The corporate takeover of COP25

The fossil fuel presence at the U.N. climate talks is out of control, Corporate Accountability's Taylor Billings reports.

Hello friends, happy Wednesday! A quick note before today’s main item.

I’m in San Francisco, California this week attending the Substack Fellowship For Independent Writers. This fellowship is helping me figure out how to better create and serve this community of people who give a damn about the climate crisis, and who want to see real action and accountability from the powerful.

Yesterday, I did a full-day workshop with the founders of Substack (the newsletter publishing platform), and a bunch of people who are way smarter than I am about marketing and community-building and editorial positioning. I met and brainstormed with other independent journalists on Substack, and got fancy pictures taken of my face. It was all really helpful and enlightening; I learned a lot.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that this all-day event meant I didn’t have much time yesterday to put together a newsletter.

So does that mean you’re not getting a newsletter today? Of course not! It just means it’s not fully going to be fully written by me.

It’s going to be written by Taylor Billings, who works for one of my favorite advocacy groups, Corporate Accountability. It’s a group I feel like not many climate activists have heard about; at least, not as many as who have heard about the Sierra Club or Greenpeace or the Sunrise Movement.

But Corporate Accountability deserves more name recognition, because it consistently does the work to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for disinformation and delay. Here is an excerpt from its truly badass manifesto:

Transnational corporations treat our air, water, and food as commodities to be exploited. They dismantle democracy. They trample human rights, destroy our planet, and threaten our lives.

Unchecked corporate power is the reason why our right to clean, safe water is threatened in the U.S. and around the world. Why fossil fuels are pumped from the ground at the peril of our planet. Why our food makes us sick instead of nourishing us. Why our elections are sold to the highest bidder.

The toxic influence of transnational corporations might seem unbeatable…but we prove otherwise.

Anyway, Taylor has been in Madrid all week at the United Nations climate change conference known as COP25: the last time nations will come together before the Paris climate agreement is officially implemented in 2020. The conference is, as Vox explains, “a high-stakes negotiation to place the world on track to avoid the most devastating consequences of climate change.”

I asked Taylor to write a dispatch for HEATED about what fossil fuel companies have been up to at the event. She did not disappoint.

Here it is.

The writing on the wall at COP25

If you wander into the U.N. climate talks happening right now in Madrid, you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve happened upon a corporate trade show.  

These talks are supposed to be where governments come together to address the runaway train that is climate crisis, and curb the loss of life, homeland, and culture that’s already happening as we hurtle down its tracks.

But before you even enter, you run a gantlet of greenwashing ads on the walkway from the metro: Huge billboards featuring the likes of gas-giant Iberdrola, global water privatizing giant Suez, and energy utility Endesa, Spain’s biggest polluter. 

They’re all sponsors of this years’ COP.

Once inside the talks, it starts to feel more like a high-stakes episode of the Twilight Zone. In the discussions, the U.S., EU, and other Global North governments jockey to see who can protect their homegrown corporate interests the most and renege on their commitments to Southern countries.

In fact, the U.S. is currently shopping around a proposal that could protect them and potentially even the fossil fuel industry from efforts to hold them liable or require compensation.

The International Emissions Trading Association, an industry group set up by Big Oil, plans to hold 74 events during the 13 days of negotiations, from their pavilion with variations on themes like “How carbon markets will save the planet and make us all money.” And that’s only what’s happening out in the open.

It’s no wonder that governments rarely discuss keeping fossil fuels in the ground, investing in renewable energy, or promoting community-based regenerative agricultural practices—they’re surrounded by corporate PR and lobbyists.

The process often feels utterly divorced from the real world, from science—and from the will of actual people all over the globe.

But there are signs that what we’re witnessing are desperate actions of an industry that knows the writing is on the wall.

As week two begins, a handful of developing countries are standing firm in fighting for the loss and damage finance that countries like the U.S., EU, and Australia owe them. And the media is calling out the industry’s corrosive role like never before. A quarter million people have called for real solutions through the People’s Demands for Climate Justice. And as many as 500,000 of us marched in the streets of Madrid on Friday night.

It remains to be seen which forces—people power or Big Polluters—will win out at these particular talks. But no matter what, the fight continues.

Oh, you thought we weren’t doing memes anymore?

You fool. Of course we’re still doing memes. As you may already know, HEATED is the only publication on the internet that has an “editorial memeist,” the modern-day version of an editorial cartoonist. We have one because climate change is a crappy topic to think about all day. We need a little levity with our gloom and doom.

And because it’s paid launch week, well…

You can follow HEATED’s editorial memeist, @climemechange, on Instagram.

You can also follow there, too.

OK, that’s all for today—thank for reading HEATED!

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See you tomorrow!