Ethics 101: Conflict of Interest

25 May 2016

It has come to the attention of ECO that, during the SBI contact group on Arrangements for Intergovernmental Meetings yesterday, many Parties and their lawyers were unclear about the definition of a fairly basic legal concept: “conflict of interest”. ECO knows that many negotiators (and certainly their legal experts) are lawyers. Imagine our surprise when several delegations feigned ignorance of the concept. As a public service to them (and all of us), here are the legal basics:

A conflict of interest may arise when activities, relationships or situations place a public institution, and/or an individual that represents it, in a real, potential or perceived conflict between its duties or responsibilities to the public, and personal, institutional or other interests. These others interests include, but are not limited to, business, commercial or financial interests pertaining to the institution and/or the individual. A conflict of interest, therefore, could be financial in nature or could simply point to diverging interests that may undermine policy objectives or outcomes.

Because nearly every public, and many private, institutions (like law firms) have the potential for conflict of interest, it is the rule, not the exception, that they also have policies to manage them. Indeed, many Parties to the UNFCCC also belong to other intergovernmental institutions like the OECD, where they have endorsed Guidelines for Managing Conflict of Interest in the Public Service since 2003. These guidelines state in no uncertain terms that “when conflict-of-interest situations are not properly identified and managed, they can seriously endanger the integrity of organisations and result in corruption in the public sector and private sector alike.” Given the potential for conflicts of interest with, say, the fossil fuel industry, ECO hopes that these Parties will therefore not block progress on this matter in the UNFCCC.

Ethics 101: Conflict of Interest

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