Friday, October 29, 2010

Corporate power bleeds Canada dry

Barely noticed by most media outlets, top corporations are finding ways to assert their control over policies nominally designed to serve public interests. Unglamorous trade talks between the European Union and Canada offer a prime example of the headway they are making. Since their launch in Prague last year, these negotiations have largely followed an agenda drawn up by the European Services Forum (ESF). Bringing together Goldman Sachs, IBM, Vodafone and Deutsche Bank, the ESF is determined to usher in a trans-Atlantic investment regime where elected institutions play second fiddle to unaccountable chief executives.

The forum’s principal recommendation is that an EU-Canada trade deal should be modelled on the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). More specifically, it wants chapter 11 of NAFTA to be copied and pasted into an EU-Canada accord. That chapter facilitates private firms to sue any of the three governments that signed NAFTA – the US, Canada or Mexico – if obstacles to making profits are encountered. The courts of arbitration provided for by the chapter can issue legally binding verdicts after hearings held in camera. If the ESF has its way, firms would also be able to put the European Union in the dock.

The likely implications of the ESF’s demands can be foreseen by examining the case law for NAFTA. When an American waste management company called Metalclad was ordered to cease building a toxic dump in Mexico during the 1990s, it initiated proceedings against the Mexican government. Even though there were sound reasons – for protecting human health and preventing soil and water pollution - why Metalclad had been told to stop work on a site that was already contaminated, a NAFTA tribunal found that Mexico had failed to ensure there was a “clear, transparent and predictable framework for foreign investors.” And so Metalclad was awarded almost $17million.

The EU-Canada talks cannot be viewed in isolation from a discussion taking place among Brussels officials about how imports of tar sands from the Canadian province of Alberta should be regulated. Last year a European Commission paper proposing revisions to an EU fuel quality law stated that petrol derived from tar sands would have a 20% greater effect on the climate than conventional petrol. But this warning was removed from later versions of the paper after Ross Hornby, Canada’s ambassador to the EU, objected. Hornby signalled that Canada would retaliate if a “barrier” to trade in tar sands was erected.

Should the EU-Canada trade deal be tailored to satisfy big business, Shell and other energy companies could litigate against measures that impede them from selling tar sands. And so the EU would be giving its tacit blessing to the large-scale vandalism being planned in Alberta, where an expansive boreal forest – one quarter of the world’s remaining undisturbed forest – is under threat. Operations that encroach into this ecosystem will not only harm bears, caribou and lynx but the First Nations communities, who are already suffering heightened incidences of cancer because of exposure to naphthenic acid, a constituent of petroleum that becomes concentrated in the hot water required to process tar sands.

Similarly, it is conceivable that Europe’s restrictions on genetically modified (GM) foods could be one of the first targets of aggrieved corporations once the EU-Canada deal comes into effect. Whereas the planting of GM crops can only be authorised in the EU after their probable ecological consequences have been assessed, the safeguards in Canada are considerably less robust. Last year SmartStax, a new corn designed by Monsanto and Dow Chemicals to resist a variety of different pesticides, was authorised in Canada without having to go through the health and environment checks required in Europe.

As its contribution to the trade talks, Monsanto’s Canadian subsidiary has advocated that the EU and Canada would recognise each other’s standards, rather than having to introduce anything more rigorous than those currently in place. This position has been endorsed by the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business, an influential lobby group in both Brussels and Ottawa.

The strategy being pursued by the captains of industry is all the more troubling, when one considers that they are sneakily trying to attain objectives that have been rejected by separate international fora. In a triumph for the so-called anti-globalisation movement, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) was shelved in the late 1990s. Discussed at the level of the World Trade Organisation, that treaty was also designed to give corporations the power to counter green or social rules they regarded as pesky.

Recently, however, a letter signed by prominent writers and activists such as Naomi Klein, Susan George and José Bové (now a French MEP) dubbed the draft EU-Canada agreement a “carbon copy” of the MAI. Both contain the same “judicial monstrosity”, the letter noted.

