Sponsorship of a climate change summit in Glasgow by energy firms and a bank has been branded as “greenwashing“ by climate change campaigners.
The sponsors of the event — called the Climate Emergency Summit — included SSE Renewables, Drax Group and Lloyds Bank Group.
However, environmental groups argued these companies are “at the heart of the problem” and conference organisers must “get wise to this greenwashing” – a tactic used by organisations to make themselves look more climate friendly to the public.
The two-day networking event at the Glasgow Science Centre last week, was organised by media firm Holyrood Communications and attended by delegates tackling climate change in voluntary, public and private sectors from across Scotland.
SSE, a subsidiary of SSE plc, was described in the event programme as “a leading developer and operator of renewable energy”.
Drax Group’s publicity centred on its recently purchased Cruachan pumped storage hydroelectric facility in the highlands and emphasised its commitment to “making the UK a global leader in climate saving technologies.”
There was no mention of Drax’s north Yorkshire biofuel power station which converted from coal to burning wood in the mid-to-late 2000s. According to its latest annual report the energy plant emitted 13.42m tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2021 making it the largest single source of CO2 emissions in the UK.
Lloyds Bank Group, sponsor of the ‘Decarbonising Scotland’s Housing ‘discussion panel, lent £1bn to the commercial oil and gas industry in 2021. Although the Perth-based bank recently announced it will not be investing in new oil and gas fields, it confirmed it will continue to finance existing fossil fuel projects.
According to the Bank.Green website, Lloyds Bank is still one of the 60 biggest funders of fossil fuels in the world.
Mary Church, head of campaigns for Friends of the Earth Scotland, argued that Drax and SSE have no place at an event aiming to address the climate emergency. She commented: “These companies are at the heart of the problem, peddling fantasy techno-fixes in pursuit of profit, and seeking to delay the actions that we know are necessary to tackle the climate crisis.”
Church also attacked SSE’s plans to build a new gas power station at Peterhead and described claims by Drax and SSE that carbon capture technology would provide a solution to enable the burning of fossil fuels to continue as “unproven at scale, unreliable and hugely costly” with “no place in our energy system”.
“Putting faith in false solutions like this will only lock us into energy systems that further drive climate breakdown” she continued.
“Conference organisers, attendees, speakers must get wise to this greenwashing and the fact that big corporations deliberately use sponsorship to distract from the dirty side of how they make their money,” she told The Ferret.
Sally Clark from Biofuelwatch, an environmental organisation based in the UK and the US, said she was “shocked” the Glasgow event was sponsored by the “world’s biggest tree burner”.
She said: “Drax is using a climate emergency event to greenwash its forest destruction, harm to wildlife and pollution of communities around the world.”
Lloyds defended its sponsorship of a housing panel session, however, and highlighted its “housebuilding sustainability finance framework”, which the bank hopes will expand the availability and affordability of quality and sustainable housing, and its mortgage support for householders wanting to make homes more energy efficient.
Lloyds also said it was committed to halving “the absolute financed emissions” of its oil and gas clients by 2030 and scaling up its financing of low carbon power generation.
A spokesperson for SSE Renewables said: “SSE Renewables is building more offshore wind globally than anyone in the world right now. In 2021-22, we invested a record £2bn in capital expenditure for the year as part of a £12.5bn investment programme to 2026, focussed on net zero. This investment shows our commitment as a national clean energy champion and therefore it is important that we support events like the Glasgow Climate Summit and on an international scale, events such as COP26 in Glasgow last year and COP27 which has just concluded in Egypt.
“SSE Renewables intends to double our installed renewable energy capacity to 8GW by 2026 with ambitious targets to treble capacity to over 13GW by 2031, increasing output fivefold to over 50TWh annually – enough to be able to power around 20 million homes each year with clean, secure, domestically procured energy.”
A Drax spokesperson said that last year the firm contributed almost £150m to Scotland’s economy and supported around 1,250 jobs. “Our plans to invest around half a billion pounds extending Cruachan Power Station will support around 900 jobs and is absolutely critical to enabling more wind power across the whole of the UK,” the spokesperson added.
“Over the last two years, Britain spent around £800m turning off renewable power from wind farms when there was either low system demand or not enough transmission capacity. By increasing the country’s storage capabilities, we can reduce that figure in the years ahead, enabling more renewable power and cutting household fuel bills.”
The event was co-sponsored by NatureScot with Warmworks and Zero Waste Scotland supporting specific panel discussions. All three organisations emphasised the importance of working with the fossil fuel industry to combat the climate crisis.
A spokesperson for NatureScot, Scottish Government’s wildlife and natural heritage watchdog, said: “Events such as this offer a vital platform for us to share our vision and influence others to protect, restore and value nature so that we can stop biodiversity decline by 2030 and restore nature by 2045. We are committed to working with partners across Scotland’s public sector, and with communities, businesses, and the environment sector to achieve a nature-rich future for all.”
Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland, Iain Gulland, said that whilst no one is happy about greenwashing, the important thing is to “get everyone in the room”.
“We need to get them [the fossil fuel industry] into the discussion around consumption and doing more and doing things faster. And supporting collaboration.” he said. “And if the only way to get them into the room is to allow them to sponsor an event then so be it.”
Speaking to The Ferret after delivering a keynote speech at the event, Chris Stark, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), acknowledged that greenwashing was one of the “biggest challenges” facing the climate change movement at the moment.
“I worry a lot about that,” he said. “But I have to say, I also think it’s important that those corporates who are in the fossil fuel business, those corporates that are sometimes described as dirty, are encouraged to make the transition themselves because the transition needs to happen with those corporates on board. It doesn’t happen by excluding them.”
Holyrood Communications said such events would not take place without sponsors. A statement said: “The Climate Emergency Summit brings together representatives from government, charities, the public and private sector to discuss the biggest challenge facing our planet. The event provides an independent platform for meaningful discussion as Scotland aims to achieve its target of being net zero by 2045.”
Cover image thanks to Stuart Spray