Corporate influence on climate negotiations
- By: Alicia Pawluk, Isobel Braithwaite
Corporate involvement in policy negotiation is a challenge that bodies like the United Nations and governments around the world face regularly. In 2003, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)—a treaty adopted by WHO, a specialised agency of the United Nations—took steps to prevent the undue influence of the tobacco industry on tobacco control legislation and its implementation. Underlying this was the resolution that tobacco is a dangerous substance, and companies that promote its use have no place in health negotiations. The treaty states that “there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.”
But as yet there has been no such resolution for the issue of climate change. Last year’s United Nations climate talks in Warsaw—the Conference of Parties 19 (COP19)—set a new precedent for climate negotiations. Unfortunately, instead of progressing towards global consensus on climate action, COP19 stood out for more ominous reasons. Among the diplomats, climate scientists, and civil society participants was the overwhelming presence of fossil fuel intensive industries. The conference’s official corporate partners, including Alstom, the Polish fossil fuel companies PGE and LOTOS, ArcelorMittal, BMW, General Motors, and Emirates Airlines, benefit considerably from fossil fuels. Concurrent to COP19, the Polish government held an International Coal and Climate Summit, sponsored by the World Coal Association—a coal industry lobby group.
The UN Global Compact—an initiative that encourages businesses to be sustainable and socially responsible—released a Guide for Responsible Corporate Engagement in Climate Policy, but it is woefully inadequate. It is not enough to suggest voluntary guidelines for corporate lobbyists, who are unlikely to compromise profit margins to follow something that is not enforced. Climate negotiations are lengthy, complicated, and politically fuelled. Arguably, the influence of fossil fuel companies at the national level is an important reason for the lack of progress towards an effective deal, and allowing their presence and sponsorship at talks on an international level is a sure fire way to undermine the trust of international negotiators, who are presented with conflicting information from corporate lobbyists, and hinder progress in the negotiations.
Additionally, the fossil fuel industry has poured millions of pounds into organisations funding climate scepticism, in exactly the same way that tobacco companies funded the “Merchants of Doubt”—a small group of politically conservative, industry sponsored scientists who challenged the scientific evidence base and deliberately obscured information about the harms of tobacco.   The European Parliament has recognised the detrimental effects of this intentional collusion on climate change negotiations, as has recognised that countries “need to be vigilant concerning efforts by economic actors that emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases or benefit from burning fossil fuels, to undermine or subvert climate protection efforts.”
Steps like the ones taken in the FCTC to limit corporate involvement in tobacco legislation evidently need to be taken for the issue of climate change. Producers of fossil fuel should not have influence on climate negotiations, based on the growing recognition that—unless and until low carbon energy is their main product—their interests fundamentally conflict with the aims of the Conference of Parties process. As Rachel Tansey, a writer for the Corporate Europe Observatory and the European Union, writes: “now is the time to make the case, and build a global campaign, for a climate agreement which protects climate change policy-making from the vested interests of corporations that benefit from the continued excessive use of fossil fuels.”
Timeline—lots of talk, not enough action?
1992—The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is adopted in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the Earth Summit. The treaty is not legally binding, but 154 signatories to the UNFCCC agree to stabilise “greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous interference with the climate system.”
1995—The first Conference of the Parties to the UNFCC (COP1) is held in Berlin.
1997—COP3 is held in Kyoto, Japan, and the Kyoto protocol is adopted by more than 150 parties. The protocol includes legally binding emissions targets for developed parties.
2000—COP6 is held in Bonn, Germany. All nations except the US agree on the mechanisms for the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol.
2004—COP10 is held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The parties “addressed and adopted numerous decisions and conclusions on issues relating to development and transfer of technologies; land use, land use change and forestry; the UNFCCC’s financial mechanism; [developed countries’] national communications; capacity building; adaptation and response measures; and UNFCCC Article 6 (education, training and public awareness) examining the issues of adaptation and mitigation, the needs of least developed countries (LDCs), and future strategies to deal with climate change.”
2005—COP11 is held in Montreal, Canada, along with the first annual Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP1).
2009—COP15 is held in Copenhagen, Denmark, but the parties fail to agree on binding commitments for after the Kyoto Protocol commitment period comes to an end in 2012. The US, Brazil, China, Indonesia, India, and South Africa agree to the non-legally binding Copenhagen Accord, which recognises the need to limit the global temperature rise to two degrees.
2010—130 nations agree to the Copenhagen Accord.
2011— COP17 is held in Durban, South Africa, at which parties agree to the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action—a framework to establish a new international emissions reduction protocol. It is due to be finalised in 2015 and come into force in 2020.
2012— COP18 is held in Doha, Qatar. Parties agree to extend the Kyoto Protocol until 2020, acting as a bridge to the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. Developed countries pledge to help developing countries pay for the damages and losses from climate change that they are already experiencing.
2013—COP19 is held in Warsaw, Poland. It was expected that parties would create a plan for the COP21, where a legally binding treaty to reduce emissions is due to be finalised. However, plans were made to discuss this further at COP20 as an agreement could not be reached on the responsibility of developed and non-developed countries regarding emissions.
1 Environmental and Energy Study Institute. International climate negotiations. www.eesi.org/international_climate.
1University of Manchester, 2University College London
Correspondence to: email@example.com
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
- United Nations, World Health Organization. Framework convention on tobacco control. Article 5.3, 2003. http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2003/9241591013.pdf.
- COP19 guide to corporate lobbying. 2013. http://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/cop19_guide_to_corporate_lobbying-with_references.pdf.
- United Nations global compact. www.unglobalcompact.org/.
- Oreskes N, Conway E. Merchants of doubt. 2005. www.merchantsofdoubt.org.
- Greenpeace USA. Dealing in doubt: the climate denial machine vs climate science. September 2013. www.greenpeace.org/usa/Global/usa/report/Dealing%20in%20Doubt%202013%20-%20Greenpeace%20report%20on%20Climate%20Change%20Denial%20Machine.pdf
- Kitcher P. The climate change debates. 2010. www.sciencemag.org/content/328/5983/1230.1.full.
- European Parliament resolution of 23 October 2013 on the climate change conference in Warsaw, Poland (COP19), (2013/2666(RSP)), www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&reference=P7-TA-2013-0443&language=EN&ring=B7-2013-0482.
- Tansey R. Stop fossil fuels setting the climate agenda. November 2013. www.satuhassi.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Stop-Fossil-Fuels-Setting-the-Climate-Agenda_Briefing_Nov13-2.pdf.
Cite this as: Student BMJ 2014;22:g2616
- Published: 01 May 2014
- DOI: 10.1136/sbmj.g2616