The United Nations holds climate change responsible for a yearly death toll of some 300,000 people. For an overwhelming majority of the scientific community, climate change is caused primarily by human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels by big oil companies worldwide. The huge amounts of carbon dioxide they emit overloads the atmosphere and traps more and more heat, causing the Earth to get increasingly hotter a year after another.
To address the staggering effects of climate change in the planet, world leaders gathered in Paris last year to forge a robust, binding agreement in the aim to limit the global temperature increase to only 1.5 degrees Celsius.
It is ironic, however, that the fossil fuel lobby continues to influence the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
What went before: The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)
So how do we address the conflict of interest that may arise in opening the negotiations to non-state actors, especially those who profit from dirty energy? The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) offers a bold solution—kick the problem makers out of the room.
Tobacco kills millions of people every year. The WHO is making sure that “the tobacco industry goes out of business,” as stated by Margaret Chan, its Director-General. For many years, the organization has been fighting to preserve public health and cut the consumption of tobacco globally, by implementing higher taxes and stricter policies.
Most important of all, FCTC parties recognized that the tobacco industry’s interests were counter to those of the Convention. Hence, they included a provision that prescribes a set of guidelines to helap governments protect policymaking from tobacco industry interference at the national level. Article 5.3 of the FCTC provides:
In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.
Similarly, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) aims to preserve the health of our planet by establishing rules and guidelines to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep temperature increase to safe limits. There is, however, a big difference between FCTC and UNFCCC in terms of how they manage the influence of the industries that created the problem.
Currently, the door for climate negotiations is left wide open to attract private sector participation. This serves as a free pass for the fossil fuel industry to enter the room and even interact with policy makers at national or regional level to influence climate legislation. But despite this new and unprecedented private sector engagement, the UNFCCC has yet to make any concrete measures to address perceived or actual conflicts of interests that could spawn from that engagement in order to safeguard its integrity.
Big oil companies told: You can’t sit with us
In the post-Paris meeting held in Bonn, Germany last May, a number of developing countries led by Bolivia, Ecuador, and Guatemala strongly questioned the presence of fossil fuel corporations at the climate change negotiations table.
According to Jesse Bragg of Corporate Accountability International, “climate action should be based on the interests of citizens and the planet, not those of the industry. The private sector will definitely have a role in climate action. The question is whether it is also going to be allowed to write the rules for it.”
With this, one cannot help but wonder if an organization that directly opposes the ultimate objective of the UNFCCC convention—which is to reduce emissions causing global warming and to protect people and the planet from its effects—be allowed to participate in the decision-making process to tackle climate change?
“We should be able to make the distinction between the PR that certain corporations are putting out, and what their true intentions are. If their business models are predicated on extraction and burning fossil fuels, negotiators should ask themselves whether they really have a role that is consistent with the interest of this convention,” Bragg furthered.
The fossil fuel industry needs to steer clear of the ongoing talks that shape important climate policies. To maintain the beauty and firmness of the Paris Agreement, the climate negotiations should be made oil-free.
Originally published at Oximity