From the 8th to the 18th of May 2017 the former German capital city of Bonn is the scene of an international climate conference, organised by the UNFCCC – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This so-called inter-session will prepare for the upcoming COP23 in November, which will also take place in Bonn and will be presided over by Fiji.

An important preliminary session for the upcoming COP23 this  climate conference addresses the more pragmatic issues of implementing the historic Paris agreement of 2015 that saw for the first time in history all 195 participating countries recognising the existence of climate change and agreeing to mitigate environmentally unsustainable practices in order to combat it.

However, since the COP 22 in 2016 in Marrakesh, Morocco, several environmental agencies and other non-party stakeholders have been raising questions on the involvement of corporate businesses and the fossil fuel industry in climate negotiations, both in national policies and during international conferences.

In the lead-up to the Bonn conference, the international think-tank Corporate Accountability International (CAI) released a report on the involvement of more than 250 Business and Industry Non-Governmental Organizations (BINGOs) that are currently admitted to the climate talks. Many of these BINGOs represent corporations that have consistently used their presence at the UNFCCC to weaken policy rather than strengthen it.

Workshop with non-party stakeholders on Conflict of Interest. The workshop discussed whether or not fossil fuel companies should be allowed to attend the UNFCCC as observers. Photo: RLS Klima
Fossil fuel lobbyists are in the same rooms as the delegates  

The World Coal Association, for example, is aggressively promoting a coal-centred agenda and lobbying in the very rooms where delegates discuss policy options to avert climate disaster.

Other lobby groups at the UNFCCC meetings include The Business Council of Australia (representing companies like BHP Billiton, BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Shell, and RioTinto) which has opposed the Australian carbon tax and has denounced curbing global warming as ‘unrealistic’.

The European group FuelsZero is also present (consisting of BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and Lukoil, a.o.) and has publicly stated that: “The EU has already done enough” regarding to climate change mitigation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also been actively undermining the Clean Power Plan in the U.S., with use of its strong links to Exonn Mobill, Chevron, and Peabody Energy, among others.


CAI’s report unfolds a long list of parties with mixed interests and recommends two main steps for governments and the UNFCCC to rebalance their climate policies: firstly, to determine a clear and universal definition of what it means to have a conflict-of-interest – distinction between the common good and private interest is an often blurred line. Secondly, the CAI urges governments to create a stringent, transparent process for admission into climate negotiations, to make sure that those allowed to participate are motivated by public rather than private interests.

The culmination of the report and mounting doubt during past climate summits has led to what Tomasz Chruszczow, the Chairman of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation at the UNFCCC, labelled a “small revolution, setting the precedent for a monument of transparency and openness in the climate negotiations”, specifically: the first-ever UNFCCC session on conflicts of interest within climate negotiations.

The first session of this kind took place this week on Tuesday the 9th of May, with one of the panellists (rather ironically) being  Norine Kennedy, representative of a U.S. BINGO.

The heated climate debates currently taking place in Bonn are setting a precedent for a more open and transparent methodology for future climate actions. However, these changes have also brought to light the seriousness of conflicting interests within the hundreds of lobby groups rooted in the fossil fuel industry.

 “We don’t have any standards yet to prove how the implementation of the Paris agreement should be done, and who should be doing it, therefore we need a track-record of parties with mixed interests,” stated the Climate Justice Network in Bonn this week.

 Pascoe Sabido from the Corporate Europe Observatory added: “We have a huge crisis ahead of us, and need to transfer our energy system to a more renewable and sustainable system. This means huge ambition, ambition we’re not seeing now. Those responsible for this crisis, namely oil and gas companies, are not allowing us to move forward and we have to realise that.”

“Those polluting should not be writing the environmental policies.”

Among the few countries that disagree with the investigation on conflict-of-interest, Norway and Australia spoke up. “It would be contra-productive to keep certain parties out of the negotiations,” said the Norway delegate. The Australian delegation believes that “In transitioning the global economy, it is not the government money that will get us where we need to go, so business needs to be involved.” Curiously, both countries still largely depend on the fossil fuel industry for their economies, with Norway relying heavily on its oil reserves while Australia is one of the largest coal exporters in the world.

A precedent for dealing with conflict of interest

The demands for more transparency during international negotiations are not a new occurrence, rather they have a very successful precedent in the global tobacco treaty of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The treaty’s key provision, Article 5.3, and the guidelines for its implementation help to protect against classic industry interference tactics from the tobacco industry during negotiations. The treaty makes sure that partnerships, financial relationships, revolving door cases, and industry participation are excluded in the policymaking process. This way, the treaty is effectively keeping the tobacco industry lobby groups out of the negotiations.

These provisions have been recognized by WHO 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.

“It is not impossible to ban the polluters of policy,” stated the WHO delegate during the conflict-of-interest talks in Bonn.

The meetings in Bonn are also the first – and possibly also the last – climate negotiations for the Trump administration whose State Department is now led by former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson. Speaking of conflicting of interests…

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Originally published in The Ecologist

Arthur Wyns

About Arthur Wyns

Arthur is a tropical biologist with a keen sense of adventure. When he isn't stressing his girlfriend with his rough travelling antics he writes articles on political and ecological topics. With a group of biologists he founded Lonely Creatures, an organisation that brings under attention the stories of endangered species across Europe.