Conflict of interest at UN climate talk
Since the twenty-second session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) in 2016 in Marrakesh, Morocco, environmentalists are very much worried about the influence of fossil fuel industries in climate change negotiation. Environmental groups claim that a number of business participants in these talks are funded by the fossil fuel industries. They demand a strong restriction on their participation. Otherwise, they fear, it will be difficult to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degree or even 2.0 degree Celsius. They allege that some of the giant fossil fuel companies are driven by their corporate greed for profit. Their continued profit making from the environmentally destructive projects, they point out, resulted in environmental crisis in many countries.
There is an allegation that the fossil fuel industry influences the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) through its many trade associations. As Business/Industry Non-Governmental Organisations (BINGOs), these associations take part in negotiations and lobby governments. Also, these associations are allowed to act as observers at the UNFCCC.
Corporate Accountability International, a Boston-based voluntary organisation, has published a new report which shows the connections between fossil fuel industries and business non-governmental organisations regarding UN climate talks. The report has stated, "Despite what major fossil fuel corporations may insist about their support for the Paris Agreement, these corporations have consistently used their presence at the UNFCCC to weaken policy rather than strengthen it. Hundreds of BINGOs, many of which have direct links to the industry and its interests, have been granted access to attend UNFCCC negotiations. Under current UNFCCC policies, industry representatives like the World Coal Association, which aggressively promotes a coal-centred agenda, sit in the very rooms where delegates discuss policy options to avert climate disaster." [https://www.stopcorporateabuse.org/sites/default/files/resources/insidejobcai.pdf]
A 15-day preliminary session of the upcoming COP23, from May 08 to May 18, is now in session at Bonn, Germany. On May 09, an in - session workshop on opportunities to further enhance the effective engagement of non-Party stakeholders with a view to strengthening the implementation of the provisions of decision 1/CP. 21 was held there.
The issue of conflicting interest among non-party stakeholders was raised in that workshop. The workshop discussed whether or not fossil fuel companies should be allowed to attend the UNFCCC as observers. From the minutes of the workshop, some discussion points related to conflict of interest may be seen below [source: http://unfccc.int/resource/ docs/2017/sbi/eng/ inf07.pdf]:
A panelist and other participants called for a legal framework to enable the better engagement of non-Party stakeholders. This would require the development of a set of rules and principles, as well as procedures for avoiding conflicts of interest. With regard to potential conflicts of interest, some participants called for a process for guaranteeing that all non-Party stakeholders participating in the process are committed to the objectives of the Convention and share a common view on their urgency. Others stressed that more observers joining the UNFCCC process was a positive development, because as many groups as possible will be needed to achieve transformational change on a global level.
On conflicts of interest, some participants stressed that enhancing the engagement of non-Party stakeholders must not undermine the legitimacy and integrity of the UNFCCC process. To that end, one group proposed that the UNFCCC process adopt a definition of conflict of interest. The framework for engagement adopted by the World Health Organisation in its efforts on tobacco control was cited as an example. Some participants expressed concern regarding public-private partnerships being viewed as the only driver for climate action. Others countered that businesses and industry play an important role in meeting the climate challenge and all groups will benefit from an open and transparent process. Another speaker noted that excluding groups, such as the private sector, fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of this convention, as the entire negotiating process is about hearing competing views.
The discussion also addressed potential conflicts of interest. Some called for a clear process for addressing conflicts of interest and stressed that corporations should not be involved in policy making. Others noted that all sectors should be included and cited the success of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer as an example of positive industry involvement.
Part of the debate centred on the need to develop a policy to address conflicts of interest for non-Party stakeholders. Some participants strongly expressed support for this approach, while others stressed the importance of diversity and inclusiveness.
The writer has appeared in the Masters of Science in Disaster Management examination, Department of Geography and Environment, University of Dhaka