The hypocrisy of COP26 and those that sponsor it

There is a trust problem about the COP26 meeting, currently happening in Glasgow and deciding the fate of the world.

That is hardly surprising given that – bizarrely, on the eve of a hugely important climate conference, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced billions in road spending, cuts to taxes on polluting domestic flights and cancelled long-delayed fuel duty rises.

But still, that isn’t the only problem about COP meetings in recent years: the other problem is who governments choose as partners.

Polluters like Air France, gas and electricity company Engie and carmakers BMW and Renault were among the sponsors of COP21 in Paris in 2015. Poland’s leading coal company Jastrzębska Spółka Węglowa (JSW) sponsored COP24 in Katowice, at the heart of the country’s coal-producing region, as recently as 2018. The Polish pavilion memorably advertised coal-shaped bars of soap.

We had hoped for better in Glasgow, since organisers announced that COP26 would not accept sponsorship from companies without clear short-term plans to go towards net-zero emissions.

But for some reason, this has failed to prevent them from including the SUV-manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover – currently under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority for environmentally irresponsible advertising after it was the subject of multiple complaints.

They are providing transport for the conference site – using electric vehicles, it is true, but the company is still very much responsible for promoting the massive car market shift towards heavily polluting, and very large, road hogging, sports utility vehicles (SUVs) – a phenomenon which has spread internationally. And they still aggressively market this highly polluting form of traffic.

Other sponsors include food supplier Reckitt, supermarket Sainsbury’s, gadget manufacturers Hitachi, and three UK power companies, SSE, Scottish Power and the National Grid (yes, that is SSE, whose gas station at Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, emitted 1.6m tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019.

Bankers NatWest are also a sponsor. Yet owners RBS provided $1.1 billion to the fossil fuel industry from 2015-17, which makes it one of the world’s largest financiers of fossil fuels, exemplifying the short-termism of the capital markets which prioritises profit maximisation over other concerns.

In other words, any apparent commitment by NatWest is compromised and contradicted by simply being a brand name used by a major fossil fuel funder.

This isn’t a kind of touch-me-not, politically correct approach. The big purveyors of fossil fuels have done their damnedest over the last two decades to hold back action.

And if there is no effective shift in gear at COP26, then it won’t just be the fault of craven world leaders – we should also blame the credulity of their advisors over so many years about who they listened to.

David Boyle is a former editor of Lib Dem News and the author of Tickbox. Read his full report, Polluting the Process.

* David Boyle is a former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate and the author of Tickbox (Little, Brown). You can buy the book from Hive or Amazon.

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15 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 1st Nov '21 - 6:20pm

    Maybe Jaguar was deemed an acceptable partner due to it planning to have Jaguar as an all electric luxury brand from 2025?

  • Brad Barrows 1st Nov '21 - 7:59pm

    …and Air France offsets 100% of the carbon emissions it produces on its domestic flights

  • “That is hardly surprising given that – bizarrely, on the eve of a hugely important climate conference, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced billions in road spending, cuts to taxes on polluting domestic flights and cancelled long-delayed fuel duty rises.”

    I think (when petrol is £1.45 per litre) most voters would think the above was good news. I doubt even the Greens would go into a GE campaigning for higher petrol prices and a reduction in road spending.

  • To be fair, National Grid aren’t a power company rather a transmission company. They do facilitate fossil burning power generation, but only as a statutory function, similarly giving access to non fossil fuel generation.
    Otherwise good article.

  • John Marriott 2nd Nov '21 - 8:39am

    The site of those 27(?) gas guzzling vehicles flown over to ‘protect’ Joe Biden and his entourage was pretty hard to swallow. It’s looking like a case of “Do as I say not do as I do” all over again.

    Someone, who works in a London area airport reported the arrival by private jet from Oslo of a Norwegian COP delegate, who then proceeded to transfer to another jet to journey on to Glasgow. When he asked why she couldn’t have flown direct, she just stared blankly at him.

    Still, they’ve apparently agreed to plant more trees. Good. That’ll make up for some of the ancient woodland that has been cut down for HS2 as well as some of the Brazilian rainforest to cultivate palm oil and rear meat for MacDonalds. Am I less than impressed so far? You’d better believe it!

  • John Marriott 2nd Nov '21 - 9:44am

    Sorry about ‘site’. I need to check my stuff better. Just one more quote I can’t help repeating yet again. I once saw it on a sign in Germany in the 1970s and the SIGHT of it made me smile. Translated it read : “Everyone wants to go back to nature; but nobody wants to go on foot”.

