COPENHAGEN - A vital meeting in Copenhagen this weekend that will help shape the agenda for the most important climate change talks since the Kyoto protocol has been hijacked by some of the biggest polluters in the world, critics claimed today.
Among those attending the World Business Summit on Climate Change is Shell, which has just been named by environmentalists on the basis of new research as "the most carbon-intensive oil company in the world".
There is concern that the big energy companies will be pushing carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a way of keeping the oil-based economy running.
At the meeting yesterday, the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, and Nobel prize winner Al Gore urged more than 500 business leaders - including the chief executives of PepsiCo, Nestlé and BP - to lend their corporate muscle to reaching a global deal on reducing greenhouse gases.
Despite the global financial crisis, Ban and Gore said there could be no delay in hashing out the specifics of how to cut greenhouse gases.
"We have to do it this year. Not next year - this year," Gore said. "The clock is ticking, because Mother Nature does not do bailouts."
The access available to Shell, Duke Energy and other companies to meet climate change negotiators from the United Nations, China and elsewhere in Copenhagen was condemned last night by the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) campaign group.
"The Danish government appears to be under the impression that some of the world's most polluting companies are going to put forward tough measures to tackle climate change," said Kenneth Haar, a researcher with CEO. "But unfortunately this doesn't seem likely to be the case. The majority of the corporations attending the World Business Summit on Climate Change seem more intent on pursuing business as usual - with the promise that future technologies will resolve the problem at a later date.
"Corporate lobbyists have been trying to influence the UN climate talks from the start. But now they are being invited to set the agenda before the negotiators have even sat down. If their demands are listened to, we might as well give up the fight against climate change now."
Six of the companies involved in the summit have been nominated for Climate Greenwash Awards because of their failure to live up to their PR spin on tackling climate change.
Shell is almost solely focused on CCS as a mechanism for tackling climate change, sources at the company say, although most independent advisers believe CCS, which has still not proved itself to be commercially or technologically possible on a large scale, will not be ready until 2020 at the earliest. Yet the talks this weekend and the formal climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in December are geared to tackling global warming from 2012 - when the Kyoto Protocol runs out - to 2020.
Shell has been described by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth as the most polluting oil company in the world because it is allegedly the most carbon-intensive producer. This is because of its commitment to Canadian tar sands, liquefied natural gas and flaring off gas in oil production.
Shell denies the charges. The company insists its tar sands production is only 15% more carbon intensive on a well-to-wheels basis and says it has always played a constructive role in climate-change issues. A Shell spokesman said: "We are an advocate of cap-and-trade schemes and are doing what we can to increase our efficiency and reduce our relative carbon output."
But a report, Irresponsible Energy, produced by Greenpeace and others, concludes: "Using ever greater quantities of energy to produce billions of barrels of otherwise inaccessible oil appears to be a strategy for disaster. It appears, however, Shell's strategy."
In his address yesterday, Ban said: "Continuing to pour trillions of dollars into fossil-fuel subsidies is like investing in sub-prime real estate. Our carbon-based infrastructure is like a toxic asset that threatens the portfolio of global goods, from public health to food security."
Anders Eldrup, chief executive of Danish state-controlled oil and gas group Dong Energy, said businesses faced a big choice. "There are two tracks being discussed now, one a tax on CO2 and a cap and trade [the trading of permits by businesses]," he said, leaning towards the carbon tax. Cap and trade calls for governments to issue pollution allowances, or permits, to businesses that can be traded on the open market.
However, Connie Hedegaard, the Danish minister for climate and energy, told the Associated Press the most workable solution would be global limits on the pollution blamed for global warming, rather than an outright tax on carbon dioxide and other major industrial warming gases.