Often the EU’s representatives seek to portray themselves as slightly more progressive than their north American peers by bragging of how they have set deeper targets for greenhouse gas reductions or of how they are committed to maintaining a “social market” economy. Yet in reality, they are just as ideologically blinkered as Stephen Harper and his right-wing government in Canada. It was the European side, for example, which insisted that public procurement markets at both federal and provincial levels in Canada should be opened up to European competitors. Although Canada’s 10 provincial governments were not party to the NAFTA talks, they are participating in the trade discussions with the EU.

In the past few weeks, the EU has complained about entirely reasonable efforts by the Montreal authorities to ensure that new trains for its subway were made in Quebec. If the EU’s arm-twisting pays off, it will be illegal for such tenders to contain “buy local” caveats in the future, while a range of other vital services – including healthcare and water – will be opened to competition. Michael Moore’s film “Sicko” indicated that politicians across the political spectrum in Canada regarded access to affordable healthcare as a basic right. That right would be harder to protect once the business of keeping people alive is handed over to the private insurance industry.

The EU-Canada talks should be viewed against the backdrop of the wider external trade policy being pursued by the European Commission. In 2006, Peter Mandelson, then the EU’s trade chief, published a strategy known as Global Europe. It committed the Union to attack relentlessly any obstacles encountered by corporations doing business abroad. Brussels officials have had no qualms about seeking counsel from some of the least ethical players in the marketplace. When the Commission held a conference in 2008 to evaluate the first two years of Global Europe, the vehicle-maker Caterpillar was invited to thunder against air pollution standards it felt should not apply to its products. None of the conference speakers saw fit to query if Caterpillar, provider of the specially designed bulldozers that Israel uses to demolish Palestinian homes, was a suitable source of advice.

During November, a follow-up paper to Global Europe will be published by the current EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht. It is expected that this will recommend sticking to the objectives set by Mandelson, though to enlarge the geographical focus of trade policy. With a free trade agreement with South Korea in the bag though encountering difficulties winning approval from the European Parliament) and one with India likely to be clinched next year, the European Commission is eyeing potential deals with China and Japan.

Heedless to regional variations within its negotiating “partners”, the EU has been striving to ram through a series of largely identical trade deals. At the behest of the pharmaceutical industry, it has been pressurising India into imposing patents on medicines in a way that would jeopardise its status as a leading manufacturer of generic drugs for the world’s poor. Some African governments, meanwhile, have accused the EU of trying to bully them into accepting liberalisation plans they regard as inimical to their economic development. And the Union has gone ahead and finalised a free trade agreement with Colombia, despite receiving voluminous evidence from human rights watchdogs documenting how the Bogota authorities have connived in numerous violent attacks on trade unionists.

Back in 1999, protesters fighting the ‘Battle of Seattle’ raised many awkward questions about how the rules of world commerce had been rigged to benefit the super-rich. Global trade talks have been at a standstill for most of the subsequent decade, yet that doesn’t mean the rigging has stopped. Rather, it is taking place in a greater number of venues, making resistance to it increasingly difficult, yet no less urgent.

·First published by openDemocracy (, 29 October 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

My 'date' with Angela Merkel: let's see how multiculturalism hasn't failed

Far-right politicians may soon need to padlock their wardrobes. Should present trends continue they could find that all their clothes have been stolen by “mainstream” parties.

The xenophobic tone of recent rhetoric from two of Europe’s most powerful leaders is frightening to anyone with a rudimentary grasp of this continent’s history. First, Nicolas Sarkozy engaged in the worst kind of populism when he announced an onslaught on the Roma. Sarkozy’s efforts to criminalise an entire ethnic group proved that he is not averse to stoking the flames of racism in order to appear tougher than the Front National (at a time when a successor to Jean-Marie Le Pen is being chosen).

Unlike Sarkozy, Angela Merkel does not appear to face a significant electoral challenge from Nazi admirers. But this hasn’t stopped her from directing insults against Muslims that would be considered taboo if aimed at followers of any other religion. During the first week of October, the chancellor told Muslims they must accept that “our culture is based on Christian and Jewish values”. Later in the month, she went further by declaring multiculturalism to have “utterly failed”.

