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Calling for 'system change,' civil society members hold a sit-in at the Paris climate talks. (Photo: Emma Cassidy/ Survival Media Agency)

Climate Deal Sealed, Campaigners Say it's Time to Kick Corporate Polluters Out of Policy

'We’ve got to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and fight for national and international legislation that transforms our energy system away from fossil fuel as quickly as possible,' said presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders

Lauren McCauley

As the dust settled in Paris on Sunday following the adoption of a landmark global climate agreement (pdf), the question remains, what happens next now that the world has reportedly reached the "end of the fossil fuel era?" And for many, the answer is simple: Kick the big corporate polluters out of the policy-making process—once and for all.

Among the COP21 pact's many shortcomings, according to environmental campaigners, is that it sets the aspirational goal of limiting temperature increase to 1.5°C without providing any "meaningful" direction to how that is achieved.

Countries have essentially been left to their own devices to meet their individual greenhouse gas reduction targets, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (or INDCs). In reality, scientists have said that these individual pledges are not enough to reach the internationally agreed-upon goal of limiting warming "well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels."

With that in mind, campaigners say that the next essential step is for governments to decouple climate policy from those who benefit most from an economy based on fossil fuels.

"For climate policy— including the Paris Agreement—to compel the rapid transition our planet so desperately needs, we must first address this conflict of interest," said Jesse Bragg, media director for international corporate watchdog Corporate Accountability International.

"At the national level, emissions-intensive corporations have shaped our policies in their interest for decades and obscured their impacts on the environment. And, at the international level, these same corporations have forced themselves into every aspect of policymaking to not only influence policy outcomes but greenwash their otherwise dirty track records," he stated.

Before and during the COP21 negotiations, much focus was placed on the out-sized role that the conference's corporate sponsors had in shaping the agreement.

"We must take back our democratic processes and ensure they are working for people and the environment, not big polluter profits," Bragg added.

Indigenous leaders also issued a statement slamming the pact as little more than a "trade agreement" between the planet, rich nations, and corporations—one that "commodifies nature" at the expense of those who live on the front lines of climate change.

Indeed, the text discusses nature as something that can counted and swapped. At the same time, the agreement leaves open the possibility that nations can meet their INDCs through investment in industry-friendly alternatives—such as so-called "negative emission" technologies like carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)—instead of simply reducing their carbon footprint.

As the Washington Post's Chris Mooney explains,

The new text itself appears to empower these technologies further when it says that the ultimate goal is to "achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century." Sources are things like coal-burning power plants—sinks are things like trees, forests and oceans. But the language in this section may also subtly invoke negative emissions technologies.

In a statement, presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders also said the pact goes "nowhere near far enough," given the influence that big money—particularly the fossil fuel industry—has on policy decisions.

"In the United States we have a Republican Party which is much more interested in contributions from the fossil fuel industry than they care about the future of the planet. That is true all over the globe," stated the Senator from Vermont, who is running for the Democratic nomination. "We’ve got to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and fight for national and international legislation that transforms our energy system away from fossil fuel as quickly as possible."

The call for "system change" was echoed by over ten thousand people who took to the streets on Saturday in cities across the globe. In Paris, New York, London, and elsewhere, Indigenous groups, environmentalists, and others activists formed giant "red lines" to illustrate, as executive director May Boeve said, that "a livable climate is a red line we’re prepared to defend."

Now that the agreement has been sealed, Indigenous groups and environmental campaigners are vowing to hold their elected officials accountable and are already organizing what's Jamie Henn described as "massive mobilizations against the fossil fuel industry this spring."

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