Should Private Companies be allowed in Climate Negotiations?

The past few days in the 2016 Bonn climate negotiations has seen a heated discussion over whether or not private companies should be allowed to participate as observers in the Conference of Parties (COP) 22 in Marrakech.

Last week, a group of developing countries — Ecuador, Guatemala, Bolivia, and Nicaragua — called for rules on the participation of observers in COP22, especially for private companies who have “commercial” and “conflict” of interest.

At the COP21 last year, fossil fuel companies who sponsored the biggest climate conference to date, was accused of greenwashing.

Private Companies influence on negotiations

This has now led to a debate among countries, with civil society supporting the call to avoid conflict of interest. What was a concern raised by mostly Latin American countries is now supported by the African group as well. Uganda, speaking for the group, notes that “we must keep the integrity of these negotiations.”

Australia, on the other hand, said that the convention is “playing a dangerous game” if it excludes people in the process. “We support engagement with all private sectors,” they added

Representing civil society, Hindou Ibrahim said that it is clear there is no adequate process to address conflict of interest.

“Commercial interest can direct outcomes of the negotiations. These negotiations affect the income of these industries and naturally have conflict of interest. We must protect the legitimacy of the UNFCCC,” she added.

Conflict of Interest 

According to Jesse Bragg of Corporate Accountability International, one of the concerns is that there is already a welcoming place for groups and corporations representing the fossil fuel industry, but the Paris Agreement takes it a step further. It extends an invitation for the private sector to get deeply engaged and involved in climate action.

“This can be a good thing, but it can also have challenges”, Bragg says. “If we are going to do that, we need to have policies in place, before that level of engagement begins”.

For Bragg, “climate action should be based on the interests of citizens and the planet, not those of the industry. The private sector will definitely have a role in climate action. The question is whether it is also going to be allowed to write the rules for it”.

Bragg also reminds about the dangers of “short term memory” and forgetting that these are the same companies that for decades, undermined the attempts to find solutions to climate change.

“Now that they are singing a different tune, we can’t just take them on their word because in large part, this has been a 20 year process because of some of the things they have done. We need more realistic conception of whether the PR that certain corporations are putting out actually reflects what their intentions are,” he said.

“And if your business model is predicated on extraction and burning of fossil fuels, do you really have a role that’s consistent with the interest of this convention?,” he added.

Keep Big Polluters Out

Corporate lobbying is no longer new. The tobacco industry has already done this and has proven corporate influence in legislations. A recent study by the University of Bath reveals that the lobby used by the tobacco industry “massively” shaped the regulation of cigarette and other tobacco products in Europe.

Fossil fuel industries have certainly gone from funding climate deniers to claiming that they are “part of the solution.” Their insistence to be part of the climate negotiations, which is meant to be about saving the planet and not corporate interests, will potentially have a big impact on governments.

We already know how they work. They covered up their knowledge on climate change for decades, when we could have already done something about it. Instead, they sowed doubt in people’s minds. They have sold “clean carbon” as a solution. And now, they also want to be in the negotiations?

The fossil fuel industry is a dirty industry using dirty tactics to keep their businesses running. Thankfully, many now see right through them. Those who have damaged the planet and blatantly lied about climate change should simply not be allowed to influence the world’s attempts on trying to save it.


Originally published in Asia Sentinel.