Up for Auction – Our Climate to the Highest Bidder

Youth at this year’s UN climate talks, fed-up with the unprecedented levels of corporate capture of the negotiations, held a mock-auction to sell off the climate to the highest bidder.

As negotiators, delegates and security watched on, this year’s 13 corporate sponsors – the first year a COP President has asked for official sponsorship – young people impersonating the biggest climate criminals bid for elements like weak ambition, no mention of historical responsibility, more failed markets and the inclusion of clean coal in 2015, when a new climate deal is supposed to be agreed.

The auction was based on CEO’s recent lobby guide to COP19, and highlighted how the things being lobbied for by COP19’s corporate ‘partners’ would send us hurtling towards catastrophic climate change, but make the companies, like ArcelorMittal, BMW and Emirates, as well as Polish fossil-fuel giants PGE and Lotos Group, a lot of money through the continuation of business as usual and an increasingly financialised and privatized economy.


The auction ended with youth groups – who were booing throughout and holding ‘Stop Corporate Capture of Climate Talks’ – kicking out the corporate bidders and putting up a banner saying ‘Reclaim the COP’ (see pictures here).

Sophia McNab, at the negotiations with the UK Youth Climate Coalition, was involved in the action and was clear in her motivation: 

“As the world approaches 2015 with little on the table in terms of ambition, finance or equity, the increasingly-close relationship between the UNFCCC and the very same corporations who lobby against genuine climate solutions is dashing the hopes of real solutions ever materialising in Paris, and with it our chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.”

The auctioneer, played by one of CEO’s own campaigners in Warsaw, welcomed corporations on behalf of the Polish Presidency and the UNFCCC, boasting that both organisers were proud to call this the most corporate COP to date. But the message underlying the satire was clear:

“Why are we letting the world's biggest climate criminals wrap themselves in the colours of the UN and parade around the world like climate heroes? Why are they allowed anywhere near the talks – the WHO doesn't allow Marlborough anywhere near its effort to tackle lung disease, yet the UNFCCC allows ArcelorMittal, BMW and the rest to sponsor this COP. It's beyond belief.”

The huge amount of branding plastered around the national stadium – hosting the climate talks – is in stark contrast to the three youth activists who were kicked out of the talks for standing in solidarity with the Philippines as it faces incredible tragedy following super typhoon Yolanda. Clemence Hutin, one of the three expelled and part of youth group Push Europe, was emphatic in calling out the close relationship between dirty industry and the COP organisers and the real impact it has on vulnerable people and countries:

“The UNFCCC and the Polish Presidency appear content to auction our climate off to the highest corporate bidder – to companies with no intention of tackling climate change. But how many more Yolandas will we have to see before they realise, our climate is not for sale? We're standing in solidarity with Philippines negotiator Yeb Saño as he fasts for an ambitious deal in Warsaw, but for that to happen then governments must accept the climate belongs to all of us and not a few rich polluters.”

Before the auction even began, other youth groups working outside the negotiations had already hit the streets of Warsaw targeting the local offices of the corporate sponsors. Taking subversive pictures that have now been plastered all over social media, they are part of the building momentum at the COP against corporate capture (see #CorporateCOP19 on twitter to see how it’s going). Øyvind Dahl, an activist involved in the morning actions, was clear why they were in the streets:

“This has to be the most corporate COP ever. The UN and its chief Christiana Figueres have shown us by kicking out the three young people from the talks that they're happier listening to the polluting fossil fuel industry than youth who really care about tackling climate change. Youth get removed from the talks for standing in solidarity with the tragedy unfolding in the Philippines while the coal and gas companies pay to drape their logos around the conference hall. We have to face up to the planetary emergency but Figueres and the UN are walking in the complete wrong direction. It's now up to us to reclaim this COP and reclaim the UN.”

The rest of the day saw small stunts and actions, with some youth still dressed in their suits, dark glasses and corporate logos seizing the opportunity to pose by more COP19 logos and keep the image of the captured COP going. But there is still over a week left and more is in the pipeline: theatrical actions, small stunts, subversive films and images, ensuring the organisers, sponsors and wider public aren’t allowed to forget about #CorporateCOP19.

The themes that have dominated the COP so far: the super typhoon in the Philippines and the solidarity fasting with those impacted until we have an ambitious outcome and compensation for those suffering (called ‘loss and damage’ in the negotiations); the lack of finance on the table from rich, industrialised countries who are only prepared to repackage existing aid and call it climate finance, and the rest will be from the private sector; the lack of ambition from the global North; the expulsion of youth for unfurling a banner in solidarity with the Philippines, while corporations are shoved into your face at every turn; the chief of the UNFCCC choosing coal over youth – and over climate – by attending the International Coal [and Climate] Summit during the negotiations. The imbalance of power between the public and large corporations can be seem in all of them, where profit is put before people, the environment and the climate, making the task of kicking corporations out of the COP and out of the UN all the more important if we want to avoid 2015 being little more than a corporate auction. Youth are making their voices heard inside and outside the talks, but this is an issue that cuts across all generations. While it is about our future, the imperative is on actions now.


This story is part of our blog Corporate COP19. Read all the other stories here.
For comprehensive background information, check out the COP19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying.
For the latest, follow in Twitter: #CorporateCOP19 , @pascoesabido , @ecospaceship