U.S. PR Firm Plays Both Sides In Egypt Climate Change Talks
As reports pile up about the urgency of upcoming negotiations to avert at least the worst possible climate tipping points, consider one of the primary messengers from the COP27 talks that commence Nov. 6 in Egypt.
Photo Insert: Hill & Knowlton has been a major PR player representing industry in many of the most contentious environmental health battles of the last half-century.
One of the companies that contributed to the flood of disinformation that brought us to this point, the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, has been selected by the Egyptian government to handle its communications for the summit in the seaside city of Sharm el-Sheikh, Mark Schapiro reported for Capital & Main.
Hill & Knowlton, according to the website Open Democracy, has been a major PR player representing industry in many of the most contentious environmental health battles of the last half-century, including the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitters, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Saudi Aramco.
Another of H&K’s clients has been Coca-Cola, which holds the distinction of having more of its discarded plastic bottles — basically oil in physical form — in landfills, on riverbanks and ocean shorelines, and in the stomachs of marine mammals than any other single company.
As Scientific American pointed out, for decades both the oil and tobacco industries have employed Hill & Knowlton to downplay the dangers of their products by fanning nonexistent scientific doubt — most recently to undermine with misinformation the overwhelming scientific consensus on the human causes of climate change.
H&K’s Egyptian clients are hosting the world’s delegates, scientists, journalists and civil society representatives while imprisoning many environmental activists at home, as Naomi Klein revealed recently in The Intercept — major human rights violations that should become a public relations crisis.
Another twist: The Egyptian news site Mada Masr, which itself has faced numerous threats for its reporting, revealed that in just the last few months, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, chief convenor of COP27, obtained financing from the Saudi royal family — one of the biggest obstacles for climate action — for the government’s own media outlet to transmit news on the negotiations.
Hill & Knowlton has at least 11 offices in the United States, including in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Tampa and Miami, Florida; San Francisco and Los Angeles; and Austin, Texas.
How deeply will the firm be collaborating with one of the Arab world’s most repressive regimes? Will it be suggesting to its Egyptian hosts that holding activists in prison who otherwise might even be present at the negotiations might present, at minimum, a public relations issue?
How will Hill & Knowlton handle contentious negotiations that involve its former and possible future clients in the fossil fuel industry?