Whether intentionally or not, Merkel has thrown down the gauntlet to the left. There is an onus on everyone who regards himself or herself as egalitarian to counter her bigotry. I’m not advocating that we respond with a misty-eyed “United Colours of Benetton” view of diversity but that we shatter the myths she is so busy propagating.

Myth number one: multiculturalism has failed. Yes, it is easy to find districts in many cities and towns where there is tension between different ethnic groups. But there are even more cases where a minority has enriched a city by creating an ambience that is vibrant and exciting. If Merkel doesn’t believe me, I’ll gladly take her for a drink in Matongé, the African quarter of Brussels, when she jets in for this week’s EU summit.

Myth number two: migration is “illegal”. In a just world, it would be unnecessary to travel outside one’s own home country to make a decent living. The world we have today is far from just – not least because European governments are committed to defending an economic system that widens global inequalities. As long as this system remains, the poor will have little choice than to migrate. There is nothing criminal about this.

Myth number three: Europe is “overrun” by asylum-seekers. Data compiled by the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, indicate that there were 377,000 applications for asylum filed in industrialised countries last year, around the same number as 2008. It is telling that the top countries of origin for asylum-seekers were Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries occupied by the US and its European allies. If we want fewer asylum-seekers, let’s have fewer wars.

Myth number four: Europe is based on Christian and Jewish values. As Muslims have lived in Western Europe since the eighth century, those who try to airbrush Islam out of our history have concocted an intellectual fraud. Europe equally has long had millions of atheists and agnostics. So how can its values be the property of just one or two religions?

I began by noting that the far-right is setting an agenda that more “moderate” parties feel obliged to follow. This does not mean that I predict the far-right will vanish once its repugnant policies are implemented. The strong performance of extremists in recent parliamentary elections in Sweden and the Netherlands shows how adept they are at tapping into the disillusionment that is widespread in these dangerous times.

The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek has linked the rising popularity of far-right firebrands to what he calls “the withdrawal of leftist politics”. Speaking on the excellent American TV programme Democracy Now! last week, he said: “It is as if the left, being obsessed by the idea that we shouldn’t appear as reactionary in the economic sense, that is to say that ‘No, we are not the old trade union representatives of the working class, we are for postmodern digital capitalism’, they don’t want to touch the working class or so-called lower ordinary people. And here right-wingers enter. The horrible paradox is that, apart from some small leftist fringe parties, the only serious political force in Europe today which still is ready to appeal to the ordinary working people are the right-wing anti-immigrants?”

Separately, Zizek has warned that the future of European politics is likely to be dominated by figures like Silvio Berlusconi, a man who has thought nothing about forming a grubby alliance with largely unreconstructed fascists. This warning should rouse all of us on the left from our slumber. Running Europe is too important a business to be left to charlatans such as Berlusconi.

There is no magic formula for how the left can reclaim the ground lost to the far-right. Doing so will take organisation, determination and perspiration. Clearly, we should address the grievances that often lead otherwise decent people to vote for fascist scumbags. But we should never pander to the far-right. Our dedication to justice is not something to feel embarrassed about.

Another important message is that the alternative to multiculturalism isn’t much fun. I should know – the part of Ireland where I grew up was almost exclusively white. My country is an economic disaster zone but immigration has made it a far sexier place than it used to be. Thank God.

·First published by New Europe (, 24-30 October 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Farm policy will still cause hunger after EU 'reform'

Are you ready for a travesty?

In less than one month’s time the European Commission will publish a new paper on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Like dutiful stenographers, most of us journalists will present this document as being part of a reform process, when in truth it is nothing of the sort. Rather than advocating a “reform”, the Commission will suggest a few tweaks to an unjust and unsustainable system, otherwise leaving it unchanged.

How do I know this? Thanks to the internet, a leaked draft of the paper can be read by anyone who wishes to. I have studied the document carefully and I desperately need a hug to cheer me up.

