Copenhagen’s iconic mermaid statue is angry. Her city is hosting crucial international climate talks, but thousands of business representatives are planning to attend – and most of them do not want to tackle climate change. Instead they’re pushing for supposed solutions which mean they can carry on polluting as usual.
Meanwhile, the Mermaid’s ocean home is warming and sea levels are rising. Coral reefs are dying as the acidity of the ocean increases. And thousands of people in some of the poorest parts of the world risk losing their homes on low-lying coastlines as floods and extreme storms become more frequent.
The Angry Mermaid was so incensed, she decided that the corporate culprits must be stopped. But which ones to blame? Everywhere she turned, there were sharp-suited businessmen lobbying government ministers and negotiators – sometimes sitting at the same table, sharing lunches, drinking fine wines. The business suits seemed to be pretending that they had forgotten about profits and that they were ready to save the world.
So the Angry Mermaid decided to launch an award – in her own name – to highlight how corporate lobbyists were scheming to sabotage action to save the climate.
She asked people she knew if they could suggest which companies were doing the most to undermine climate action – and she decided to publish a shortlist and ask the public to vote.
She received lots of suggestions from all around the world. Some of them were names she had never heard of before – but when she investigated, she discovered that these were some of the people sitting round the table and talking to negotiators.
The Angry Mermaid asked Attac Denmark, Corporate Europe Observatory, Focus on the Global South, Friends of the Earth International and Spinwatch to help her decide which of the suggestions should go on the shortlist. They assessed the evidence – and the list was whittled down to eight.
One of the eight is Monsanto, nominated for lobbying for RoundupReady soy to be considered a “climate-friendly” crop that is eligible for carbon credits and subsidies under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and for pushing for the meaningless "responsible" label for RoundupReady soy, which could be used to certify "sustainable" agrofuels.
Monsanto is the world’s largest seed company, which has controversially been promoting genetically modified (GM) crops for over a decade. According to Monsanto, GM crops are not just the solution to world hunger, they can also help tackle climate change.
Biotech companies are pushing for public subsidies for their “climate-friendly” crops. They also want to profit from the international carbon trade by pushing for these “climate-friendly” crops to be eligible for carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
The RoundTable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) of which Monsanto is a member, is helping to promote the company’s cause by allowing GM soy to be labelled as “responsible”. This may mean that RTRS certified GM soy will in the near future be considered as a “sustainable” source of agrofuel; or be eligible for carbon credits through CDM projects.
Monsanto claims its RoundupReady crops help tackle climate change because they can be grown without ploughing the soil, known as ‘no tillage’ or ‘conservation tillage’ agriculture. Ploughing soil releases carbon dioxide (CO2) Instead RoundupReady crops rely on large quantities of herbicides to control weeds. Monsanto argues that this means it should be eligible for carbon credits because it is locking CO2 in the soil.
But RoundupReady soy, which is grown on over 40 million hectares across South America, has severe social and environmental impacts, with increased pesticide use leading to damage to human health and the environment. These vast monocultures of soy have replaced valuable forest – resulting in huge CO2 emissions – and have displaced rural and indigenous communities.
Monsanto also co-founded the Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy, a lobby group set up to counter criticisms that agrofuels take land from food production, pushing up the price of food.
A History of Exerting Influence
Monsanto’s climate lobbying can be traced back to 1998 when the company was active at the UN Climate Talks, claiming the US could meet up to 30% of its CO2 emission reduction targets by using ‘no till’ agriculture. Monsanto was also one of a number of companies pushing the idea of ‘carbon sinks’, which allow land and trees to be used to store carbon.
Robert B. Horsch, Monsanto's President for Sustainable Development, explained that “Monsanto and others worked hard and successfully at the meeting to persuade delegates to look into agricultural carbon 'sinks' as a way to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases.”
Monsanto was also active inside the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the official scientific body on climate change. Monsanto representative Peter Hill contributed to an IPCC Special report on land use, land use change and forestry in May 1999.
