The climate denier and Tory peer whose coal mine was targeted by protesters has been quietly lobbying government, documents newly released under Freedom of Information rules confirm.
Matt Ridley, author of Rational Optimist, benefits financially from millions of tonnes of coal extracted from open-cast mines on his Blagdon Estate, just north of Newcastle.
But he does not mention this vested interest in any of the letters sent to Baroness (Sandy) Verma attacking government subsidies to renewable energy, a commercial rival to coal.
They slipped into place under the cover of darkness. With bicycle D-locks around their necks chained to diggers in the middle of the UK’s largest open-cast coal mine, and arms sealed inside concrete-laden, red-sequined tubes at the site’s entrance, this was Matt Ridley’s Conscience calling for the end of coal – the dirtiest fossil fuel of them all.
By dawn, mine workers and lorry drivers, unable to enter the site, turned away. After eight and a half hours of peaceful protest and nine arrests, victory was declared Monday afternoon for having successfully closed operations for the day.
This is what happens when a group of concerned individuals come together to act on climate change. But who exactly are these individuals and why are they calling themselves ‘Matt Ridley’s Conscience’?
One year ago, 68% of American citizens believed that climate change was real. Today, that number has jumped to 76%, according to a new poll by UT Energy. That shift is not surprising, considering the record-breaking temperatures and widespread droughts and weather disruptions that have occurred in the last 12 months.
But what is most surprising about this new poll is the shift in attitudes of Republican voters.
Major fossil fuel companies have today released a Joint Collaborative Declaration under the Oil & Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) recognising the need to limit global average temperature rise to 2⁰C. Launched in Paris this morning, they are calling for an “effective climate change agreement at COP21”.
In the declaration, ten oil and gas giants call for “widespread and effective pricing of carbon emissions”. Signatories include the CEOs of Total, Statoil, BP, Shell, BG Group, Saudi Aramco, Pemex, Sinopec, Eni, Reliance, and Repsol.
The companies also back natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal and want to see more research and development into renewables and carbon capture and storage. However, the declaration has been criticised for lacking concrete targets.
Earlier this year, Bank of America and Credit Agricole both announced they were moving away from financing coal, citing a number of factors, among them the threat of future regulation due to coal’s impact on the planet and human health and pressure from environmental activists.
Now the Rainforest Action Network is targeting Morgan Stanley with calls to meet or beat its Wall Street colleagues’ commitments by adopting policies to end its financing for companies involved in coal mining and coal-fired power.
Where and how should the public expect negotiations between fossil fuel industries and governments be carried out?
What kind of relationships should exist between fossil fuel corporations and the politicians and public servants who are part of the decision-making process that those corporations seek to influence?
Should reasonable details of those negotiations be recorded and take place in government offices, during office hours? Should lobbying by industry and companies be available for public scrutiny?
When a government awards a licence to dig up and sell fossil fuels, those decisions represent the transfer of assets from public to private hands worth billions of dollars.
With that in mind, you might expect the answers to all those questions to reflect the highest levels of accountability and transparency.
But in Queensland, Australia’s biggest exporter of coal, this accountability and transparency appears to be lacking.
The Australia Institute has published a report – Too close for comfort: How the coal and gas industry get their way in Queensland - detailing the complex interactions between the coal and gas industries in Queensland and the state’s previous governments.
The report, researched and written by me and paid for by the institute, explores some of the close relationships between lobbyists, politicians, public servants and fossil fuel industry executives.
The government of India still owns a majority share of Coal India Limited after selling off a 10% stake earlier this year to raise revenue. Now it’s looking to offload even more shares of the company to private investors — but critics of the company are warning that the company’s share price comes with ties to numerous unresolved environmental and human rights abuses.
Before any shares can be sold, the Indian government needs to hire someone to bring them to the market. Environmental and social justice activists have warned the banks that if they're considering doing business with Coal India, they might want to familiarize themselves with the experiences of the last banks that worked with the company.
The Ombudsman, responsible for investigating complaints about maladministration in EU institutions and bodies, is looking into allegations that the Commission “wrongly allowed members associated with the shale gas industry to act as chairmen of the European Science and Technology Network on Unconventional Hydrocarbon Extraction.”
Despite massive public opposition to fracking, the Commission established the European Science and Technology Network on Unconventional Hydrocarbon Extraction last July with a mandate to recommend the most appropriate fracking techniques and technologies for Europe.
With U.S. President Barack Obama expected to deny a permit to the Keystone XL pipeline this fall, Canada’s oil industry is looking for someone to blame.
The National Post’s Claudia Cattaneo wrote last week that “many Canadians … would see Obama’s fatal stab as a betrayal by a close friend and ally” and that others “would see it as the product of failure by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to come up with a climate change plan.”
The latter is the more logical conclusion. Obama has made his decision-making criteria clear: he won’t approve the pipeline if it exacerbates the problem of carbon pollution.
Even the U.S. State Department’s very conservative analysis states the Keystone XL pipeline would “substantially increase oilsands expansion and related emissions.” The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed.
While Canada’s energy reviews take into account “upstream benefits” — such as jobs created in the oilsands sector as a result of pipelines — they don’t even consider the upstream environmental impacts created by the expansion of the oilsands.
For all the bluster and finger-pointing, there’s no covering up the fact that Canada’s record on climate change is one of broken promises.