a major shareholder), which releases high levels of methane, a greenhouse gas even stronger than carbon dioxide according to a CNRS study published in the August 2014 issue of the Biogéosciences journal. This dam had, however, been presented by EDF as an example of “sustainability”.

These are not the first such revelations as the Nachtigal dam in Cameroon, or better yet the Mphanda Nkuwa dam in Mozambique will also benefit from EDF’s funding in spite of both opposition and the damage they could cause to the environment by destroying the ecosystem, displacing populations, releasing enormous amounts of methane including seismic risks, all of which have insufficiently been taken into account.

Nevertheless, it is hardly surprising to see the French Government making sponsorship appeals to these companies given the reaction of MPs to the intervention of Cacique Raoni Metuktire and Megaron Txucarramãe in the National Assembly on August 3rd, 2014. Although impressed by their appearance, they were, however, on their guard facing their remarks aimed at Alstom and EDF for their participation in Amazonian dams. Mr. Harlem Désir, State Secretary for European Affairs, responded to Mr. Jean-Louis Roumegas (asking whether we could hope to see the French Government “taking action to prevent France and French companies from engaging in environmentally harmful projects and disregarding human rights”) by saying that “the Belo Monte dam will provide electricity for 18 million people. At the same time, it confirms Brazil’s choice to see its electrical production lean primarily on renewable energy”.

This deceiving response, which reflects not only a shy and nuanced approach from the French government regarding urgent environmental measures but also the Brazilian government’s discourse, is being approved today by this decision for corporations that are notoriously disrespectful of the Amazon’s natural resources to fund COP21. This can only be a bad omen for negotiations and necessary reforms to come, which might not be possible without a strong and prompt mobilization from civil society.

© Planète Amazone 2015 / translation by Camille Guibal

Date : 05/06/2015