Corporate meddling threatens solutions in climate talks, US think-tank report says
Fossil fuel corporations participating in the highest level of climate policymaking are stalling solutions to climate change.
A report released by Corporate Accountability (CAI), a US-based think tank, titled “Polluting Paris,” details how fossil fuel corporations influence the United Nations-led climate talks through proxy organizations.
Last November, global leaders and climate negotiators met in Bonn, Germany for the Conference of Parties (COP) 23, a series of high level climate talks that seeks to tackle climate change through negotiations between governments.
This year, the conference’s main objective was to craft the rulebook for the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the climate accord signed in 2015 that seeks to limit the rise of global temperatures below 2˚C by drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the most controversial topics during the talks was “loss and damage.”
Various businesses were present during the two-week conference such as Business Europe, the US Chamber of Commerce and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), which had been granted Observer status by the United Nations earlier in September.
Loss and damage
Loss and damage refer to the impacts of climate change that cannot be addressed by cutting carbon emissions or implementing disaster risk prevention measures.
Examples of these are deaths caused by extreme weather events like Typhoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan) in Eastern Visayas in November 2013, and displacements and loss of income due to slow onset events such as intense droughts.
Developing countries, especially those vulnerable to climate change including the Philippines, have been at the forefront of campaigning for finance for loss and damage. There had been optimism that this year’s conference could finally address finance since the host country, Fiji, is a small island nation that experienced incredible losses due to the onslaught of Typhoon Winston early this year.
During one of the negotiations on loss and damage last November, representatives of Australia and the European Union (EU) blocked the inclusion of finance in the agenda, saying “not all disasters are caused by climate change.”
The assumption of liability for developed countries that polluted the environment in order to industrialize has been a controversial topic.
Acknowledging fault would drive the debate on financial responsibility to the mantle of developed nations.
“Agreeing to loss and damage means admitting responsibility, which is the last thing the fossil fuel industry and developed countries that do their bidding want to do,” said Jesse Brag, CAI Media Director.
Fossil fuel industry
According to the report, the US Chamber of Commerce, an event sponsor in the Business Day segment of COP 23, receives donations from fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil.
Companies such as ExxonMobil have been known to reject climate science.
Exxon Mobil, through the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), had repeatedly undermined scientific claims on climate change by spreading misinformation, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said. The AEI had, in the past, said there was no consensus on man-made climate change in the scientific community—a claim that the UCS rejects.
The AEI received US$3.6 million from Exxon Mobil from 1998-2012 and more than $1 million from Koch foundations, which have business interests in the fossil fuel industry, the UCS said.
Climatic Change, a scientific journal, had also identified ExxonMobil and Chevron as among the top carbon emitting companies in the world.
A conflict of interest in the participation of these companies in climate policymaking is at the center of the study conducted by CAI. Should companies whose profits and existence depend on burning incredible amounts of fossil fuels—the single most polluting activity on the planet—be allowed to participate in climate talks?
“If there is a time to lobby for big corporations, it is now,” Yeb Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Philippines, said during an interview in Bonn, Germany.
As countries worked to create the roadmap for the Paris Agreement, multinational fossil fuel companies exercised their hand in the talks through proxy organizations that sponsored events and even attended negotiations, CAI said.
The participation of lobbying organizations in the talks could point to the timid response of developed nations in loss and damage negotiations.
For many members of civil society organizations, the outcome for loss and damage in COP 23 was a disappointment.
Action Aid global lead on climate Harjeet Singh lamented the weak position adopted by Fijian prime minister and COP president Frank Bainimarama on loss and damage.
Advocates and several negotiators from developing nations campaigned for more funding for the technical group in charge of studies and meetings for loss and damage. Instead, COP 23 only provided for a one-off expert dialogue in May 2018, which may not be able to comprehensively tackle all the issues surrounding loss and damage.
“But even though vulnerable communities were in the spotlight [during COP 23], this still hasn’t translated into the support that they need,” Singh said.
To be able to take the loss and damage agenda further in climate policymaking, there is a need to disengage private sector interest in the climate talks, CAI said.
While businesses and private sector organizations have a role in global climate action, the UNFCCC needs to disallow their participation in the highest level of climate negotiations. The UN organization must invoke a conflict of interest clause, where groups with interests that run contrary to the goals of the talks must not be allowed in the talks, CAI added.
The World Health Organization created a similar policy to preserve the integrity of its discussions on tobacco control in 2003.
“Government must reclaim its role as the arbiter of corporate behavior. For too long, corporations have eroded governmental power and convinced people that individual actions are the solution to the climate crisis,” Brag said.
As the irreversible costs of climate change continue to destroy communities and take the lives of people who had no hand in the climate crisis, a thorough review of the UNFCCC’s policy of inclusivity is pertinent.
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