Gas craic at COP24: Greenwashing a key theme of climate summit
December 7th, 2018
I thought that it would be hard to beat Bord na Mona’s “Naturally Driven” or Bord Bia’s “Origin Green” slogans for green-washing but the Polish coal industry must get the international award.
The COP24 climate summit is being held in Poland’s main coal mining area with major sponsorship from the State-owned JSW coal company and other fossil interests.
The display at the entry to the National exhibition pavilion featured the wonders of coal as a base ingredient in soap and cosmetic beauty treatment, while also managing to ignore any information about the climate and air pollution impacts of the fossil fuel.
All the while the air quality impacts of coal dependence are overwhelming outside the summit halls in Katowice, a city of over 300,000 people.
When the winter fog sets in from the early evening the suburban area has open fires burning like a smoggy Irish city fifty years ago.
Poland has coal reserves to last 200 years, so it is not surprising then that the Eastern European state competes with Ireland as the most delinquent EU country on climate performance.
Greenwashing has been very much the underlining theme of many events at the summit – leaving us with a COP divided into parallel worlds.
There are the big plenary sessions which can be followed online from across the world. However, the real business of negotiation is done in the closed access labyrinth of meeting rooms restricted to national governments working on the Paris Agreement accounting rulebook.
For an observer or NGO attendee, there is the daily choice of continuous press conferences and at any one-time multiple side events.
Much more interesting, however, is to attend sessions hosted, convened or dominated by industry and business representatives.
At nearly all of these events, I found myself the only NGO person present, or certainly the only one to take on the burden of asking serious questions to EU, UN and industry platform speakers.
These events give an insight into the power and range of industry lobbying of UN agencies and the EU, with the ratio of industry to public interest personnel dramatically disproportionate.
Gas for Climate
The European Gas industry is rebranding itself as Gas for Climate and confusingly throwing both hydrogen and agricultural-sourced bio-methane together under the label of green gas.
This was the theme of a gas industry-led event in the EU Pavilion on Wednesday, with senior EU Commission representation on the platform.
There was welcome information on a northern Netherlands’ initiative of using redundant fossil gas infrastructure for hydrogen storage generated from surplus wind, then used to generate electricity during slack wind periods.
But it was the Italian gas industry talking up of the potential of ‘green’ biogas that was so striking, justified on the basis that a progressively increased amount of agricultural-sourced bio-methane would achieve magic carbon neutrality by 2050. This is the exact argument that Gas Networks Ireland is using to justify expanding the gas pipeline grid.
The presenter for the fracking lobby was positively gushing in reporting that the extraction cost was falling in the same way as renewables and that the benefits of gas were being brought to countries that did not previously have it.
Questions on methane leakage and seismic impact were brushed off with the answer that better technology was capturing fugitive methane, and that the seismic impacts were all under four on the Richter scale.
Gas transport vehicles
It was also worrying that at a later event on Air Pollution in the EU Pavilion, an argument was made in favour of using gas transport vehicles as a solution for urban transport pollution.
Just as the EU made a fatal error in supporting particulate matter polluting diesel over petrol for climate mitigation reasons, there is now the problematic scenario that the response to air pollution could result in the promotion of Compressed Natural Gas ( CNG ) for transport with a bit of green-washing diversionary biogas thrown in for good measure.
The effect of this would create a lock-in to an inefficient technology which does not achieve the emission reduction needed for the decade ahead. The EU Horizon Fund has already made a €20 million grant for a pilot gas fuelled HGV initiative in the west of Ireland.
Climate Smart Agriculture
At a presentation on the World Bank-led report on Bringing the Concept of Climate Smart Agriculture to Life, there were many positive initiatives highlighted in developing countries.
Absent, however, was consideration of how the climate-smart brand has been hijacked by Ireland to greenwash export driven bovine intensification where any gains in soil, grassland, fertilizer or feed management are being nullified by increased emissions.
The combination of self-interest and self-delusion makes it impossible to envisage anything other than ‘business as usual’ for both the fossil fuel and animal agriculture industry.
Much like harmful algal blooms with their attractive green veneer, there is a more toxic undercurrent at COP24 lurking behind the conscience-salving green message on offer that we must see through for the fraud that it is.
By Ian Lumley
Ian is Advocacy Officer for An Taisce and is currently in Poland for COP24