The lobbying effort appears to have paid off: at the following UN Climate talks the issue of soil sinks became a major bargaining chip for the US, which wanted 25 million tons of US farm soils to be recognised as a ‘carbon sink’. The US repeatedly threatened not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol unless sinks were included.
Monsanto’s Lobby Today
The biotech industry remains close to the US government and President Obama has appointed several former Monsanto chiefs and allies to high positions. Monsanto continues to actively lobby in the US. It has also formed alliances with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to promote ‘Conservation Tillage’ as a climate solution.
Monsanto has lobbied the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) body, UNFCCC working groups and the FAO to get carbon credits and CDM funding for ‘no-till’ practices. A CDM methodology was approved in October 2009 for biodiesel production from crops grown for fuel on marginal lands, allowing agrofuel producers to directly benefit from carbon credits for the first time.
A key soy producer, Monsanto had actively lobbied the CDM office in Argentina for ‘no till’ RoundupReady soy production to be included under the CDM. The head of the Argentine office, Hernan Carlino, became a member of the CDM Executive Board in 2007 and following his appointment, the issue of carbon credits for ‘no till’ agriculture were discussed at the UN COP13 climate talks . Monsanto has so far not managed to have ‘no till’ approved, but Monsanto soy will be eligible for credits, provided it is grown on existing plantations and not on newly cleared land.
Monsanto has also been pushing for carbon credits from ‘no till’ in the US Climate Bill. The US position on this will be key at the Copenhagen climate talks. During the first quarter of 2009, Monsanto reportedly spent $2,094,000 on lobbying activities in the US, including on the Climate Bill proposal. In the second quarter of 2009, the company spent $2,080,000. Six Monsanto lobbyists have been declared by the company to be working on the Climate Bill.
Monsanto has also contributed to the development of an “agriculture soil carbon standard”, supporting other lobby groups in developing their strategy, One Congressional Briefing report noted that “With the help of Monsanto, Novecta, a consulting and lobbying arm of the Iowa and Illinois Corn Growers Associations, has called on Congress this spring to grant farmers valuable offsets for shifting to ‘no-till’ farming – a shift that will spur sales of Roundup and RoundupReady seeds. Thanks to the Peterson-Pelosi deal, this scheme could become law”.
Monsanto employs lobbyists Ogilvy Government Relations in Washington, which is listed by Public Integrity as one of the main lobby consultancies battling climate legislation. It also works as part of the US biotech industry lobby group, BIO, which also lobbied the Senate for free pollution permits.
The company is an active member of BIO. A recent leaked document revealed the US biotech industry lobbying strategy for Copenhagen, which includes working closely with the US government, including their Special Climate Envoy, Todd Stern: “Although the prospects for a new treaty in December are highly questionable, BIO and its members have significant interests in engaging over the next several months to ensure any treaty text does not harm the biotechnology industry, and potentially supports innovation,” the leaked document said.
Lobbying through NGOs
Monsanto’s inclusion in the Roundtable on Responsible Soy was a major breakthrough for the company, providing it with an opportunity to claim green credentials for GM soy.
Some industry critics argue the label is meaningless. The criteria allow soy expansion and deforestation to continue, and give a ‘responsible’ label to herbicide resistant crops, even though evidence is growing that the production of RoundupReady soy (in combination with non-till practices) leads to more, not less pesticide use. There is no consensus from civil society in producer countries that these criteria will lead to a ‘responsible’ product.
The RTRS, which includes WWF, has continuously promoted the option of certifying ‘sustainable’ soy biodiesel. WWF is now openly calling for carbon credits for RTRS-certified RoundupReady soy. The leaked BIO lobby document mentions that the European biotech lobby association, EuropaBio, is planning to organise a debate in Copenhagen “moderated by WWF”.
Monsanto was asked to comment on its nomination for an Angry Mermaid Award but did not respond.