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Nov '21 - 9:54am

    @Brad Barrows
    “…and Air France offsets 100% of the carbon emissions it produces on its domestic flights”

    The French government is working to reduce the number of internal flights by banning those where the equivalent journey could be made by train within 2 & half hours.

  • Yes there is a a lot of hypocrisy, you don’t need to look any further than the UK government… And closer to home you only need to look at LibDem policies…

    And yes, old habits die hard, I’m currently knocking a big hole in my green credentials by regularly driving from the east midlands to Berkshire and back several times a week, because the car enables me to do that. I’m very much aware that in the coming future the world is going to become a much bigger place with massive increase in journey times and reduced convienance.

    The real question is whether various parties are having a road to Damascus moment, or if they are in denial and will do whatever to hinder progress; only time will tell.

    So perhaps, in true change management style we should be encouraging them to keep looking forward and go further and faster rather than chastising them for the past. Finally, the LibDems need to do a radical overhaul of their policies, making sure they are fit for a post-COP26 world…

  • I don’t see much hypocrisy in the examples cited, just businesses wasting shareholder’s money on ‘virtue signalling’. I had thought this article was going to be about the global elites who’ve flown in on over 400 private jets. Bill Gates, for example, owns four in which he makes over 60 flights a year.

    Michael Shellenberger:
    https://twitter.com/ShellenbergerMD/status/1454527588689276931

    The United Nations is using a talking dinosaur to urge poor African nations to not use fossil fuels while providing information to global elites about which airports in which they can land their private jets for next week’s climate change meeting.

    yes, that is SSE, whose gas station at Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, emitted 1.6m tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019.

    Nothing hypocritical about that. If you want to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide then using gas instead of coal is currently the only option. It’s not possible to run a modern economy on renewables. Wind generation causes huge power swings over the course of a day many times a year. To maintain grid frequency and voltage at least as much dispatchable plant is required – that’s just basic electrical power engineering. If you don’t want to burn fossil fuels then that means more nuclear power.

    At the time of writing, wind is providing just 1.2GW (3%) of our electricity – about the same as coal. Gas is supplying 20.9GW (54%) and nuclear 5.6GW (14%):

    https://gridwatch.co.uk/?oldgw=

    A low contribution from wind has been a feature of recent months…

    ‘Low wind & outages see UK electricity prices surge’ [September 2021]:
    https://timera-energy.com/low-wind-outages-see-uk-electricity-prices-surge/

    Average max UK wind generation through September has been 60% lower than the same time last year, contributing to UK wholesale electricity prices printing in the thousands of pounds per MWh for multiple delivery periods across September.

    John Marriott 2nd Nov ’21 – 8:39am:
    The site of those 27(?) gas guzzling vehicles flown over to ‘protect’ Joe Biden and his entourage was pretty hard to swallow.

    John Marriott 2nd Nov ’21 – 9:44am:
    Sorry about ‘site’. I need to check my stuff better.

    Since Biden and his entourage are based in Edinburgh, a 90 mile round trip from Glasgow, your original post made perfect sense.

  • John Marriott 2nd Nov '21 - 6:37pm

    @Jeff
    So, do you think that climate change is a problem or not? If you do, how do you suggest that we deal with it?

  • Am I alone in wondering how any international translator could convey clear meanings from Johnson’s ramblings..
    After all what does “Chainsaw massacres”, “Soccer Scores”, ” “We have a bomb disposal team on site”, “Snipping some of the right wires”, etc. look like in Mandarin, Swahili, etc?

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Nov '21 - 10:10pm

    @expats
    “Am I alone in wondering how any international translator could convey clear meanings from Johnson’s ramblings..”
    You mean you listen to him these days? I go straight for the mute button on the remote control. I may read about the speech later but I’m not going to listen to him give it.

  • Peter Hirst 3rd Nov '21 - 2:52pm

    Stricter rules around who sponsors COP seem sensible. Instead of past actions perhaps future commitment should determine who does so in future. I always liked the story of the prodigal son though in this age we also need strict verification and penalties must be built into the contract.

  • >Stricter rules around who sponsors COP seem sensible.
    Nice to see that Volvo has called out the patently obvious greenwash around electric cars.

    Volvo says emissions from making EVs can be 70% higher than petrol models – and claims it can take up to 9 YEARS of driving before they become greener

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