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The just concluded 2018 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) intersessional, held at Bonn, Germany, brings the Paris Agreement one step closer to implementation. Country representatives met at Bonn in order to thresh out further details of the Paris rulebook, the manual that will contain the modalities, procedures, and guidelines (MPGs) needed to operationalize the Agreement. The rulebook must be ready by December 2018 when parties will again meet for the 24th annual Conference of Parties (COP) at Katowice, Poland.

There is, however, still not enough clarity among countries on how the Paris Agreement must be operationalised. For example, countries are divided on whether the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) should be restricted to only the measures taken in respect of emissions mitigation or include adaptation and implementation as well. Another contentious issue is whether the underlying principle of the UNFCCC i.e the principle of common-but- differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC) must also apply to the working of the Paris Agreement.

While the rule book was by far the most significant of the several issues discussed at the Bonn Intersessional, a crucial recurrent issue is one of conflict of interest. Corporate influence on climate talks is very well documented. Observer organizations associated with the UNFCCC system include scores of front groups for polluting industries. Consequently, the proposal for inclusion of a ‘conflict of interest’ policy within the UNFCCC system is an extremely controversial and hotly debated one. While there is copious evidence of such groups’ agenda to prevent climate action and profit at the expense of the climate and future generations, these groups continue to be welcomed at climate change negotiations.

First discussed in 2016, the proposed ‘conflict of interest’ policy sought to highlight and object to the presence of certain non-party stakeholders, especially Business and Industry NGOs (BINGOs), at the negotiating table and exclude them from the UNFCCC. Several developing countries led by Ecuador, Cuba, and some African countries pushed for a definition of ‘conflict of interest’.  Rich emitter countries such as the US, China, New Zealand, Canada and the European Union have consistently opposed such a policy by claiming that the polluting industries have an important stake in climate talks. At the Bonn intersessional in 2016, after days of intense debates, the final text prepared by the chair did not even include the words ‘conflict of interest’, let alone define the same.

Similar scenes were repeated at this year’s attempts to negotiate a ‘conflict of interest’ policy as well. The issue was discussed as item 20 of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) agenda, titled ‘Arrangements for intergovernmental meetings’. Cuba, Ecuador, Senegal and Uganda vehemently argued for increased transparency in order to rule out entry of businesses in the UNFCCC that contradict the goals of the Paris Agreement. This was met with staunch opposition by representatives from countries with large emissions. Obstructing the need for a ‘conflict of interest’ policy, these representatives said that they believed that polluting companies should continue to have a seat at the table as they were a part of the solution.

The draft conclusion issued by the SBI Chair did not use the words ‘conflict of interest’. Instead, it extended an open invitation to polluting industries by couching the conclusion in language such as ‘engagement of non-Party stakeholders in the intergovernmental process’, and ‘opportunities and improved practices to further enhance the openness, transparency, inclusiveness and balance of the effective engagement of non-Party stakeholders’. There is, thus, an open continuing effort by rich governments to ensure that big polluters continue to remain within the UNFCCC system and thwart climate action. Deadlock over the issue remains and it will be discussed again next year.

However, several non-profit organizations championing the fight for a ‘conflict of interest’ policy are hopeful of a breakthrough at subsequent talks. Jesse Bragg, executive director of Corporate Accountability International, US based corporate watchdog, said “I really do think that at some point, the obstruction from these oil-fueled countries like the US, Australia, Canada will be overpowered by other countries banding together. ” Pascoe Sabido, executive director of Corporate Europe Observatory, said “If we are going to ramp up ambition, then we have to make sure that those who are trying to burn down the table of the climate talks are not going to be allowed to sit around that table. We need to ensure that the big polluters, particularly the fossil fuel industries, are kept out of these talks.”

Interestingly, an important decision was taken last month by the International Maritime Organisation. After much wrangling by countries including US, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, India, Iran and the Philippines, over the need for such a measure, the global shipping industry has agreed to halve its emissions by 2050. Such an agreement demonstrates that achieving a breakthrough is possible even in the face of severe opposing views. Another oft cited example of excluding groups which have a conflict of interest is the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control under which the influential tobacco lobby was barred from interfering with domestic health policies of WHO member countries.

A ‘conflict of interest’ policy is crucial to the successful implementation of the Paris Agreement, failing to do which will lead to catastrophic irreversible climate change. Given that the US has threatened to pull out of the Paris Agreement, and countries still differ on what should be included in the NDCs, the world is on a dangerous track to exceeding the ‘below 1.5 degree’ target set by the Paris Agreement. A ‘conflict of interest’ policy is thus needed more than ever.

Zeenat Masoodi is a Lawyer living in Srinagar
Email: zeenatmasoodi@gmail.com

 

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