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Big Oil’s capture of IPCC assessment for policymakers ‘shakes our faith’ (commentary)

  • Although the IPCC’s technical summaries on climate change are a key resource for assessment and future projections, the group’s recent recommendations for policy makers appear to have been influenced by fossil fuel stakeholders.
  • “The public needs to know that representatives from oil and gas industries, as well as fossil fuel-dependent governments, were writing this report,” a new op-ed states.
  • With billions of dollars moving toward technology-driven carbon removal schemes that benefit the fossil fuel industry’s favored status quo, climate philanthropy must increasingly support climate justice, a just transition to renewable energy, and grassroots activism.
  • This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

The IPCC report has long been touted as the principal text on climate science. Although the technical summary remains an unparalleled resource for assessment and future projections, the recent fossil fuel interest-driven IPCC climate assessment for policymakers shakes our faith in its objective characterization of effective climate action and muddies our global roadmap.

The bleak technical report highlights our current trajectory to overshoot the 1.5° C target and incur devastating consequences as a result. The policy summary ventures into more uncharted territory—proposing ‘solutions’. The public needs to know that representatives from oil and gas industries, as well as fossil fuel-dependent governments, were writing this report. Corporate involvement led to a systemic bias toward strategies that are more regression than progression toward critical goals, and undermines the voices of grassroots movements calling for resistance of these strategies.

I’m speaking here of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and carbon capture and storage (CCS). CDR and CCS refer to techniques designed to remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere and can be ecologically based like afforestation or technological like direct air capture. Mostly, the report emphasized technological strategies under the (mis)assumption that they are more efficient and scalable than more natural processes. Needless to say, the IPCC’s prestige opens the door for money to flow to these ‘solutions’ that benefit oil and gas interests, rather than community-driven solutions like afforestation.  It’s quite simple: how do we end the fossil fuel industry if we are investing in it?

The W.A. Parish coal power station has a large post-combustion carbon capture system. Image by RM VM via Wikimedia Commons.
The W.A. Parish coal power station in Texas has a large post-combustion carbon capture system. Image by RM VM via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s no mistake that carbon capture was advised against in the technical summary, which is written by scientists, but named over 800 times in the policy summary, which is written and approved by governments and special interests. A senior staff member of Saudi Aramco – the state-owned oil and gas company of Saudi Arabia – was a lead coordinating author, alongside one other person, for Chapter 12 on cross-sector perspectives. Saudi Arabia possesses 15% of the world’s oil, and relies on oil and gas for more than half its government revenue, and close to 70% of its total exports in 2020. A staff member of Chevon reviewed the chapter on energy systems.

In light of this endorsement, it is important to note that most carbon capture technologies are unproven, dangerous, or financially impractical. Moreover, these approaches would enable the perpetuation of the fossil fuel industry by using their infrastructure and softening the pressure on the phaseout of fossil fuels that was needed, like, yesterday.

Why are we relying on the same corporations that are actively destroying the planet to build pipelines to move carbon, and technologies to make a profit, from the crisis they created? It’s intrinsically a conflict of interest. The wolf is minding the henhouse. Self-policing is not working, and why would it work when the loss of trillions of dollars is at stake?

According to a recent report by the UN Environmental Programme, governments plan to produce more than twice the amount of fossil fuels than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5° C in plans for development by 2030. The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine paints our fossil dependencies in sharp relief. No wonder one of the top oil-producing countries, Saudi Arabia, effectively argued for the extensive inclusion of references to CCS despite opposition from European nations.

“The way out of the climate and ecological crisis is collective. Hope is in the movement that we know how to build,” Nicole Becker, Argentina. Photo © UNICEF/UN0364362.
“The way out of the climate and ecological crisis is collective. Hope is in the movement that we know how to build,” Nicole Becker, Argentina. Photo courtesy of UNICEF/UN0364362.

It shouldn’t surprise you that those throwing down the checks have the most at stake in the preservation of industry status quo: from billionaires like Bill Gates and Elon Musk to companies like Meta and Stripe.

What if the $5.5 billion committed by government and tech companies for the development of carbon capture technologies was directed toward proven solutions which also create a plurality of social wellbeing?

Community-driven strategies to mitigate and prevent carbon emissions have the potential to create knock-on effects toward greater ecosystem balance in ways that tech-based approaches do not. Solutions like reforestation, afforestation, and soil regeneration to facilitate soil carbon sequestration have the combined potential to mitigate the amount of carbon that China and the U.S. produce each year. Grassroots groups like the Peasant Movement of Papaye in Haiti have planted over 20 million trees and have a goal of 50 million additional trees each year. Because they are a community-driven movement, they are not just trapping carbon in forests, but also building water recapture systems, erosion-prevention structures, farmer’s banks and credit unions, agricultural storage cooperatives, and building up food supplies.

The IPCC has even started to recognize the grassroots as critical: “Indigenous resurgence (activism fueled by ongoing colonial social/environmental injustices, land claims, and deep spiritual/cultural commitment to environmental protection) not only strengthens climate leadership in many countries, but also changes broad social norms by raising knowledge of Indigenous governance systems which supported sustainable lifeways over thousands of years.”

Siloed technological strategies that benefit corporations are resisted by grassroots movements because they often create externalities, rather than multi-solving. As the IPCC report names, grassroots movements are anchored in building political power, which translates into community autonomy to protect their forests, waterways, and seeds. Investing in Indigenous activism can lead  to shifts in governance and environmental protection. Investing in community-level agroecology can enable immense shifts in education and public health.

Greenpeace activists built a carbon bomb to protest Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage at a protest in Germany. Image courtesy of Karsten Smid / Greenpeace Media Library.
Greenpeace activists built a symbolic carbon bomb to protest carbon dioxide capture and storage at a protest in Berlin. Image courtesy of Karsten Smid / Greenpeace Media Library.

While it is common knowledge that the interests of oil and gas pervade our climate, economies, and politics, the scale and breadth of their political power is newly evident in the distortion of the sixth IPCC policy report. We still need scientists to build and share climate models, and we could greatly benefit from their growing advocacy around supporting grassroots-driven systemic action. We don’t need those that have profited most from the crisis at the table framing the problem and the solutions.

Billions are moving toward corporate interests for technology-driven carbon removal, while as little as 3.75% of climate philanthropy supports climate justice, a just transition to renewable energy, or grassroots mobilization. This should remind everyone that colossal economic interests use their power for their own gains. Rather, we can invest in grassroots approaches that address the political, social, and scientific factors of the climate crisis together in the solutions.


Lindley Mease directs the CLIMA Fund, mobilizing funders to collaboratively give to Indigenous, women, peasant, and youth-led climate justice movements globally. This op-ed was informed by the entire CLIMA Fund network, and especially the research of Hannah Twomey. 

 Editor’s note: Mongabay has received a grant from CLIMA in the past but not related to this topic, and the organization has no editorial input on Mongabay content.

Related audio from Mongabay’s podcast: Authors Bill McKibben and Trebbe Johnson discuss how the climate movement can continue to push for change in spite of the inaction by world leaders at the COP26 climate summit, listen here: 

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