As delegates walked into the Canada Pavilion at the United Nations climate summit last week, we were met with a shocking surprise: at least eight confirmed oil and gas lobbyists with Canadian-government sponsored badges. 

From oil and gas companies in the Alberta tar sands to private equity and banking institutions invested in fossil fuels, the biggest polluters are in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt in full force, speaking at government events, hosting their own panel discussions, and being offered celebratory welcomes from Canada’s negotiators and federal ministers (there’s even been cake).

And thanks to their official badges, they are allowed access to the negotiating rooms where delegates are negotiating over the details of climate agreements.

The UN Secretariat will not release the names of badge holders until after the summit is complete, but they’ve been hard to miss. After a photo of the senior vice president of the Royal Bank of Canada—a top investor in the tar sands—and Suncor’s Vice President of Sustainability circulated widely on Twitter, I noticed the lobbyists tried to become more discreet: standing in the shadows of events, they turned their badges around so that the incriminating pink line that indicates they are part of Canada’s “party” could not as easily be seen.

At this year’s climate summit, there are more fossil fuel lobbyists than there are delegates from any African nation, even though this is only the fourth time the conference has been held on the continent. 

According to Global Witness, there’s been a record explosion this year in attendance by fossil fuel lobbyists and executives. With 600 delegates, their presence is up 25 per cent from last year’s summit, a troubling figure indicating the state of international negotiations.

As a new report released last week finds that the world faces a 50 percent risk of going beyond the 1.5 degrees of warming that would spell climate catastrophe, it is bleak that the federal government is not only refusing to distance themselves from corporate fossil fuel arsonists, but is intimately aligning with them.

Here in Egypt, the federal government is taking their cues from the biggest fossil fuel and resource extraction companies, from Big Oil to Big Forestry, while helping promote false tech solutions in an effort to prolong fossil fuel expansion. Meanwhile, back at home, fossil fuel projects, mass arrests on Indigenous lands and old-growth logging continue unabated.

So it’s not a surprise that even though the U.S., EU, India and other countries have been calling for a phase-out of oil, gas and coal to be included in the COP27 cover text, when environmental advocates asked Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault today if Canada would join the call, he answered in the negative.

Turns out Canada isn’t three oil companies in a trench coat—it’s more like eight lobbyists wearing official government badges.

Corporate smoke and mirrors

Being here in Egypt, it feels like there are two COPs. In one, some governments and climate advocates battle over the text of negotiations to make a liveable world possible. In the other, private corporate interests cast a long shadow, and carbon credit systems are shuffled back and forth in an effort to maintain fossil fuel subsidy regimes prolonging the life of oil and gas extraction and delaying climate action. 

According to Indigenous Environmental Network organizer Tom Goldtooth, there has been a shift of representation in climate negotiations towards what he calls the “carbon stock exchange.”

During a panel discussion in the Climate Justice Pavilion with members of the Climate Justice Alliance and It Takes Roots, Goldtooth and other speakers dug into the political strategy being employed across the global North. 

First, there’s the promotion of a false tech fix called carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) and bioenergy carbon capture storage (BECCS). Both are largely untested and low functioning technologies that claim to capture carbon released during the burning of fossil fuels—liquifying and pumping it through pipelines into the ocean floor, capturing it in concrete, or even using it for soda pop production.  

During a panel with Canada’s largest tar sands producers, an oil and gas executive for Cenovus confidently stated that, thanks to the use of CCUS, “we all know that oil and gas production will continue well past 2050.” 

But according to Daniel T’seleie, the NorthWest Territories Coordinator for Keepers of the Water and a board member of Indigenous Climate Action, “[CCUS] is an unproven technology that is heavily reliant on government subsidies, and does nothing to mitigate downstream emissions.”

He pointed out that, according to the website of the major alliance of Canada’s tar sands producers, a proposed $16.5 billion network of CCUS projects they are using to justify oil and gas growth would still only capture a paltry 14 percent of current annual tar sands emissions.

And that’s where the second part of the strategy comes in. There is also a shift toward the creation of carbon treaties that entice socio-economically and colonially disenfranchised countries and communities across the world into selling what little land they have left into carbon trading systems. 

Multi-billion dollar extraction projects and large companies can then maintain the same level of carbon burning in exchange for offset credits. If you have been asked whether you’d like to offset a flight or bus ride lately by a company, chances are this is what you unknowingly participated in.

Activists like Eriel Deranger of Indigneous Climate Action and Nnimo Bassey, a Nigerian activist, writer and former chair of Friends of the Earth International, sounded the alarm on what they are calling the “institutionalization of corporate capture of climate action.” So-called nature-based climate solutions, which would involve using forests, soils and wetlands to capture and store carbon pollution, are being trumpeted at the summit.

