The interest of fossil fuel corporations and agribusiness in climate policies
In 2015, the countries that signed the Paris Agreement decided to keep the global average temperature increase of the current century “well below 2 °C” compared to pre-industrial levels, and “persuade efforts” to keep it below 1.5 °C. Consequently, these countries should act in line with the aim of “strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development”, and of reaching a peak in global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible [1, 2].
Looking at these ambitions, one would think that the primary cause of the climate crisis – i.e., burning oil, coal, and gas excessively – would be mentioned in the Agreement [3, 4]. In fact, it was neglected. The focus of the Paris negotiations was shifted away from keeping fossil fuels in the ground – to prevent extraction and rising emissions – by defining the climate crisis merely as “a problem of too much CO₂ molecules in the atmosphere” .
Furthermore, the scenarios that were developed by scholars to reduce the global average temperature below 2 °C mainly used economic models. These tended to focus on the sequestration of vast amounts of atmospheric CO₂ by plants .
Even though the Paris Agreement was ratified by countries, it seems that transnational firms, such as fossil fuel corporations and agribusiness enterprises, and closely connected major conservation NGOs were the ones that heavily affected the decision-making processes. It is argued that these organizations have been reproached for securing their future profits by actively advocating “bogus solutions” such as tree plantations and reforestation projects, which would compensate for the emissions from fossil fuel burning .
The Paris Agreement, like most countries, adopted a definition of forest that was promoted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which has an interest in extending the amount of industrial tree plantations. Not surprisingly, the FAO’s definition of forest includes eucalyptus, pine, acacia, teak, bamboo, and rubber tree plantations .
This wide-spectrum definition of forest allowed many new monoculture plantations to be framed as reforestation projects. In Latin American, extensive reforestation projects have made a significant use of monoculture plantations: The Clean Development Mechanism (68% of its plantations), the Forest Investment Program (21%), Initiative 20×20 (14%) and local initiatives (11%) . Unsurprisingly, the majority of these projects were financed by public funds and international donors .
Fig.1: A bamboo plantation without any undergrowth. Photo by Kinsey on Unsplash (February 2020).
Also the World Resource Institute (WRI) – a “respected and highly data-driven environmental research organization” – strongly supported monocultural practices (e.g., for maize, soy and wheat), claiming that they would have the highest total added value among all considered “restoration practices” in Latin America [9, 10].
As it is true that corporate interests often prevail above national policies and targets, it has been true also with the ambitious Paris Agreement. This because the Agreement “does not contain legally binding provisions that require countries to take domestic legal action” . Hence, the willingness of governments to implement climate policies that could aim at the Agreement targets has been compromised by their need to balance the requests of private bodies with clashing interests .
Sometimes governments are so entangled with the vested “environmental” interests of fossil fuel corporations that democracy can be undermined. An example comes from the Netherlands, where “Shell and Dutch politics [have] become heavily entwined” , and where the current Dutch cabinet has included three ministers that had previously worked for Shell . Appointing one of them as minister of Economic Affairs and Climate has led the critics to ferociously denounce that the “cabinet [had] been hijacked by Shell” (Verhoeven, 2020, p.10). Sure enough, the Dutch fossil fuel industry has been rather helped than damaged by the government, showing that the climate policies of some European counties are still far away from the Paris Agreement targets .
 UNFCCC (2021, 26 February). Greater Climate Ambition Urged as Initial NDC Synthesis Report Is Published. Retrieved 28 February 2021, from https://unfccc.int/news/greater-climate-ambition-urged-as-initial-ndc-synthesis-report-is-published
 Burnes, B. (2017). After Paris: Changing corporate behaviour to achieve sustainability. Social Business, 7(3-4), 333-357. https://doi.org/10.1362/204440817X15108539431532
 Litgow, M. (2017, March). Analyzing the Environmental Injustices of Carbon Offsetting: The Limits of the California-REDD+ Linkage. Retrieved 25 February 2021, from http://library2.smu.ca/bitstream/handle/01/26934/Lithgow_Matthew_MASTERS_2017.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
 World Rainforest Movement (2017). What do forests have to do with climate change, carbon markets and REDD+? Downloaded 27 February 2021, from https://wrm.org.uy/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/WRMtoolkitREDD_Eng.pdf
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 Romijn, E., Coppus, R., De Sy, V., Herold, M., Roman-Cuesta, R. M., & Verchot, L. (2019). Land restoration in Latin America and the Caribbean: an overview of recent, ongoing and planned restoration initiatives and their potential for climate change mitigation. Forests, 10(6), 510.
 Romijn, J.E. & Coppus, R. (2019). Replication Data for: Restoration Database for Latin America and the Caribbean. Comparative Research Project on Landscape Restoration for Emissions Reductions, CIAT/WUR project for USAID. Retrieved 27 February 2021, from https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/B9OUOZ
 Broder, J.M. (2012, 14 March). Climate Change Envoy to Lead Influential Institute. Retrieved 27 February 2021, from https://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/14/climate-change-envoy-to-lead-influential-institute/
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 Clémençon, R., 2016. The two sides of the Paris Climate Agreement. The Journal of Environment & Development, 25 (1), 3–24. DOI:10.1177/1070496516631362