On April 30, 2018, the Intersessionals- a climate preparatory session done earlier in the year ahead of the main United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP)- kicked off in Bonn, Germany and ended on the May 10, 2018. While the meeting is a United Nations meeting, the issues discussed concern every local community, every family and every individual.
The purpose of the meeting was to prepare the ground on salient issues ahead of the COP 24 negotiations to be held in Katowice, Poland, in December. While many issues were discussed at the meeting, certain items have caused a lot of buzz because of how important they are to the success of the negotiations, one of which is the proposal for a Conflict of Interest (COI) policy.
The issue of conflict of interest simply refers to the presence of fossil fuel industries at the negotiation table, either by themselves or through Business and Industry NGO’s (BINGOs) representing their interests, and how they use that to negatively influence and stall the climate talks. This has been a recurring concern since the COP 22 in Marrakech.
Repeatedly, this part of the conversation in the negotiations is pushed further to the coming year.
In the lead up to the COP 23 last year, Corporate Accountability International (CAI), an international think tank, reported the involvement of about 250 BINGOs admitted to the climate talks and they often use their presence to weaken the climate talks rather than to strengthen it.
It is even more worrying because Conflict of Interest, the main issue for discussion during the first week of the Intersessionals was deliberately omitted in the draft of the conclusion from the meeting, not even acknowledging the fact that it was discussed. Cleary, the influence of Big Polluters on this fundamental issue is a lot, and just like the discussions were abandoned in May last year in Bonn, there has been another deadlock again one year later.
Throughout the conflict of interest deliberations last week, various delegations called for a Conflict of Interest policy document, and as always, the push for it was intense with Ecuador, Cuba, Small Island States and the Africa group, while the USA, EU, Canada, Norway and Australia was against. CAI has suggested a stringent and transparent process to determine who or what organization gets admitted into the climate negotiations by ensuring that they are motivated by public rather than private interests. A key question to tackle though, is how to properly determine private or public interest at that stage, as some of those interests are revealed subtly upon admittance to the negotiations, and are even done through NGO’s who do not necessarily bear on the surface any connection to the fossil industries.
There have been arguments, especially from fossil interests that preventing business interests from participating in the climate talks will be counter-productive, as apart from stifling their possibility of contributing to the Paris commitments, it raises issues of freedom of speech as the outcome of the negotiations affects their businesses and business practices greatly. There is also the danger too of excluding legitimate interests in a bid to keep out the fossil backers.
Importantly too, a take-away from Bonn this year is that we must concern ourselves with how the big polluters are influencing and affecting policy locally, especially in oil producing economies like ours and how they are influencing the climate talks from bottom up, determining which side of the mouth countries are speaking from and what position certain Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) take because they are funding them. We must acknowledge the influence the private sector has on government and government business, and even on the nonprofit space.
A shortcoming of the Paris Agreement is that while it encourages the role of the private sector in tackling climate change, it fails to take into account its lobbying efforts.
While there was no agreement on a conflict of interest policy at the end of this year’s Intersessionals, according to Jesse Bragg of CAI, “Global South leaders prevailed in securing a clear path forward for the conflict of interest movement, ensuring the issue will be front and center next year”
In my opinion, we should not kick polluters completely out of the door, yet we must push for a conflict of interest policy that makes for transparency and accountability in the negotiations. It is essential too, to constantly keep in the front-burner of the conversation, the fact that these polluters should stop polluting, pay and clean up for the pollution they have done and to make the transition to low carbon energy.
This is why they must be kept involved, yet to such a minimal extent that they have little influence over the negotiations and policies like the conflict of interest policy because like Pascoe Sabido from the Corporate Europe Observatory said, “those polluting should not be writing environmental policies”
Adebayo, a lawyer, writes via [email protected]