Big polluters and their non-profit puppets capture Africa Climate Summit with market-based solutions

President of Kenya William Ruto stands on stage at the Africa Climate Summit.
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Kenya is hosting the Africa Climate Summit between the 4 and 6 September in Nairobi. In advance of the summit, experts and activists decried the suite of “false solutions” overrunning the agenda.

On 23 August, Environmental Rights Action (ERA) and Friends of the Earth Africa (FoEA) organised a session in the lead up to the event. During the seminar, titled ‘How Just is the Transition in Africa?’ speakers from multiple African nations raised their concerns. In particular, participants called out solutions that financialised climate action to line the pockets of corporate profiteers.

As Voice of Nigeria reported, FoEA international climate justice advocate Tyler Booth argued against carbon markets, which she branded:

dangerous distractions and do not offer a financial solution that will reach grassroots communities already feeling the impacts.

Of course, the Global North interests participating at the summit are banking on these very solutions. In part one, the Canary explored the some of the private sector powerhouses and fronts co-opting the summit. Part two will now investigate the link between oil and gas interests and complicit non-profits shaping the market-based answers to the climate emergency.

Global North oil and gas interests shaped the summit

On August 9, a broad coalition of African non-profit organisations issued a letter to Kenya’s president, William Ruto. The alliance called on Ruto to drop Global North interests from the climate summit.

In particular, the groups railed against US oil and gas consultancy McKinsey & Company’s central role in the summit. Notably, the company was a prominent technical partner, involved in planning for the climate conference.

Read on...

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The New York Times has previously highlighted that McKinsey & Company has advised at least 43 of the world’s 100 biggest corporate polluters.

Owing to intense scrutiny and pressure from the groups, McKinsey were reportedly forced to withdraw as partners. The company no longer sits on the summit website’s list. However, the non-profit coalition that critiqued how the Global North had “hijacked” the summit, argued that this wasn’t enough, since McKinsey had:

already shaped the agenda and narrative of the Summit and that their removal at this stage does not affect the structure and outcome of the Summit that they have heavily influenced

As African Arguments has detailed, McKinsey was a core architect of the summit’s theme on “climate finance & unlocking investment flows”. It noted that the event’s draft planning document designed this as a theme where:

carbon markets will be flaunted as a tool to leverage private finance

As the Canary has consistently documented, the carbon market is a convenient ruse for big polluters to claim action on tackling the climate crisis. In reality, emissions savings via offsets are frequently bogus. What’s more, multiple communities have reported the detrimental impacts the projects have subjected them to.

In effect, a consultancy that has maximised the profits of its climate criminal clientele is, unsurprisingly, manufacturing new means to maintain the flow of fossil fuel riches.

Conservation orgs represent the financial sector

However, McKinsey wasn’t the only tell-tale mascot for market-based solutions at the event. It’s almost a given that the big polluters’ favoured non-profit partners in carbon market crime also grace the attendee list.

Notable mention goes to conservation mega-houses The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

New research by online news outlet Africa Arguments has revealed the close connections between these conservation non-profits and the financial sector. The analysis found that over half of the trustees that sit on the boards of four of the largest conservation organisations hail from the finance industry.

CEOs and directors of finance mega-firms such as JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Blackstone Group sit the boards of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Conservation International (CI), the World Wildlife Fund-US (WWF-US), and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Of course, the corporate capture of Western conservation non-profits is not new. For example, in 2012, author Wilfried Huisman laid bare the financial connections between WWF International and multi-nationals such as Coca-Cola, Monsanto, Cargill, HSBC, BP, and Shell. The long-standing relationship between these colonial conservation organisations and global corporate giants has been comprehensively documented.

Non-profit partners in crime at the climate summit

However, as African Arguments remarked:

the ascendancy of the finance world is newer and comes at a crucial juncture for action on the climate and biodiversity crises.

Crucially, the outlet noted that:

the domination of financiers on the boards of the big conservation NGOs seems to have coincided with a rising emphasis on market-based solutions to climate change and the exponential growth of carbon markets.

In other words, the convergence between the finance sector and the conservation non-profits that are setting the agenda on climate action exposes the capitalist motivations at the heart of key ‘solutions’. None perhaps epitomise this more than the carbon offsetting market. Of course, both the WWF and TNC are advocates for this market-based climate solution.

It’s also fitting, then, that the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity (VCMI) initiative is a partner to the African climate event. Another private sector non-profit lapdog, the VCMI describes its remit as enabling:

high-integrity voluntary carbon markets (VCMs) that deliver real and additional benefits to the atmosphere, help protect nature, and accelerate the transition to ambitious, economy-wide climate policies and regulation.

Colonial climate solutions

You only have to look at the conservation majors’ records to know that their climate vision will screw over communities across the continent. TNC and WWF have championed a model of conservation in Africa that has maintained and renewed systems of colonial power and land dispossession. As the Canary previously identified, the WWF has financed and supported the implementation of protected areas in the Congo Basin. There, in 2016 the Rainforest Foundation UK found that the protected sites had resulted in:

the partial or full displacement of indigenous and local land-based communities

In short, so long as Global North voices dominate the conversation on climate, neo-colonial and capitalist solutions will flourish. As ever, its the Global South communities who will continue to lose out, while big polluters cash in on a crisis of their own design.

Feature image via African Union/Youtube screengrab.

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