In a report released last year, Indigenous Climate Action warns that this will  “bring new corporate interests to our territories such as oil and gas, and other polluting industries, who want to invest in projects to ‘offset’ their continued carbon emissions.” It will sideline Indigenous knowledge systems, and force communities on the frontlines of the crisis to sell their land for carbon credits to protect it from industrialization. 

A panel presentation at COP by Pathways Alliance, a coalition of Canada’s top tar sands producers. Photo: Pathways Alliance

Lagging on “loss and damage” for the Global South

Canada is lagging across the board, ranking last in the G7 on climate action, having the worst emissions per capita of the G20, one of the largest oil and gas expansion plans.

It is also one of the largest countries falling behind in the supply of the life-saving funds called for in “Loss and Damage” mechanisms. This refers to the emergency financial aid and long term support the global south will need to both decarbonize their economies and help communities as climate catastrophe hits them hard. 

But Carbon Brief has highlighted that the gross amount of funds currently allocated are disproportionately weighted towards insurance, rather than emergency rapid funds for events like the widespread flooding of Pakistan. Funding for loss and damage is “not just a matter of justice,” Eddy Perez, International Climate Diplomacy Director of Climate Action Network Canada told me, “but also of decency, dignity and respect.” 

At last year’s climate summit in Scotland, both the Canadian and German governments have pledged to create a new loss and damage fund, but have yet to fully deliver as we near the end of the negotiations in Egypt.

Old growth logging in British Columbia. Photo: Stand Earth

The window dressing of Big Forestry

In the same way the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change is celebrating its close relationship with oil and gas, the Ministry of Natural Resources Canada is buddying up with big forestry. 

The Forest Product Association of Canada—the major forestry lobby association made up of the biggest private logging companies in Canada, including Canfor, International Paper, West Fraser and Tolko—held its own panel in the Canada Pavilion last week. 

In the wake of the logging road occupations by protestors in Ada’itsx/Fairy Creek, released a report that used satellite mapping to expose how members of the association were engaging in logging of old-growth forest deferral areas in British Columbia. 

The forestry lobby used their platform in the Canada pavilion to showcase a new mini-documentary suggesting that timber products sequester carbon from the atmosphere. In climate change terms, this is like stating that your kitchen table engages in photosynthesis.

The discussion was a startling display of scientific obfuscation. They heavily advocated for a controversial process called “thinning,” a process that involves logging trees in areas deemed too dense as a supposed strategy to stop megafires from burning so hot. This is the twisted logic: more logged trees, less forest that might burn. 

They are now rebranding this as “treatment.” For FPAC, forests that have been impacted by climate-change-exacerbated wildfires are “too stressed to live” and need to be “relieved” by logging, claimed their documentary. This is out of sync with scientific evidence of qualitative and quantitative studies coming out of western coastal forests from Oregon to B.C., which have proven that the carbon released from forest fires is in no way more dangerous than increased logging. 

The FPAC video also alleges that logging and replanting practices are “saving” the forest faster than the earth would. While FPAC would have the public believe that burnt trees or dead trees are “danger trees,” the death and life cycle of trees in natural and primary forests (forests that have never been industrially logged) are critical to a healthy ecosystem. Moreover, it is the death of old trees that provide re-growth opportunities for the new ones, while fertilizing the soil and keeping soil carbon undisturbed. 

To add further concern, the panel began by defining domestic forests as potential fuel for “planes, cars and biofuels.” This is a reference to two practices. One is the logging of primary, old growth and standing forests to be ground into pellets and shipped abroad to burn for electricity, which is known as forest biomass. This process is dirtier than coal at the smokestack, and one of Canada’s fastest growing forest industries. We are currently the world’s second largest supplier of wood pellets, which is among the lowest value-use for forests and the worst for precarious forest labour. 

The second reference is to a proposal to turn the forest into oil to replace jet and car fuel, an energy offering being fought by forest campaigners up and down Canada’s west coast. Burgeoning biomass for bioenergy is being championed as the solution to coal burning by Canada, both domestically and on the international stage. At the COP, it’s done through the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which Canada co-chairs with the United Kingdom, the largest purchaser of wood pellets on the planet and Canada’s number one buyer. In fact, it is British multinational Drax who owns the entire supply chain for wood pellets in British Columbia. Recently complaints were filed by The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives alleging that Drax has a monopoly on biomass production in British Columbia.

We have a climate reckoning coming in Canadian politics. If we are to face the climate crisis head-on, and it must begin with getting corporate interests out of the ministries tasked with finding solutions.

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1 comment

Great article and very important look into the composition of delegates at COP27. The cozy relationship between oil and the Canadian state isn’t a new one, so I’m curious how the number of delegates at the most recent event compares to past COP sessions?

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