Corporate conflicts of interest eclipse key climate negotiations

| 1st June 2018

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius - President of the COP21 climate change conference - raises his hands along with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and French President Francois Hollande on December 12, 2015.

Climate change negotiations in Germany earlier this month concluded with strong criticism from civil society groups for the lack of progress on regulating the influence of fossil fuel industries on international climate discussions. ANNA PEREZ CATALA from Climate Tracker reports

There is a revolving door between politics and the fossil fuel lobby all across Europe. It’s not just a handful of cases – it is systematic.

Delegates from around the world met in Germany to negotiate what is known as the Paris Rulebook - the set of rules and frameworks that will serve to implement the Paris Agreement - earlier this month.

These negotiations make 2018 a particularly important year: "I have talked about the COP24 as a 'Paris 2.0'. If we fail to approve the work program of the agreement, the Paris Agreement has no impact," explains Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations for Climate Change.

The international community must agree on a long series of climate measures under Paris, such as the implementation and design of carbon markets, the creation of a transparency process, setting up a mechanism to increase climate ambition and - most contentious - a financing mechanism that helps the poorest countries make their transition to sustainable energy and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Climate action

With such a delicate job ahead, NGOs have criticised the fact that actors with interests opposed to climate action can attend and participate in the negotiations. 

“In just seven months, parties aim to lock-in the guidelines to the Paris Agreement," said Jesse Bragg from Corporate Accountability. "Turning Paris from just a set of aspirations on paper into actual action.

"If those rules and guidelines continue to be written with big polluters looking over the shoulders of delegates, our chances of achieving Paris’ aspirations could be lost.”

Corporate Accountability is among the NGOs who are denouncing how large oil, gas and coal companies have direct access to climate negotiations thanks to organisations such as the United States Chamber of Commerce or the Business Europe association.

This access leads them to influence decisions, to appear greener as an organisation - also known as ‘Greenwashing’ - or to promote false solutions.

Presence of polluters

At the UN conference earlier this May, a collection of countries representing more than 70 percent of the world's population have asked the United Nations to adopt a definition and clear regulation of Conflict of Interest (COI).

This would prevent organisations that delay climate action at the national or international level from influencing climate change negotiations.

However, the UN negotiations on this issue were postponed for another year - until June 2019. This is despite the high interest from civil society groups and several country delegations.

The United States and the European Union in particular vetoed any progress on the issue, preventing any progress on an agreement that regulates the presence of polluters in the negotiations.

During the recent climate negotiations, a letter signed by 88 members of the European Parliament from six different parliamentary groups was also presented, requesting a definition and regulation on conflict of interest in the climate negotiations.

There is a revolving door between politics and the fossil fuel lobby all across Europe. It’s not just a handful of cases – it is systematic.

Leaders in obstruction

Likewise, European civil society also presented a letter signed by more than 100 organisations, asking Arias Cañete, Commissioner of Energy and Climate and leader of the European delegation in the international negotiations, to support a conflict of interest policy.

"The EU has managed to block policies on conflict of interest and return home and get away with it, not receiving any backlash," argues Pascoe Sabido of Corporate Europe Observatory.

"Now we see how more groups are paying attention, and no longer accept that the EU, as a climate leader, should be standing in the way of such an important policy as this."

In addition, these civil society groups presented a report detailing the revolving doors of several European countries, including the UK, between governments and fossil fuel companies. The report, whose authors stress it is not exhaustive, identifies 88 cases of revolving doors across 13 countries.

Max Anderson, a member of the European Parliament, said: “There is a revolving door between politics and the fossil fuel lobby all across Europe. It’s not just a handful of cases – it is systematic.

Private sector

"The fossil industry has an enormous economic interest in delaying climate action and the revolving door between politics and the fossil lobby is a serious cause for alarm."

The report finds that the UK scores 'medium' in the climate performance index, that is, in its efforts for a transition towards an energy efficient and low carbon society.

It also emphasises that fossil fuels are subsidised with more than 7.4 billion euros per year in the UK, and argues the problem of revolving doors is "endemic" to the country.

As many as 60 percent of ministers and public officials who left government took up roles in the private sector in the same sector as their ministry between 2009 and 2015, according to the study.

The UK department with the highest percentage of people taking up private sector employment in the same field as their public service role was the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). DECC became part of Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in July 2016.

Nearly 90 percent of people leaving DECC took up jobs in the energy sector, including six former energy ministers. The study argues that the revolving doors within the fracking industry are particularly worrying, especially in times when no more fossil fuels should be extracted.

Experts argue that we need a policy that regulates revolving doors and conflicts of interest if we want to advance climate policy. On the level of international discussions, however, this has been kicked into the long grass.

This Author:

Anna Pérez Català is an environmental scientist specialised in climate change and development. She has worked for NGOs, governments and organisations on climate and environmental issues. She is the campaign manager for Climate Tracker, an organisation supporting environmental journalists worldwide to bring climate change into their national debates. Anna tweets from @AnnaPerezCatala

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