November 15, 2016

To “make Paris a reality” countries rally to bar big polluters from the talks

At COP22, Trump’s election adding urgency in addressing conflicts of interest

MARRAKECH—A year ago in Paris, governments came to terms on a climate deal heralded as an historic lifeline for the planet. But, a year later in Marrakech, governments are reckoning with just what it will take for the accord to not repeat mistakes of the past.

As recent analyses by Corporate Accountability International indicate, the climate policy process has come to resemble more of a trade show for big polluting industries than a negotiation between governments representing the environmental, public health and economic interests of their people. And, despite grand plans to “drain the swamp” and prevent revolving doors in federal government, president-elect Trump is assembling a transition team with longstanding ties to the fossil fuel industry, underscoring the urgency of action under the Obama administration.

“If the Obama Administration wants to secure the president’s legacy and see this accord succeed, it has a narrow window to change its tune on conflicts of interest that are undermining the process.” said Tamar Lawrence-Samuel at Corporate Accountability International, “With inauguration day just over two months away, time is running out. The US needs to get on board or get out of the way.”

In Bonn last May, countries representing nearly 70% of the world’s population called for the UNFCCC  to address conflicts of interest. The proposal was met with fervent opposition from some of the world’s biggest historical emitters including the United States, European Union and Australia. Currently, there are no policies in place to protect against organizations intent on derailing the process like the World Coal Association and Competitive Enterprise Institute.

In spite of Global North country objections, negotiators from Latin America held a formal briefing for Parties and civil society to underscore the necessity of the policy and advance it at the next meetings in Bonn.  And, emboldened by the imminent change of power in the US, environmental groups confronted the US delegation and delivered the call to kick big polluters out of the talks from more than half a million people with an additional 75,000 more calling for the US delegation to support the policy or step aside.

“Too much is at stake to continue allowing the world’s biggest polluters and their agents to undermine this process,” said Walter Schuldt, lead negotiator for the government of Ecuador, “this process is our best shot at saving our planet, we cannot leave that responsibility up to the industries and their corporate powers that got us here.”

If successfully implemented, this would be the first time in the history of these negotiations that the fossil fuel industry’s conflict of interest is evenly formally acknowledged, let alone meaningfully addressed, signaling the growing political will for reform and anger over the cooptation of climate policy.

Governments are looking to the precedent set in a treaty being negotiated in parallel this month in Delhi, the Global Tobacco Treaty. Its key provision, Article 5.3 protects against classic industry interference tactics by barring partnerships, financial relationships, revolving door cases and industry participation in the policymaking process. These provisions have been recognized by World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan as the single largest catalyst of progress in a treaty that could save 200 million lives by 2050 when fully implemented.

At the treaty meetings in Marrakech, the fossil fuel industry’s presence is inescapable. Not only is the meeting sponsored by mining, fracking and other corporations deeply invested in the fossil fuel economy, lobbyists from the World Coal Association, BusinessEurope and other fossil fuel industry lobby groups are present as negotiators determine the next horizons for climate change.


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