There is no recognition in its 12 miserable pages that the way much of the food in our supermarkets has been produced is depraved. Last week the environmental campaigner Tracy Worcester was in Brussels for a screening of her film Pig Business. It explains the disintegration of traditional farming in Poland better than a thousand articles in academic journals could. In 1999, the rapacious US meat company Smithfield snapped up Poland’s state-owned network of slaughterhouses. Ever since, the small farms that were once an integral part of Polish life have been going out of business as giant pig factories, where abuse of animals and toxic pollution are widespread, take over. Jerzy Buzek, then prime minister (now the European Parliament’s president), enabled the conquest by agreeing to close down hundreds of small abattoirs so that the guests of his nation would have no competitors. “Natural progression” is the repugnant term Smithfield uses to justify the suffering it has imposed on rural communities.

The Commission’s new paper might as well have been penned in Smithfield’s Virginia headquarters. The CAP, it says, must continue to promote “greater competitiveness”. Perhaps not even George Orwell himself could have dreamed up a concept so Orwellian. In the name of competition, small landowners will continue to be crushed by firms with whom they have no hope of competing, if everything goes according to the EU executive’s plan.

The paper does not accept any responsibility for how the CAP has led employment levels in many parts of the European countryside to plummet. Regardless of who occupies the Elysée, the French government has long been the single biggest impediment to CAP reform. Yet the proportion of the French workforce living off agriculture has shrunk from 30% in 1945 to around 3% today. The more recent entrants to the EU have seen a comparably calamitous drop; in Hungary the share of the population working on farms was halved between 1988 and 2008.

True, the Commission appears to doff its cap to the green movement by stating that it wishes to address environmental challenges. There is no indication, though, that it has seriously analysed the rich body of research on the ecological consequences of intensive food production.

Two years ago the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation published a study estimating that 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock. Meat: A Benign Extravagance, a new book by Simon Fairlie, queries the FAO’s methodology and suggests that the correct figure is closer to 10%, yet there is no serious dispute among climatologists that the agri-business industry is a major contributor to global warming. Jokes about how flatulent cows are imperilling our future by releasing methane, a highly flammable gas, into the earth’s atmosphere might appeal to schoolboys. The surrounding issues are no laughing matter.

I searched the Commission’s paper in vain for some ideas about how European agriculture might become less focused on meat. I wasn’t expecting EU officials to extol the virtues of vegetarianism (a creed I have followed for the past 20 years), yet hoped that they might have looked beyond the steaks they can devour in their subsidised canteens and seen at least a fragment of the bigger picture. Why can’t they recommend, say, a legally-binding target that 20% of all European food be produced organically by 2020?

Nor do these officials appear to have any sense of guilt about how European agri-business perpetuates hardship and hunger in the wider world. Instead of letting poorer countries feed their own people, Europe’s beef barons and chicken kings expect them to grow soy for cattle and poultry on this continent. Not only has this reduced the domestic supply of food to vulnerable communities in Latin America, it has fuelled deforestation. About 500 hectares of Paraguayan forests have been lost to soy plantations per day in recent years; Germany, Italy and the Netherlands are among the main importers of this feedstuff.

Narrow definitions, meanwhile, have allowed EU officials to brag that they are making good on their commitment to remove those export-related subsidies inimical to farmers in poor countries. The truth is that the EU is continuing to dump on the poor. In Ghana numerous tomato processing firms have gone out of business because of the pressure from cheaper Italian tomato paste.

Each year the CAP gobbles up over €55 billion or 40% of the EU’s annual budget. The Commission’s paper says that its payments need to be made more understandable to the taxpayer. From the modicum of transparency that has been introduced to farm spending in the past decade, the effects of the CAP are no longer a mystery to ordinary people. It is the mediocre mandarins in charge of this policy who don’t want to understand reality.

