Time to Act Against Undue Influence and Corruption

On December 9, the world celebrated anti-corruption day, and on December 10 human rights day. These topics keep evaporating at COP. Why is ambition still lacking when we have the solutions, technologies, and the money? Solving the climate crisis is possible, but vested economic interests, corporate capture, and a lack of political will are in the way. CAN is calling on Parties to commit to good governance and act with the highest degree of integrity when deciding on the future of our planet; a conflict of interest policy is urgently needed for the UNFCCC.

We need to end undue influence now

Political interference from vested interests prevents measures being taken to solve the climate crisis and can redirect the negotiations toward solutions that don’t align with the science and which undermine ambition. A recent report shows that the world’s five largest oil and gas companies spent over US$1 billion on climate-related branding and lobbying since the Paris Agreement. This must change; the way that lobbying and campaign financing is regulated at national levels must improve. 

Corruption and political interference take many forms, from self-enrichment to the blocking, delaying, and watering down of key policy-making.

The fossil fuel industry and other emission-intensive industries have a long and well-documented history of undermining the UNFCCC and other bodies. Through their interference and corrupt practices, crucial outcomes of this process – including, for example, the Kyoto Protocol itself – have been stalled, blocked or undermined. We need to remove the undue influence of fossil fuel companies and other high-emitting corporations from the halls of the UNFCCC. To that end, Parties must join the governments, representing more than 70% of the world’s population, who called for a conflict of interest policy in 2016 and have continued to demand one since. The US, the EU and Australia, who all have variations of such policies in their national legislative bodies should be champions for this, not opponents! A policy such as this will give governments the precedent they need to root out interference at home, and make way for a just transformation.

Corruption risks in key sectors

The world needs to take crucial steps towards a greener future, including phasing out fossil fuels, protecting forests, improving sustainable transportation, and deploying renewable energy sources. These actions all involve industries with particularly high corruption risks and histories of climate denial or policy interference, such as construction, forestry and fossil fuels. For example, the World Bank estimates that 20-40% of water sector finances are lost to corrupt practices. Similar rates apply for the transport and energy sectors. In some sectors, this is exacerbated by criminal activities; in countries that produce tropical timber, 50-90% of the volume of all forestry is illegal.

Countries that are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change often have higher levels of public sector corruption and political interference from corporate actors. Instead of improving peoples’ lives, financial flows — along with other climate policies — might not reach the frontline communities most affected by the impacts of the climate crisis. Corruption harms the environment and slows down progress towards all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): we need to keep transparency, accountability and integrity at the core of the Paris Agreement.

Protect civic space & environmental defenders

Where corruption thrives and rule of law is weak, those standing up against environmental crimes are risking their lives. Death rates among environmental activists have been rising steadily over the past 15 years. Since 2002, over 1500 people – farmers, NGO workers, lawyers and journalists – have been killed for defending their environment and lands.

We must protect those who protect the environment, and end impunity for crimes against them. Laws that protect human rights must be properly enforced. Legal intimidation and criminalisation of activists has to end. We also need reliable access to information, safe channels to report corruption, and laws to protect whistle-blowers. We must create and protect spaces for citizen participation, because civil society engagement is key to effective decision-making and sustained support for climate action. Parties from Latin America and the Caribbean must sign and ratify the Escazu agreement.

We can’t tackle the climate crisis without tackling corruption

We can only solve the climate crisis if we safeguard policymaking from the interference of the industries who have so richly profited from driving this crisis. We must prevent corruption and make sure global climate policy serves the interests of all people and the planet, not just a few private concerns. For action against climate change to be effective, we urgently need to shift perspectives and step up efforts towards transparency, accountability, and integrity. The UNFCCC has a key role to play in this by advancing policies that protect against conflicts of interest and maintain the integrity and legitimacy of the negotiations. We must make good governance the cornerstone of the fight against climate change, and therefore of the Paris Agreement; a first urgent step is to agree on a conflict of interest policy.

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