Tuesday

26th May 2020

Opinion

We need a firewall against vested interests in climate policy-making

From Brussels, civil society is leading the EU-level call for a conflict of interest policy at the UN climate talks. With environment ministers now preparing for the UN climate change conference in May, it's time for the EU to back efforts tackling the vested interests that continue to undermine these negotiations.

There are very few decision makers on the international stage who would deny the urgency of halting disastrous climate change. After all, our very survival depends on it.

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  • So major oil, gas, coal and other dirty energy businesses have used their privileged access to the UN climate conferences to delay effective action and promote false solutions. (Photo: Paul Lowry)

But one blind spot has remained, and it's a big one: despite their large contribution to climate change and resulting conflicts of interest, fossil fuel corporations and their lobby groups continue to be heavily involved in the UN climate change negotiations, where they keep pushing for false solutions and obstruct effective action.

To deliver the Paris Agreement goal of keeping average global temperature rises well below 2°C, let alone 1.5°C, it's vital to address the elephant in the conference room.

The UN climate change conferences are the main democratic space where currently all countries can – and must – come together to negotiate goals, measures and milestones in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibility.

Allowing fossil fuel corporations into this space gives airtime, privileged access to policy-makers and leverage to the very actors whose business model is a large contributor to climate change.

That's why countries representing nearly 70 percent of the global population, as well as numerous civil society organisations in the global South and North representing youth, indigenous people, women, and those on the front lines of climate change have for the past two years been calling for a conflict of interest policy for the UN climate change talks.

But so far, the EU, alongside historic polluters like the USA and Australia, has blocked progress on the issue.

Yes, the necessary transformation of our energy and economic systems presents a major threat to the business model of polluting corporations, putting shareholder dividends on the line.

So major oil, gas, coal and other dirty energy businesses have used their privileged access to the UN climate conferences – obtained for example via sponsorship - to delay effective action and promote false solutions.

Gas as a "clean bridge fuel", so-called 'climate smart agriculture' and risky, unproven technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS) have only made it onto the agenda thanks to a co-ordinated corporate push from the likes of Shell, who recently proposed 10,000 new CCS plants to meet climate targets.

But if the EU wants to be taken seriously in its much-touted climate leadership while gaining credibility and recognition from the public, the profits of polluting corporations must not be their main concern.

On the contrary, it is the public interest and the health, livelihoods and safety of the people which must be their first and greatest consideration.

If EU climate commissioner Canete, the EU's lead negotiator at the UN climate talks, championed efforts to tackle vested interests in international climate policy-making, a major hurdle on the way to halting catastrophic climate change would start to crumble.

In a joint letter to the commissioner, 93 organisations from Europe and countries impacted by EU climate policy just joined the call for a conflict of interest policy at all future UN climate talks.

And this is not the first time commissioner Canete has been urged to stop blocking such a policy at the UN climate talks. In October 2017, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for "the issue of vested or conflicting interests be addressed" and for corresponding "guidelines" to be issued.

Pushing ahead with a conflict of interest policy for the UN climate change negotiations could be straightforward. There is already a very good example for such a measure at the United Nations level.

Vested interests have been blacklisted under the UN Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, in order to protect public health policy-making from the influence of the tobacco industry and its lobbyists. The parallel to the fossil fuel lobbies' influence in climate policy is very clear - climate change is, after all, also a major threat to global public health.

Right now, EU environment ministers are preparing for the UN's intersessional negotiations on climate change which will take place in Bonn in May. There, proposals for tackling vested interests will be put on the table.

This is a great opportunity for the EU to show true climate leadership and align itself with those governments fighting for greater ambition on behalf of populations already feeling the impact. It's time to break ties with the likes of president Trump and the big oil, gas and coal corporations that are profiting from the destruction of the climate.


Belen Balanya is a Climate Campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory, Paul de Clerck is the Coordinator of the Economic Justice Programme at Friends of the Earth Europe, Roland Joebstl is an Energy and Climate Policy Officer at the European Environment Bureau and Nina Renshaw is the Secretary General at the European Public Health Alliance.

With almost a hundred other organisations, they have sent a letter to EU climate commissioner Canete, urging him to back a conflict of interest policy for the UN climate talks.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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