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Leaders Responsible for the Climate Crisis Gathered to “Save the Planet” at the World Conservation Congress in France

In Marseille, France, the bosses of big corporations and government officials, including Emmanuel Macron, met in early September in a summit sponsored by Nutella to discuss the preservation of biodiversity. Between ineffective measures and promoting green capitalism, the Congress of Nature was, in reality, the latest farce to serve the most polluting corporations.

Antoine Weil

October 4, 2021
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Three people wearing dress clothes and face masks walk across a large stretch of pavement toward a building. On the pavement, the name of the conference is painted in French
Photo: AFP

Visiting Marseille on September 3, French president Emmanuel Macron opened the World Conservation Congress with Nicolas Hulot, French journalist and environmental activist. Organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the gathering was really just a greenwashing effort, in which industrialists and government members met just to schmooze instead of taking steps to halt global warming.

The Big Bosses to the Rescue of Biodiversity?

Officially, the event was dedicated to the protection of species, as the world enters the sixth mass extinction event. However, a look at the list of participants reveals the magnitude of the farce. It is the environment that is the butt of the joke. Among those invited to discuss the problems linked to climate change were the son of Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) CEO Bernard Arnault; Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank; and upper management of TotalEnergies. Invitations also went out to the CEOs of Électricité de France, the French nuclear electric power generation company, and Engiei and Véolia, two other utility companies, the presidents of mining groups, and the head of the National Council of the French Employers (MEDEF), France’s largest employer federation. Big bosses who make their fortune in highly polluting and soil-destroying sectors such as oil and gas companies, which account for nearly 52 percent of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions, were invited to discuss global warming, as if they could be a solution to the problem they perpetuate.

Inviting these representatives of capitalism is an attempt to hide the responsibility of Big Business for global warming. Some 100 corporations produce 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

TotalEnergies, for example, relies heavily on a marketing strategy that touts, for example, its reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, as well as the replacement of refineries with renewable energy plants — falsely called “bio-plastic.” In reality, it is increasing its oil production elsewhere, and relocating to the Middle East and East Africa where labor and environmental restrictions are quite lax. But in truth, TotalEnergies is one of the most polluting companies in the world. By Inviting the corporation and allowing it to present itself as preserving biodiversity, the Nature Congress became the ally of TotalEnergies and its greenwashing. 

The Nature Congress, which presented itself as a forum for discussion among leading personalities, NGOs, companies, and governments, was clearly a set up to legitimize those primarily responsible for global warming and the devastation of biodiversity. By supporting the marketing efforts of multinational corporations at a time when consumers are concerned about the environmental consequences of their purchases, it was an openly pro-corporate event — underlined by the presence of Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, head of MEDEF. As proof that environmentalism was not the core concern, it costs 1,200 euros to attend and up to 350,000 euros to speak. Many climate activists were refused entry. Most notable among those barred, even though she was originally invited to host a film screening, was a lawyer from the climate justice organization Notre Affaire à Tous, which has initiated legal proceedings against France for climate inaction.

Ineffective and Counterproductive Measures

For large NGOs such as the IUCN and its institutional partners such as the French government, the UN, and the European Union, the solution lies in establishing so-called protected areas where human activities are curtailed and supervised. This aims to stop pollution in areas with remarkable biodiversity. While 17 percent of the earth’s surface is already “preserved” in this way, the stated objective is to increase that to 30 percent by 2030. 

This is strongly criticized by left-leaning NGOs, which denounce its colonialist and imperialist nature. Indeed, these protected zones are found mainly in countries in the Global South, where the indigenous populations are considered a hindrance, even though their environmental footprint is nothing compared to that of Western countries. These NGOs are covering up the real problem. Even if companies cannot pollute in these zones, there is nothing to constrain them beyond the protected areas. It is in this context that we must understand the statement of Barbara Pompili, Minister of Ecological Transition: “Protected areas are a necessity. They are an essential link in the ecosystem and offer models of sustainable development, of activities reconciling production and protection of nature.” 

Clearly, this measure is completely adapted to the capitalist logic of profit, despite the climate emergency raised again in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

In addition to shifting the blame in this way, protected areas are also decried by environmental experts for their inefficiency. The head of the NGO France Nature Environnement explains that France does not even respect its own restrictions, especially concerning the protected marine zones where fishing is supposed to be limited.

The Capitalists Destroying the Planet Will Not Be the Ones to Save the Climate

LVMH, represented at the summit by Antoine Arnault, director of communications and son of the CEO (France’s richest man), has for several months been focusing most of its marketing on its environmental responsibility. However, a few months ago, the multi-billionaire lashed out harshly at the young activist Greta Thunberg, who he considers too radical. He denounced the “catastrophism” of the young woman who proposes “nothing” but only “criticizes.” These ridiculous remarks illustrate both his denial of the responsibility of corporations in the climatic crisis and that he ignores the urgency required for radical measures against global warming, which would necessarily require an attack on the logic of capitalism.

By including both LVMH and TotalEnergies as participants, the Nature Congress presented itself as the embodiment of “green capitalism.” The organizers of the event pushed compromises with big business to the point of absurdity by having Nutella as the sponsor — a brand widely recognized for its harmful role in environmental destruction and, specifically, its participation in deforestation in Indonesia for palm oil production.

Partners like these are also found in the discussions the government itseld organized within the Nature Congress. France allocated nearly 2 million euros to promote the event: the Ministry of Ecological Transition brought together the banking group BNP Paribas, the cruise company Ponant, and the shipping and logistics group CMA CGM, whose polluting activities are easy to imagine. With the actors it enlists, the French government adopts a logic identical to that of the Congress itself: green capitalism, which mixes pseudo-environmental discourse with false solutions.

Given Macron’s efforts to hide his disastrous environmental record and the direct involvement of several environmental organizations with the capitalists, we cannot accept management of the environmental crisis by those who created it. Against this logic, the fight for the preservation of biodiversity and for necessary environmental measures must be the achievement of the workers who suffer the risks of pollution. Workers understand the means of production and are in the best position to reorient the economy in the service of the environment and the interests of the entire world.

First published in French on September 4 in Révolution Permanente.

Translation by Frankie Levine

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