LIMA, PERU—Nearly 200 countries came together here in December to make progress on the global climate change agreement at the 20th session of the Conference of Parties (COP 20). The summit is a part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The conference’s definition of progress came into question as indigenous people’s groups along with environmental organizations staged a series of protests, calling for an actual transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
The COP has gone on for 20 years without developing a climate deal that is fair and progressive, according to Pascoe Sabido, a researcher and campaigner with the Corporate Europe Observatory. He attributes this to the aggressive lobbying of the fossil fuel industry, both at the national level and at the COP 20. “They’re the same ones who are driving the climate crisis and the same ones who are stopping us being able to solve it…We need to get them out of this process,” he said.
The United Nations has created a firewall between lobbyists and policy-makers in the past.
“The U.N.’s World Health Organization banned tobacco lobbyists when the industry undermined public health,” said Karen Licavoli, Vice President of Programs at Breathe California Golden Gate Public Health Partnership. “It goes without saying that the detrimental impact to public health from fossil fuel corporations like Chevron should automatically exclude them from any climate negotiations.”
According to Sabido, most governing delegations come to the COP 20 with their positions already made up “because the likes of Shell and Chevron have already done their lobbying at home.” In order to get a fair outcome at the U.N., “we need to build our power at home,” he said.
Richmond California’s Chevron refinery is the state’s largest greenhouse gas emitter. Import-export trade data from the World City Trade Numbers shows that the Port of Richmond’s oil imports are up 69.04 percent since 2013.
Richmond City Officials have also reported tar sands crude oil from Canada being off-loaded in Richmond, and Chevron is confirmed to have been refining tar sands oil according to a 2014 Ecowatch report.
In order to bring the issue of Tar Sands oil into local discussion, an Oakland Café, La Commune, hosted a book launch for “A Line in the Tar Sands: Struggles for Environmental Justice;” written by Indigenous organizers from across the continent, analysts, and campaigners.
The event featured a panel of national and Bay Area frontline activists fighting the tar sands industry, the largest industrial project on Earth, according to the event organizers.
“When I first visited the Alberta tar sands, I said ‘Mordor is alive and well.’ It’s a giga-project,” said Indigenous Environmental Network director Tom Goldtooth. According to Goldtooth,
the tar sands development has “completely altered the Athabasca Delta, with deforestation of the boreal forests, open pit mining, de-watering of the watershed, toxic contamination, and the disruption of habitat, biodiversity and the way of life of the Indigenous Dene, Cree and Metis people.”
Clayton Thomas Muller, one of Canada’s most prominent tar sands fighters and one of the book’s contributors addressed the audience with a recommendation to “get to know your local movements in Richmond like ‘Idle No More Bay Area.’ Organizing direct action has begun to tip power on its head.”
Further connecting the tar sands to the Bay Area was Pennie Opal Plant, founder of Idle No More Bay Area. “They’re [oil companies] not interested in maintaining plants, they’re just interested in their bottom line,” said Plant, citing the August 2012 Chevron refinery fire that sent over 15,000 people to seek treatment in hospitals for respiratory problems.
“Unless there’s a huge explosion, people don’t realize all the chemicals already being emitted from the refinery,” said Vivian Huang, a representative from the Asian Pacific Environmental Network.
Plant shared her experience speaking with a Chevron PR representative, alleging that Chevron has transitioned to using different terms to evade questions on the refinery’s involvement with Canada’s tar sands.
“We all know that oil sands equal tar sands. I believe the refineries are using different terminologies to keep us in the dark. We know they’re ‘modernizing’ their plants to take on higher sulfur crude,” she said.