Activists demand 'greenwashing' debate at Poland climate talks
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Environmental campaigners organized a "toxic tour" on the sidelines of UN climate talks on Wednesday to expose the gap between the green claims of some countries and their ongoing use of fossil fuels.
Slogans calling for an end to coal usage are everywhere inside the sprawling, white complex of the conference centre in Katowice, home to this year's UN climate talks.
The gigantic building in the cradle of Poland's coal industry was once a former mine.
Today, however, Poland is determined to go green, and its transformation is captured by these words at the entry of the Polish pavilion in neon lights: "Poland, changing together."
It is in front of this slogan where campaigners Wednesday chose to start their "toxic tour" to debunk the myths of 'greenwashing'. This occurs when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be green through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact.
While they welcome the shift away from coal, the activists are concerned by countries' new enthusiasm for natural gas.
"When you think of the word gas, you think dirty fossil fuel," said Pascoe Sabido, a researcher with Corporate Europe Observatory, an organization exposing the power of corporate lobbying in Europe.
"Gas is just a fossil fuel (...) made of methane. It is more than 100 times worse for global warming than CO2," he told RFI on the sidelines of the UN climate talks, as countries gear up to take stock of their greenhouse gas emissions.
"When gas is drilled for and exported, it escapes into the atmosphere and has a huge impact on global warming. This means it has a footprint sometimes even bigger than coal, particularly when we look at fracking," said Sabido.
Despite this, Poland, which is heavily reliant on coal, is now turning towards natural gas in the hope that this will facilitate its transition from fossil fuels while allowing it to meet its electricity needs.
Investing in gas
“Poland is going to cut its 80 percent reliance on coal to 60 percent, but it’s going to do so through investment in gas,” said Hanna Mroczka, a student at Uppsala University in Sweden.
This year the Polish state-run gas company PGNiG reached a long-term agreement with two American companies for the purchase of liquefied natural gas from the United States during efforts to make Poland independent of Russian supplies.
PGNiG also enjoys close ties with the Polish government which has provided it with "massive subsidies," Mroczka told RFI, incuding a €33 million donation from the EU.
However, Poland is not the only country to have rattled environmental campaigners. The United Kingdom, which is replacing fossil fuel power generation with nuclear power plants, is also under scrutiny.
UK oil spills in Nigeria
A few metres away from the Poland pavilion is the UK stand, decked out with the red and blue colours of the Union Jack flag. It also boasts impressive claims of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
But not everyone is impressed.
"The UK is reducing emissions in their country but continuing exploration in Nigeria," said Babawale Obayanju from Environmental Rights Action (ERA) Nigeria.
"We've suffered more oil spills, air pollution, livelihood loss, farmlands destroyed, waterways gone (...). You can't claim to be a leader when a company that pays you taxes can't be held accountable," he told RFI, referring to Shell's oil dispute with Nigeria's Bodo villagers.
Keep it in the ground
By the end of the Poland climate talks, world leaders are expected to have finalized the rules of the Paris climate agreement, and prove that they are living up to their commitments of keeping temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
This will not happen unless "we keep fossil fuels in the ground, and false solutions away from these negotuations," said Sabido. His organisation, the Corporate Europe Observatory, was involved in the first climate camp in Poland this summer.
"We have to address the elephant in the room, which is the involvement of the fossil fuels industry in climate policy, here at the UN level and at the national level," he said.