·First published by New Europe (, 17-23 October 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

CSI Palestine: Europe complicit in West Bank rights abuses

A bizarre public relations exercise is now underway in the West Bank. Doubtlessly inspired by the enduring popularity of TV drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the European Union has been trying to glamorise a forensic science course it has been running for Palestinian police since mid-September. As well as being tutored on fingerprinting techniques and the use of chemicals following a murder or armed robbery, officers completing the six-week programme will be given CSI vans of their own, “updates” promoting the course tell us.

It is not difficult to see why EU officials are eager to obtain favorable publicity for their police support “mission”, headquartered in Ramallah. For all of its five-year life, the mission has been something of a poor relation to the other major international policing initiative in the occupied Palestinian territories: that run by US security coordinator Keith Dayton (replaced by Michael Moeller earlier this month). At a time when the EU’s 27 governments are nominally striving to make a greater collective impact on the world stage, it is logical that they should be highlighting foreign policy work that at first glance appears laudable.

The reality is far from glamorous. Rather than helping to nurture institutions that could prove essential in a future Palestinian state, both the EU and US are acting as proxies for the Israeli occupation. Moreover, they are acquiescent in human rights abuses perpetrated by the Palestinian security forces against their own people.

Contrary to the impression frequently created by news stories, the Palestinian Authority does not have a police force that can justifiably be viewed as independent of Israel. Under the Oslo accords from the 1990s, the PA was given full responsibility for security in a region dubbed “Area A”. This comprises six West Bank cities - Jenin, Nablus, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Tulkarem and Bethlehem – and part of Hebron. In Area B – other towns and villages, where 68 percent of Palestinian inhabitants in the West Bank lived – the authority was tasked with maintaining public order but Israel was allowed “overriding” responsibility for security. Then in Area C – 62 percent of the West Bank, including Jewish-only settlements and other areas deemed of “strategic importance” to Israel – total control over security remained in Israeli hands.

For the Palestinians, it has proven impossible to operate a police service that could comply with international norms. Regular incursions by Israeli troops throughout the West Bank has meant that patrols by Palestinian officers cannot be undertaken in any city, apart from Ramallah, between midnight and six o’clock in the morning.

The response from the EU mission (its proper name is the Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support or COPPS) to Israel’s everyday acts of aggression and intimidation has been timid, to say the least. The strongest words that Hendrik Malmquist, the Swedish officer heading the mission, has used on the record to criticise the Israeli incursions is to call them a “public embarrassment” for the Palestinians.

Maybe his nonchalance is best explained by how COPPS is part of what the tireless Israeli human rights campaigner Jeff Halper calls the “matrix of control” imposed by Israel on the occupied territories. Visiting Brussels in May, Malmquist said that Israel is “happy we are there in order to contribute to better security in the [occupied] territories.” Probably the main reason for Israeli satisfaction with his work is that his 80-strong staff, has been assisting the forces of occupation to strengthen their grip over most aspects of Palestinian life.

When I contacted EU officials in Ramallah recently, they sought to downplay the significance of their role in fostering cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces. The officials pointed, for example, to how they have organised joint Israeli-Palestinian training seminars on apparently uncontroversial issues such as traffic management. “We are not in the political game,” one official insisted.

A document published by the Israeli foreign ministry in April indicates that the cooperation goes deeper. Titled “Measures Taken by Israel in Support of Developing the Palestinian Economy”, it says that COPPS has played a “central role” in encouraging and implementing “capacity-building” in the West Bank. The purpose of this “capacity-building”, the paper makes clear to anyone who reads between its lines, is to stress that the Palestinian forces are subservient to Israel. Last year, the ministry gloats, was a record one for “coordinated actions” between Israeli and Palestinian security forces, with almost 1,300 taking place, a 72 percent rise over 2008.

In its monthly newsletters, COPPS promotes the training offered by its human rights specialist Diane Halley to Palestinian police. This propaganda cannot be allowed to mask how the EU has enabled a situation develop where gross abuses occur within a culture of impunity. Whereas COPPS’s original mandate allowed it to support police in both the West Bank and Gaza, the Union’s refusal to engage with the de facto Hamas administration in Gaza has meant that it has been encouraging disunity among Palestinians.

