The Danger of Allowing Polluters Inside the UN Climate Talks

The involvement of polluting companies inside the UN Climate Negotiations through organisations such as the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Mining Association, Fuels Europe, and the Business Council of Australia has long been a contentious issue.

During the Conference of Parties (COP) 21 in Paris held last 2015, companies such as Engie, a European electric utility company that is the continent’s largest importer of natural gas and EDF, a French electric utility that operates several major coal-fired power plants, sponsored the biggest COP of the UN Climate Talks to date.

Civil society organisations as well as many developing countries such as Ecuador, Guatemala, and Bolivia have called this “greenwashing” and have led to discussions with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat on whether or not these companies should be allowed inside the negotiations in the first place. These companies, according to civil society and the many countries that oppose their participation in the UNFCCC, poses a conflict of interest between what the negotiations aim to do and the nature of these businesses.

Corporate Accountability International (CAI) released a report on the involvement of more than 250 Business and Industry Non-Governmental Organizations (BINGOs) that are currently allowed inside the UN climate talks. Many of these BINGOs represent corporations that have consistently used their presence at the UNFCCC to weaken policy rather than strengthen it.

“These are the same companies that, for decades, have undermined attempts to find solutions to climate change, although they knew of its existence for so long. Now that they are singing a different tune, we cannot just allow our memory to fall short,” said Jessie Bragg of CAI during the 2016 Bonn intersessional.

The World Coal Association, for example, is aggressively promoting a coal-centred agenda and lobbies inside the UNFCCC and the European group FuelsZero is also present (consisting of BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and Lukoil, a.o.) and has publicly stated that,“The EU has already done enough” regarding to climate change mitigation.

This year, the UNFCCC secretariat held a workshop with civil society on whether or not fossil fuel companies should be allowed to participate in the negotiations.

“Parties just had the first of many conversations they are going to have in order to address the grave issue of conflict of interest. Parties just took the first step to determine what to do about what to do their influence in this space and over national government positions as well,” says Bragg.

“We don’t have any standards yet to prove how the implementation of the Paris agreement should be done, and who should be doing it, therefore we need a track-record of parties with mixed interests,” stated the Climate Justice Network.

On the other hand, countries like Australia and Norway have agreed to allow polluters inside the negotiations as businesses need to be involved in climate action.


Civil Society and developing countries are asking the UNFCCC to look at the abundance of established best practices that are already embodied in similar legislation around the world and put in place a stringent, transparent process for admission of UNFCCC observers.

Corporate lobbying is not 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. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) was able to implement a guideline help to protect against classic industry interference tactics from the tobacco industry during the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

These provisions have been recognized by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan as the single largest catalyst of progress in a treaty that could save 200 million lives by 2050 when fully implemented.

“It is not impossible to ban the polluters of policy,” stated the WHO delegate during the conflict-of-interest talks in Bonn.

The same process is asked of the UNFCCC. According to CAI, The process must be rigorous enough to ensure that those allowed to participate in the UNFCCC negotiations are motivated by the sole interest of protecting people and the planet, not private interests or what’s good for business.