Climate crisis: Undue influence undermines global efforts

Ruth Green, IBA Multimedia JournalistMonday 25 October 2021

As final preparations are being made for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, there are serious concerns that undue influence and conflicts of interest are undermining the global effort to combat the climate crisis. Leaked documents have revealed how a handful of fossil-fuel producing nations have been attempting to influence the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to water down its draft recommendations on steps needed to address the crisis. Tens of thousands of comments by governments, corporations, academics and others were leaked to Greenpeace UK.

An IPCC spokesperson said its processes were ‘designed to guard against lobbying – from all quarters’. However, the leak illustrates how influence ‘can be exerted behind closed doors, including to manipulate science,’ says Brice Böhmer, who leads Transparency International's work on climate governance integrity. Although not new, when countries are ‘running out of time to solve the climate crisis’, he says such practices ‘are not acceptable anymore’.

Böhmer says there’s a very real risk of undue influence marring climate negotiations. ‘Everyone knows that these fossil fuel companies are having an undue influence on some of the negotiations, but nothing is being done,’ he says. He points to a 2019 report by think tank Influence Map which alleged that major oil and gas companies have spent millions on lobbying efforts to ‘control, delay or block’ climate regulations since the Paris Agreement. All the companies rejected the report’s findings.

As all eyes turn to COP26, Böhmer says urgent action is required to ensure climate discussions aren’t derailed. ‘This is a pattern that we are seeing everywhere and is very problematic and I would say disappointing in UN institutions,’ he says. ‘We see it in national institutions as well, but we’re insisting on [a process for these] international bodies because they should have the highest standards.’

Eva Joly, a former anti-corruption magistrate and presidential candidate for the French party Europe Ecology - The Greens, has dedicated her career to tackling financial crime and was appointed Vice-Chair of the Commissions of Inquiry on Luxleaks and the Panama Papers. She says any moves by governments or business to unduly influence climate talks for their own gain are tantamount to corruption. ‘Corruption is when democratic resolutions are circumvented by false science, by artificial doubts, like in the tobacco industry where we lost 40 years because there were scientists who accepted to play the role of professional doubters and created artificial doubts,’ she says. ‘The same thing has happened to climate change.’

Joly says recent leaks like the Pandora Papers have exposed the extent of corruption throughout the financial system. ‘These leaks show it's really the case of the elite and how they believe that they are not part of this society,’ she says. ‘What we see now is that the multinationals are not contributing their fair share just as the rich people are not.’

Everyone knows that these fossil fuel companies are having an undue influence on some of the negotiations, but nothing is being done

Brice Böhmer
Head, Climate Governance Integrity Programme, Transparency International

As societies face increasing costs to reduce carbon emissions, she says world leaders have a responsibility to rise to the challenge of fighting climate change: ‘We must change and we must act on what is most important and that is the climate. Not only is the planet becoming warmer – you have the fires, the tremendous precipitations. And we know that we have lost a lot of time.’

Transparency International raised concerns with Alok Sharma, the UK Government's President-Designate for COP26. The NGO said, in a letter, that conflicts of interest ‘whether real or perceived, undermine climate action’ and risk compromising the progress achieved in Paris in 2015 and the ‘legitimacy and integrity’ of the COP26 negotiations.

The letter called on the COP26 presidency to revise COP processes to reduce potential conflicts of interest. It also raised concerns over the appointment of a partner to the UK Government, which acts for fossil fuel clients. Asked to comment on their role as a partner at COP26, a spokesperson rejected suggestions that there was a conflict of interest. ‘COP26 represents a pivotal moment in the global drive for businesses, governments and society to take decisive action,’ he said. ‘We believe in engagement and work with clients willing to make a positive change to help facilitate their decarbonisation, net-zero transition efforts.’

One of the key objectives of COP26 will be to deliver much-needed clarity on global carbon market trading – a concept devised under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that allowed high-income countries to reduce their own emissions by financing emission reduction projects in low-income countries. In 2015, Article 6 of the Paris Agreement established a UN mechanism for international carbon markets, but the rules have still not been firmly established, leaving the system vulnerable to issues such as ‘double counting’.

New Zealand was one country that fell foul of the system, says Barry Barton, a professor at The University of Waikato in New Zealand and a member of the editorial board of the IBA’s Journal of Energy and Natural Resources Law. ‘New Zealand companies bought prodigious numbers of emission reduction units from former Soviet bloc countries, and the government imposed none of the restrictions that the EU and other countries did on importing them,’ he says. ‘Most of the units lacked environmental credibility; about three-quarters of them were unlikely to represent actual emissions reductions over and above what would have happened anyway. But they were cheap, and they rendered the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme ineffective for a long period.’

Barton says stronger rules and regulations will be vital to ensuring that countries trade transparently and efficiently in line with global efforts to reduce emissions: ‘The international community is determined not to go back and repeat these bad experiences. It will insist on transparency, clear rules and proper verification to prevent unfounded claims and fraud.’

Image: Shutterstock/Rafapress

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