Worse again, the EU has connived in the creation of what an alliance of Palestinian human rights groups recently called “a police state” within the occupied territories. While these groups – including the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Al Haq and the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counselling – stress that most violations committed by the Palestinian authorities are a “direct result” of tensions between Fatah and Hamas, the EU has been largely silent about the abuses.

During a press briefing in May, Malmquist stated that COPPS wishes to “export core European Union values” such as respect for fundamental rights. A few minutes later, a Palestinian police spokesman Yossef Ozreil insisted that there is “no more torture” by his colleagues against political rivals.

Malmquist did not contradict this assurance, yet evidence amassed by the Arab Organisation for Human Rights suggests that Ozreil was dishonest. Mohammed Jamil, a spokesman for the organisation, said that there is an average of seven arrests in the West Bank each day, with between 700 and 800 rounded up in the Hebron area last month after Hamas gunmen killed four Israeli settlers. Torture of detainees is widespread, he added. Methods found to have been used include tying people to the ceiling and suspending them, aping crucifixions by tying people to doors with their arms and legs outstretched and beatings by sticks. One of the victims had a boiled egg placed on his backside, Jamil told me. “They [the security forces] made jokes about him – that he was like a chicken giving birth to eggs.”

On paper, the main distinction between COPPS and the US security coordinator in the West Bank is that the former interacts with the Palestinian civil police and the latter with the more militarised National Security Force. In practice, there is extensive overlap between the two international operations; Dayton has said that one of his objectives was to eliminate any duplication of efforts between aid donors to the Palestinian Authority. As well as employing several British members of staff in his team, Dayton enjoyed close contacts with the two Britons who headed COPPS before Malmquist took up his post in January this year: Colin Smith and Paul Kernaghan.

The extent to which Dayton may have advised forces loyal to Fatah to resort to brutal means in attacking Hamas supporters has not yet been revealed. One thing that is clear, however, is Dayton’s understanding that his job was to underscore the Palestinian Authority’s subordination to Israel. “We don’t provide anything to the Palestinians unless it has been thoroughly coordinated with the state of Israel and they agree to it,” he has said.

Daud Abdullah, director of Middle East Monitor, a research institute in London, says it is inconceivable that Dayton was unaware of the abuses conducted by Palestinian security forces. “There has been no let-up in abuses as far as we know,” Abdullah added. “The fact that money is still flowing and [international] officials are still on the ground makes them culpable for what is happening.”

COPPS has a budget of nearly 7 million euros (9.7 million dollars) for this year. This sum appears small on its own. Yet it cannot be separated from the wider support that the EU gives to the Palestinian Authority, which amounts to 947 million euros since 2008.

Europe’s representatives rarely miss an opportunity to trumpet their generosity to the Palestinians. Although donors are undoubtedly financing the provision of many essential services in the occupied territories, tough questions need to be asked about much of this aid and how it is being tailored to serve Israel’s interests. Few taxpayers would be pleased to know that their hard-earned euros are subsidising an illegal occupation.

·First published by The Electronic Intifada (, 12 October 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

Europe sleepwalks into climate disaster

Brussels turns into a different city on Car Free Day. For 10 hours on an autumn weekend, the traffic that normally clogs our roads is replaced by the hypnotic sound of bicycle gears being shifted and leg muscles being toned. The resulting ambience has a feminine quality; for once we are given a respite from speed freaks displaying a phallic pride in their gleaming vehicles.

Why can’t we have a car free day throughout Europe every week? That would give everyone on this continent a sound reason to lampoon those “drill, Baby, drill!” Americans, who think that they are more entitled to own an SUV than to have health insurance. As things stand, though, the EU has for the most part refused to take the kind of radical green initiatives that are worthy of celebration.

Under some circumstances I would applaud European commissioners who have the temerity to criticise the ruinous policies of the US. Yet I was less than impressed with the recent speech given by Connie Hedegaard, the climate “action” chief, in Harvard, in which she berated American legislators for failing to approve a bill on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to Hedegaard, the EU would be prepared to accept a legally-binding accord at the international climate change negotiations in Cancún this December but dithering in Washington has made such a breakthrough impossible.

