Every year, the UN climate talks, widely known as the Conference of Parties (COP), bring together nations and provides platform for high-stakes negotiations to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and tackle dangerous effects of climate change. It is obvious that a huge sum of money is required to organise and facilitate an event so big! So, who pays for this climate talks of the UN? It may sound ironic but every year some of the corporations which are associated with fossil fuel industries bankroll the UN climate conference. It is the UN structures that allow corporate industries direct access to the climate summits.
The corporate associations, especially those investing in fossil fuel industries, apparently use this funding as a leverage to sway climate change decisions. One of the most controversial incidents of corporate infiltration at global climate change negotiations was observed at COP19 held in Warsaw in 2013. The Polish government, not only allowed some of the giant climate change sceptic corporations like the General Motors and the BMW, but also, co-sponsored a coal industry summit during the talks. The situation worsened when UN Climate Secretary Christiana Figueres delivered keynote speech at the coal industry summit. Unwarranted corporate lobbying steered mass walkout staged by the civil society and environmental organisations from COP19.
In Lima at COP20, although fossil fuel company sponsorship was much less than it was in Warsaw, however, the private sector actors like the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), a powerful lobby movement for 'Big Oil', arranged an onstage conversation with UN's lead climate negotiator Christiana Figueres on market-based solutions. According to a report by 350.org, in Lima, climate activists presented the UNFCCC Secretariat a document with over 53,000 signatures calling for fossil fuel corporations and their lobbyists to be banned from the UN climate talks.
As it happens, a large number of fossil fuel company sponsors, among other corporate groups, were present in the triumphant Paris Climate Conference of last year. A report published by Corporate Accountability International (CAI) during the Paris Conference, mentioned about three very particular sponsors of the COP21: Engie, a European electric utility company that is the continent's largest importer of natural gas; Électricité de France (EDF), a French electric utility that operates several major coal-fired power plants; and BNP Paribas, a multinational bank with billions of dollars invested in coal mines and coal-fired power plants. All three have massive greenhouse gas footprints, according to the report. The much criticised involvement of the fossil fuel industry at last year's COP raises concern for implementing the highly ambitious goal of Paris Agreement to 'limit' emission-caused temperature rise to 1.5°C by 2100. A report by Nature Climate Change stated, it is possible if we stop emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by 2060.
All these years of mass walk-outs, disapproval, and signing petition to ban fossil fuel companies from climate talks leave us with the question: why are the fossil fuel lobby groups still sponsoring for climate change negotiations? And what benefit could this undue presence bring them?
To answer this question, we have to look back at 1950s, when the fatality of smoking was just disseminating. At that time, large tobacco firms formed together the Tobacco Industry Research Council (TIRC), to deny the harmful effects of tobacco and confuse the public. The tobacco industry wormed its way into the United Nations' World Health Organisation (WHO). Eventually it infiltrated WHO's conferences, wreaking havocs and slowing down any progress against tobacco industries. Realising conflict of interest between both the parties, WHO finally undertook the legally binding treaty, known as WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) to "call for a limitation in the interactions between lawmakers and the tobacco industry" under Article 5.3.
Can we remember a somewhat similar scenario? Yes! This is our present-day climate change bottleneck. With more evidence of anthropogenic (man-produced from burning fossil fuel) climatic impacts the fossil fuel corporations are undertaking more and more tactics to blind our sights to sway any decision that ensures a safer climate for the future. Through sponsorship, they are receiving easy access to climate conferences and the privilege to play the role of stakeholders in the climate change decisions. By paying the checks they earn invitation to close-door meetings with diplomats and state actors. The fossil fuel companies are virtually delaying all progress on climate change.
To pursue climate actions and protect our interest to save the planet, fossil fuel industries should be banned from climate change negotiations. It's about time we banned fossil fuel companies to do the fencing for us, because if we don't, then the fence will eat the crops.
The writer is Visiting Researcher at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), Dhaka.