Conflict of interest
A heated debate is currently ongoing about the necessity to prevent Business and Industry Non-Governmental Organisations (BINGOs) representing Big Oil from disproportionately and wrongly manipulating, slowing and watering down climate policy and negotiations. OPEC countries and the fossil fuel industry that they often represent make gigantic returns from oil revenues and employ enough people to make a low-carbon growth model sound uneconomic as well as unviable.
BINGOs, by representing many of the largest fossil fuel companies in climate talks, continue to hijack negotiations in regards to climate change. The interests of these corporations sometimes remain unspoken, but often also openly shield those that are protecting the old economic model that is coupled with the use of fossil fuels.
This practice of protecting business interests in climate negotiations has been evident in every UN climate conference: the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Mining Association (also American); Business Roundtable (USA); Fuels Europe; the Business Council of Australia; the International Chamber of Commerce, Shell, Chevron, BP, Exxon Mobil—all of these interest groups are being represented at the UN climate negotiations, like the one that took place in Bonn, Germany recently.
Only 25 fossil fuel producers are responsible for over half of global emissions. Climate policy interference and barricading progress on climate negotiations by these very companies are considered to be among the top ten most obstructive lobbying practices the world over.
In spite of these facts, the fossil fuel industry has secured a firm seat at the international climate negotiation table and leveraged its enormous economic supremacy. The UNFCCC, the United Nations body overlooking the climate talks, not only overlooks this obstructionism but salutes these industries and welcomes them with open arms, further legitimising them in the eyes of the world. The general public is guided by the misconception that governments are the ones who drive climate negotiations, but behind closed doors, it is the industry that is most responsible for climate change that seems to be pulling the strings.
"For decades, the US government has used the UNFCCC to advance weak deals and push fossil fuel industry interests ahead of the needs and rights of people," ("Polluting Paris – How Big Polluters Are Undermining Global Climate Policy, November 10, 2017, TruePublica).
While people who contribute the least to global emission are paying a big price as a result of the inaction with their lives and livelihoods and are bearing the daily consequences of climate change, many governments of the Global North are hindering the implementation and negotiation of international policy that is necessary to control the climate catastrophe. This delay is part of a big game that worsens global standards of living, provokes racial inequality and promotes unmanageable, unsustainable development.
One of the most prominent discussions at Bonn this year was one that took a look at the conflicts of interest (CoI) between the fossil-fuel industry and the presence of their representatives at UNFCCC meetings. It is well-known that the UNFCCC climate talks and climate negotiations have been, for several years, biased towards corporate lobbyists and those with ties to the fossil fuel industry. Some eye-opening facts and information on how the representatives of "Big Oil" (fossil fuel giants) in Climate conferences—directly and indirectly—affect outcomes adversely have been highlighted again and again in the report "Inside Job: Big Polluters' Lobbyists on the Inside at the UNFCCC" by the international think-tank Corporate Accountability International (CAI), which was already published ahead of the inter-sessional meeting of the UNFCCC in Bonn, Germany, in May 2017. Even very recently, at COP23, climate protesters gathered and walked out (on November 13, 2017) as the US government made an official presentation advertising the role of coal in a sustainable energy future. Activists with SustainUS who harmonised the protest said more than 100 people walked out of the US session. The group's announcement said, "This White House panel of fossil fuel billionaires is a disgrace and an insult to the people of the US and the world who are moving forward with bold climate solutions and want to stay in the Paris Agreement." Pascoe Sabido, a researcher at the think-tank Corporate Europe Observatory, added: "Encouraging coal at a climate summit is like encouraging tobacco at a cancer summit."
Many voices have been raised to demand the introduction of a conflict-of-interest policy for the UNFCCC. The UNFCCC has the authorisation to shut the doors that are allowing corporate lobbyists at the table of climate negotiations. So some vital groundwork and a binding conflict-of-interest policy can be a significant step forward in preventing corporate interest holders from dominating climate conferences. Parties must look to the abundance of established green practices all over the world and assemble, in a rigorous manner, for the UNFCCC observers to reveal and limit corporate influence in its many appearances.
Shooha Tabil is a student at Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET) and South Asia fellow at Climate Tracker.