Although the US has correctly been cast as the biggest villain in the epic global warming drama, the EU has been far from virtuous. George W. Bush’s umbilical relationship with the oil industry and Barack Obama’s all-mouth-and-no-trousers posturing have created a convenient situation for senior European politicians, allowing them to pose as environmental leaders without having to do very much.

The Union’s emission reduction targets offer a case study in how us journalists are frequently duped by unscrupulous spin-doctors. On paper, the goal is to cut the amount of heat-trapping gases released into the atmosphere by 20% below 1990 levels by 2020. The all-important caveats flanking this target are usually ignored. Did you know that that most of the reductions do not have to take place within the EU? In 2008, the European Parliament decided that about three-quarters of the cuts would be achieved through a process of creative accounting. Essentially, this means that we can carry on polluting here and then “off-set” our emissions by financing “clean development” projects in other parts of the world.

Just imagine that this approach was taken in other policy fields. Would anyone treat seriously a campaign against tobacco where we paid foreigners to ban smoking in the workplace, while we continued lighting up at our own desks?

Not only was the off-setting decision morally deplorable, it could transpire to be counterproductive in practical terms, if recent experience is anything to go by. When the Kyoto protocol to the UN’s climate change convention finally came into effect in 2005, it allowed rich countries to buy “clean development” credits in poorer parts of the world. Over half of the 420 million credits issued until now have related to the destruction of HFC-23, a gas used in refrigeration which is 11,700 more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide. Evidence gathered by environmental watchdogs in the past few months indicates that because the system is market-based, manufacturers were deliberately producing HFC-23 so that they could be paid to destroy it. In other words, a system nominally encouraging clean development was rewarding decidedly grubby activities.

The Parliament behaved disgracefully again two weeks ago when its environment committee voted for less stringent pollution thresholds for vans than those advocated by the European Commission. Whereas the EU executive had proposed that an average van should release no more than 135 grams per kilometre by 2020, MEPs increased the limit to 140g/km, playing blind to how transport is the economic sector with the fastest growth in emissions. Hedegaard nonetheless sounded an upbeat note in her reaction to the vote, claiming that the Parliament is committed to an “ambitious” goal.

This is hogwash. But sadly it is typical of the EU’s entire agenda on climate change. Rather than trying to mitigate the effects of a catastrophe that is already claiming 300,000 lives per year (as Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Forum has estimated), the Brussels institutions have become fixated on avoiding any short-term pain for polluting industries.

BusinessEurope, the employers’ confederation, has been adamant that the EU must not move beyond its target to cut overall emissions by 20%. Its pressure has paid off. Reluctant to do anything that would harm “competitiveness” – a quasi-religious concept in this city – the Commission has so far declined to recommend tougher goals. As a result, the Brussels bureaucracy is out of step with the Union’s three most powerful governments. Environment ministers from Britain, France and Germany have all publicly declared that they would be in favour of a 30% goal for 2020.

During 2009, the medical journal The Lancet described climate change as the biggest threat to human health this century. Once global temperate levels rise by two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the serious consequences will no longer be confined to the poor parts of the world that our governments frankly do not care about. Heatwaves and other extreme weather conditions will affect our health in Europe, too.

By prioritising corporate profits over the future of humanity, the EU’s representatives are sleepwalking into a disaster.

·First published by New Europe (, 10-16 October 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Secrecy over funding for climate deniers

European organisations dedicated to challenging scientific warnings about the gravity of climate change have refused to reveal who finances their work.

Although transparency rules in the US have helped shed light on how the oil industry has aided nominally independent think tanks, the absence of such laws in Europe has allowed similar institutes on this side of the Atlantic to behave in a more secretive fashion.

