The main COP26 youth conference is under fire for accepting sponsorship from a firm which is involved in the oil and gas industry and previously constructed and maintained Guantanamo Bay.
It is the clean energy investment arm of Aker ASA, a Norwegian holding company with investments in the oil and gas sector. Aker Horizons’ portfolio includes the company’s offshore wind, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS) businesses.
Aker ASA also part owns an exploration and production company with BP, which focuses on finding and drilling new oil and gas reserves on the Norwegian continental shelf, and Aker Solutions, an engineering firm which provides services to the oil sector and wider energy industry.
In 2007, Aker Solutions was identified by Amnesty International as an “accessory to torture and other human rights abuses” for its role in the construction and maintenance of Guantanamo Bay, the US military prison in Cuba.
Environmentalists have condemned COY16 organisers for “rehabilitating the image” of Aker, which they say is “tied into the fossil fuel industry” and has been “complicit in human rights abuses”. The move was “out of step with the youth climate movement” and should be reconsidered, they said.
In reply a spokesperson for Aker Horizons said the company had been established last year to “accelerate industrial solutions” to help the world meet its climate targets. They noted that the firm would achieve this by building on “capabilities across the Aker Group, including from oil and gas, built over the last 180 years”. They did not mention the company’s activities at Guantanamo.
The Ferret contacted COY16 for comment but has not received a response yet. In a tweet sent on 21 September from the event’s official Twitter page, COY16 said it was “aware of the news following our partnership announcement”, adding they were treating the revelations about Aker with “extreme seriousness”.
Aker Horizons describes itself as a “planet positive” investment company, which is accelerating decarbonisation by “incubating and developing companies that solve fundamental challenges to sustainable existence”. Included in its portfolio are the group’s CCS and clean hydrogen businesses.
CCS is a process of trapping greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and other industrial processes and storing them in rock formations under the sea. This prevents carbon from entering the atmosphere and causing further warming of the climate.
But green groups say the technology cannot be scaled up in time to help the world meet the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperature rises to no more than 1.5 degrees. They argue that fossil fuel companies promote the technology as it allows “their extractive business model to continue unimpeded”.
Among other technologies in its clean hydrogen business, Aker is co-developing a blue hydrogen project with Shell on the west coast of Norway. Blue Hydrogen, which has been touted as a clean fuel, is produced using methane from natural gas.
Academics from Stanford University, however, recently found that the total carbon footprint from producing blue hydrogen is 20 per cent more than burning coal or natural gas for heat.
Aker Solutions carried out construction and maintenance work at Guantanamo Bay, a US naval base, from the early 1990s until its contract ended in 2005. This included the detention camp, which was built at the site in 2002 to house suspected terrorists captured in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
According to Amnesty Norway, Aker also contributed to the “water and electricity supply for the cells” at the site.
The Guantanamo military prison has been condemned by human rights organisations for committing various violations of international law. These include holding prisoners indefinitely, torture, inhumane conditions and conducting unfair trials.
Amnesty Norway asked lawyers to look into Aker’s activities at Guantanamo in 2007, after a law firm found that inmates at the military prison were mistreated in a way that is against Norwegian law.
COP26 and COY16
COY16 will be delivered by YOUNGO, the youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It will be held directly before the main negotiations at COP26, due to be held at the Scottish Events Campus between 1 and 12 November.
The event is billed as a space to “prepare young people” for future participation at COPs, and to “directly forward the official youth position in the UN climate negotiations”.
This year’s COY is being funded by the Scottish Government which provided £300,000 to support the youth conference.
Scott Tully of campaign group Glasgow Calls Out Polluters told The Ferret that Aker should be “held accountable for climate and human rights crimes”, but was instead being offered the opportunity to “greenwash and youthwash” by COY16.
“When so many important discussions are there to be had, COY16 are advertising Aker’s false solutions to the climate crisis – solutions that conveniently allow Aker’s extractive business model to continue unimpeded,” he added.
“If the COY16 organisers take climate justice and human rights seriously, then they must rescind this partnership immediately.”
“Aker is complicit in human rights abuses, tied to the fossil fuel industry and finances unproven technological solutions such as CCS which serve as dangerous distractions in the fight against the climate crisis,” she said.
“Accepting sponsorship from a company like this contributes to greenwash. This move by COY16 is out of step with much of the rest of the youth climate movement, which publicly and powerfully calls for climate justice. I hope to see them reconsider.”
The Aker Horizons spokesperson said: “Aker Horizons was established last year to accelerate industrial solutions to help the world meet the Paris agreement targets.
“We are fully committed to realize our ambitions to generate 10 GW of renewable energy capacity and secure contracts to remove 25 million tonnes of CO2 by 2025.
“We will do so by utilising and building on the capabilities across the Aker group, including from oil and gas, built over the past 180 years.
This story is part of a series The Ferret is publishing in the run-up to COP26 in November. Investigations have been supported by the European Climate Foundation, which cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained or expressed therein.
Photo credit: iStock/zudin
This story was updated at 16.07 on 22 September 2021 to clarify that Aker ASA is the holding company which owns Aker Horizons, Aker Solutions and Aker BP.