Endesa is the largest electric utility provider in Spain and the country’s biggest corporate greenhouse gas polluter, emitting some 60 million tons of carbon each year. It’s also a sponsor of the United Nations’ international climate conference (known as COP25) that began in Spain on Monday.
The company paid $2.2 million to be a diamond sponsor of the conference, though they’ll receive some of that money back in tax incentives, according to a report from El Periodico. In exchange for their funding, Endesa received an exhibition space in the conference’s stakeholder area.
On the day the conference began, the company also bought front-page ads in several major Spanish newspapers advertising their participation in the conference. Patrick Galey, a science and environment correspondent for AFP, called the ads “Orwellian.”
“Having a fossil fuel company sponsor climate talks...is a pretty obvious conflict of interest,” he told Earther in a Twitter direct message. “In 2019, when the world is already dealing with climate-related disasters, when millions are displaced by floods, storms, and drought, the optics of it are poor.”
The 25,000 representatives from 200 countries at COP25 are tasked with creating plans to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels and comply with the Paris Climate Accord. The stakes for the conference couldn’t be higher—just last week, the United Nations released a damning report showing that global emissions have risen by about 1.5 percent every year for the past decade. As a result, the authors say nations will have to halve their 2018 levels of carbon emissions by 2030 by cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 7.6 percent every year for the next decade to keep the globe from warming 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Though all nations will have to take action, the scientists call on members of the G20 to take the lead, because they contribute some 78 percent of all emissions. The G20 is meant to represent the world’s 20 top economies, and though Spain is not technically a member, it’s currently 14th on that list and is one of Europe’s worst emitters. From 1990 to 2017, the European Union reduced its carbon emissions by 23.5 percent, but Spain’s emissions grew by 17.9 percent.
“It is no wonder that rich, industrialised countries are reneging on their commitments to lead on emissions cuts and provide new climate finance when corporations, who are the biggest culprits of the climate crisis, are brought in to sponsor the UN climate talks and have a voice at the negotiation table,” Hoda Baraka, chief communications officer for climate group 350, told Earther via email. “If we want the climate talks to deliver anything like what science and equity demand, it is high time for the fossil fuel industry to be kicked out of the climate talks.”
Endesa has said it is committed to addressing the urgent threat of climate change. The company wrote in a carbon footprint report that the “is fully aware that the energy companies play a key role in this challenge.”
But Jesse Bragg, media director for Corporate Accountability, said that’s greenwashing, and it’s no surprise that a company like Endesa would spend so much money for a place at COP25.
“Endesa is Spain’s largest utility company, and its parent company, Enel, has a massive carbon footprint,” he told Earther, citing the company’s own numbers. “In 2018 they burned over 11 million tons of coal, 2.1 tons of oil, 1.3 billion cubic meters of natural gas.
“This utility is the very epitome of what [the conference] is meant to address, in that it’s meant to come up with policies to reign in the consumption and burning of fossil fuels. They have so much at stake, because if these processes are successful, it means the end of their business model as they know it.”
Endesa isn’t the only Spanish utility company sponsoring COP25. Another, Iberdrola, also bought a $2.2 million sponsorship (again, some of which it will get back in tax breaks). On Monday at the conference, they announced a plan to phase out of the use of coal fire plants and invest in renewable energy. But Bragg still doesn’t think they should have a role in creating climate action plans.
“It’s important to draw a distinction between policy making and policy implementation,” he said. “In the case of climate change, will these utilities like you have to be involved in the implementation of policy? Absolutely. But why should they be writing the rules?”
He said company promises and public relations can’t be a substitution for government regulation. “And we shouldn’t be applauding corporations for doing what is right and what the science says we need to do,” he added.
Fossil-based companies’ involvement at the international climate talks is nothing new. As journalist Kate Aronoff documented last year, Shell—one of the world’s largest producers of greenhouse gases—influenced the Paris Accord itself. The company was partially responsible for the agreement’s emphasis on carbon credits, instead of direct emissions reductions, as a way for polluters to curb their emissions.
“Such systems have been racked with controversy and do basically nothing to reduce the local impacts of extraction,” she wrote.
Bragg said this kind of corporate involvement is a new form of climate denial. “You’re no longer seeing major fossil fuel corporations saying that climate change doesn’t exist or that man isn’t driving it,” he said. “Instead...they’re directing the negotiations and policymaking toward false solutions, or things that will least impact their bottom line.
Arin de Hoog, a communications specialist for Greenpeace International, said the solution is to remove polluters from climate talks altogether.
“This is like having the tobacco industry at discussions to mitigate lung cancer,” he told Earther in an email. “As long as big polluters like the fossil fuel industry contaminate the political process, we won’t be able to mitigate the climate emergency.”