I contacted several of the most prominent groups that have lobbied against a robust European response to climate change. All three of the groups that responded to my queries insisted they do not count firms selling oil or other fossil fuels as their donors but would not give more precise details about how they are funded. The three groups were the International Policy Network (IPN), the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) and the Danish right-wing “think-tank” CEPOS.

Julian Morris, director of the IPN in London, has argued for many years that climate change is a hoax. In a 2009 article for The Financial Times he described the international objective of keeping the rise in the earth's temperature below two degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels as “an arbitrary political goal”. This was despite how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -– which bands together scientists from throughout the world -– had stated in 2007 that up to two billion people would face water shortages and 30 percent of plant and animal species would be threatened with extinction if a rise in temperatures of between 1.5 and 2.5 degrees occurred.

Between 2003 and 2006, the IPN's North American office received 390,000 dollars from the energy giant ExxonMobil but Morris says that the network no longer takes such donations.

Stating that the IPN's annual income is around 1.4 million dollars, he added: "Our top donors are private individuals. We receive no money from companies or other organisations directly involved in the fossil fuels industry. This has been true for the past three years."

The Global Policy Warming Policy Foundation - also based in Britain - indicates that it has a more nuanced stance than the IPN.

"We don't take a collective position on the science at all," said GWPF director Benny Peiser. "Our members and supporters come from all areas. We have people who are happy with the IPCC, people who are agnostics and people who are sceptics. We don't consider ourselves climate sceptics, although we have sceptics in our midst."

The GWPF was launched last year by Nigel Lawson, a British Conservative politician who served as chancellor of the exchequer in Margaret Thatcher's government during the 1980s. While Lawson has acknowledged that climate change is occurring, he has maintained that its effects are unlikely to prove catastrophic. The Foundation was set up within days of a controversy that erupted after emails stolen from the climate science unit in Britain's University of East Anglia were made public. The emails led to allegations that some climate scientists were manipulating data and seeking to suppress dissenting views. Among those making such allegations were Andrew Montford, who was commissioned to write a report on the controversy for the GWPF. Montford has written that journalists have been “bullied” by climatologists into not publishing anything that questions the general scientific view on the urgency of addressing climate change.

However, an investigation by the British House of Commons cleared Phil Jones, head of climate science in the University of East Anglia, of any wrongdoing. The probe concluded that there had been "no systematic attempt to mislead" by Jones.

Peiser said that the GWPF will present a report on its finances later this year and that he will seek permission from its main donors to name them. Asked to reveal their identity now, he replied: “I'm afraid I can't.”

Earlier this year Greenpeace issued a report detailing how Koch Industries, an American conglomerate dominated by oil and chemical interests, “has become a financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition.” From 2005 to 2009, Koch Industries contributed almost 25 million dollars to groups opposing renewable energy and decisive action aimed at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Among the research institutes linked to Koch Industries by Greenpeace was CEPOS in Denmark. A publication by CEPOS which questioned if Denmark's investment in wind power was bringing environmental benefits was supported financially by the Institute for Energy Research (IER) in the U.S. That institute, in turn, had been aided by Koch Industries, while the IER's president Thomas Kyle had previously worked as a lobbyist for Koch.

CEPOS chief executive Martin Agerup has also visited Washington on a trip organised by the IER. Yet when IPS asked Agerup if he had received finance from the fossil fuel industry, he replied “No”. Asked who his main donors are, he added: “We don't give out that information.”

Agerup said that he favours a “free-market approach” to environmental issues. “I am not denying that climate change is happening. You could label me a sceptic towards the current economic approach. My view is that the current approach on fixed targets of reductions (in greenhouse gas emissions) and legally-binding international agreements is problematic.”

Cindy Baxter, a specialist on climate policy with Greenpeace, said: “Climate deniers have one goal – to create enough doubt about the climate science to limit public pressure on governments to act on climate change. Their campaign has been well-funded over the years by the fossil fuel industry whose very product causes the problem. Climate denial poses a threat to the millions of people whose lives are at stake from dangerous climate change. In the years to come, they (the deniers) will be held accountable for their irresponsibility.”

First published by Inter Press Service (, 3 October 2010