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What Penalties Should Big Polluters Face?!


“Kick Big Polluters Out!” was the cry of activists lobbying against the influence of fossil fuel industries at last year’s Climate Change Negotiations. This November will mark the 22nd Climate Change Negotiations being hosted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. With a momentous agreement in Paris last year, resulting in 191 countries signing to keep temperature change below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and 61 countries ratifying it thus far, we are well on our way to protecting planet earth from the likes of climate change.

The primary contributor to climate change is the burning of fossil fuels creating carbon dioxide which amounts to 65% of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It is therefore right for us to blame the fossil fuel industry for climatic changes, and it is definitely ridiculous to see them participating in the climate change negotiations. How dare their participation be allowed by the UNFCCC?

Emissions from Fossil Fuels are by far the highest contributors of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, however in last year’s climate change negotiations the fossil fuel industry sponsored a large portion of the event. Some people see this as a conflict of interest and I can see why they would. In 2003, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, banned the tobacco industry from participating in their negotiations, and many believe that the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) should do the same.

Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control states that “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law”.

This statement imposes a barrier between lawmakers and representatives of the tobacco industry, prohibiting the industry from influencing decision-making processes. Civil society lobbied for this change as the tobacco industry cannot protect the public against the effects of tobacco usage.

The UNFCCC is charged with protecting the health of the environment, and in so doing, should protect lawmakers from the influence of the fossil fuel industry, who should in no way impact climate change policy.  There is, however, another perspective that one can consider. Can we view this as an opportunity to engage the largest emitters and put an end to the catastrophe? How can we rightly combat climate change without working with the people who have caused it? My solution would be to reach the people that we need the most. It’s the same as having to tell your mother-in-law, listen, you’re destroying my family, so you cannot live at my home. It is uncomfortable to do, and she knows she is destructive, so you have to confront the situation at the core if you want the destruction to end. Engage the persons that need to be engaged in a non-aggressive manner, without allowing them to change the primary agenda.

On June 1st 2015, 6 major oil companies wrote an open letter to the UN and governments urging them to develop firm carbon pricing models, which will assist them in investing in the right low-carbon facilities, and decrease emissions. The letter is an avid cry to help correct the damage they’ve already done, an excerpt states, “Our companies are already taking a number of actions to help limit emissions, such as growing the share of gas in our production, making energy efficiency improvements in our operations and products, providing renewable energy, investing in carbon capture and storage, and exploring new low-carbon technologies and business models”, however they highlighted, “For us to do more, we need governments across the world to provide us with clear, stable, long-term, ambitious policy frameworks. This would reduce uncertainty and help stimulate investments in the right low carbon technologies and the right resources at the right pace”. The letter strongly recommended a stringent policy on carbon pricing in all nations which will encourage greater energy efficiency and increased investment in carbon neutrality through the use of renewable energy, carbon capture and storage,    smart buildings and clean cars.

 The fossil fuel industry wants to pay for the damage. I am not saying that they should have a seat at the negotiation table, however, I do believe that there is a silver lining in all of this. Let’s say I want to stop my neighbor from littering, I could go to my regional authority, and get legislation passed or ensure that the current legislation is enforced, and my neighbor is fined, however, I could also go and chat with him, inspire change, work on solutions to the problem, discuss the root of the issue – “Why do you litter? What can we do to prevent this?” I believe this method would have a greater long-term effect than simply imposing a fine. We need to impact change at the head and I see a great opportunity here for entrepreneurs to get involved with low-carbon strategies, supply of renewable energy technology and other techniques to really and truly help the oil and gas industry in their bid to reduce their impact on climate change.  At any level, climate change cannot be dealt with unless we directly communicate with all stakeholders, including the fossil fuel industry.

STAY TUNED to the next edition in the series on Climate Change within Trinidad & Tobago.

Written by – Nolana E. Lynch


Nolana E. Lynch is an environmentalist, climate change scientist and philanthropist, Trinidad and Tobago. 

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