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
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.’