Turning tables: Growing support against corporate capture of climate policy-making

In the final days of the Bonn Climate Change Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Corporate Accountability International delivered a resounding call to the governments who have ratified the UNFCCC: protect the treaty and climate policymaking from the undue influence of the globe’s biggest polluters. The call endorsed by over 224,000 sends a strong message to kick big polluters out of climate policy.

The call comes as record droughts and rainfall, as well as relentless heatwaves, claim lives around the globe and some of the world’s biggest polluters attempt to co-opt the treaty process and influence negotiating outcomes. The meeting in Bonn, concluding June 11, is one of the last formal meetings of the governments that have ratified the UNFCCC before their next full Conference in Paris (formally called Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC or COP-21) —largely regarded as a make-or-break moment for the agreement.

“Why would you let the professional arsonist join the volunteer fire department?” said Bill McKibben, author and co-founder of 350.org, “These are the guys who want to keep the problem going, not solve it.”

From aggressive lobbying of national governments to bankrolling of international meetings, the fossil fuel industry interferes at all levels. Industry co-optation of treaty meetings has been a growing problem and a primary obstacle to progress. At the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Warsaw, corporations with a direct conflict of interest in the treaty’s success not only sponsored the talks, they were given preferential access to delegates.

In May, it was revealed that COP 21 in Paris may be yet another “Corporate COP” with the announcement of EDF and Suez Environnement as lead sponsors. Suez Environnement, infamous for its dealings in water privatization, is partially owned by ENGIE, formerly GDF Suez, which profits from fracking operations around the world, putting it at direct odds with the advancement of the treaty. ENGIE and EDF’s coal operations contribute to nearly 50% of France’s emissions.

John Stewart, Dy Campaign
Director, Corporate
Accountability International
The cozy relationship between polluters and the UNFCCC has become increasingly institutionalized.  The Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA), a joint project of the incoming and outgoing COP presidents, the Office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the UNFCCC Secretariat, encourages direct engagement with non-state actors—primarily identified as sub-national governments and corporations—as stakeholders in the policymaking process.

“The fossil fuel industry is not a partner in the solution—it is the driver of the crisis. Giving big polluters a seat at the table glosses over the glaring conflict of interest fossil fuel corporations have in a real solution to climate change,” said John Stewart, deputy campaign director at Corporate Accountability International. “Inviting gas, oil and coal corporations to shape climate policy is akin to looking to Big Tobacco to shape public health policy.” 

"It's time for the politicians to listen to the people and not the polluters. The fossil fuel industry continues to be the main obstacle in addressing the climate crisis, whether by corrupting the political process or by attempting to derail the ongoing transformation away from fossil fuel dependence. The only place for them in the UN process is outside of it. These negotiations must put the needs of vulnerable people and the planet centre stage, not the profits of dirty energy corporations" said Jamie Henn, 350.org Strategy and Communications Director.

It is important to note that as the climate policy-making processes move forward, there are other processes too moving ahead which may help address corporate capture of development justice agenda! For example, civil society consultations are being held globally to help shape a possible global binding treaty on business and human rights. Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) along with International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net) had organized the Asia Pacific consultation for such a global binding treaty in early May 2015. In June 2014, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to elaborate a binding instrument "to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises". This provides another critical opportunity to advance corporate accountability.

All is not that dark! There is a legal precedent of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) where governments came together to kick Big Tobacco out of health policy-making! Ten years ago, Corporate Accountability International  and its global network of civil society organizations secured a powerful international legal precedent when it led the charge to successfully kick the tobacco industry out of treaty talks at the World Health Organization negotiations of the FCTC. The success of the FCTC has enabled meaningful public health regulation that is unencumbered by industry profit motives and protects 90 percent of the world’s population from one of the most deadly industries on the planet.

Let us hope that Paris COP-21 meeting will also adapt measures to firewall climate policy-making from industry interference.

Bobby Ramakant, Citizen News Service - CNS
11 June 2015