Fossil fuel lobbying at UN climate talks ‘harmful’ say NGOs

Comment: fossil fuel industry is undermining and subverting climate policies says Rachel Tansey, and need regulation

Nesjavellir Power Plant

(Pic: Gretar Ívarsson)

By Rachel Tansey in Warsaw

COP19 has been heralded as the most corporate captured climate talks ever; an army of industry lobbyists and business-affiliated side events; corporate “partners” that include fossil fuel companies and other big polluters; an official business day at the Pre-COP; and, the Polish government hosts teaming up with the World Coal Association.

Faced with the corporate domination of COP19, civil society groups of all shapes and sizes are outraged at the way corporations who profit from climate inaction are being embraced ever more tightly by the UNFCCC structure.

The sustainability spin of these polluting corporations doesn’t cover up the facts – and I do mean facts – that their core business models depend on excess emissions of greenhouse gases, and that they are lobbying very successfully against effective, ambitious, timely and just climate policies, at international and national levels.

In response to this, around seventy civil society, environmental, development, human rights, corporate  and youth groups from all across the world have written to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, making the case for action to protect climate policy-making from the vested interests of the fossil fuel industry and their attempts to undermine and subvert urgently needed climate action.

The letter points to the example of another UN body that has faced the undue influence of a harmful industry and dealt with the situation effectively – the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) and tobacco.

Article 5.3 of WHO’s global tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), enshrines in international law the principle that the tobacco industry has no role in public health policy-making, due to the “fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests” and states that “Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry”.

The implementing guidelines to 5.3 elaborate that this involves limiting interactions between the industry that profits from harm and those tasked with minimising and ultimately stopping the harm it causes.

The tobacco treaty, which entered into force in 2005, followed decades of tobacco industry misinformation campaigns, use of front groups and aggressive lobbying, so-called corporate social responsibility (CSR), funding of junk science to discredit the scientific evidence of tobacco’s dangerous effects, as well as the funding of political parties, use of prohibitively expensive law suits to suppress dissent and infiltration of the WHO.

The extensive evidence of big tobacco’s tactics to undermine and subvert tobacco control policies, is paralleled by the well-documented evidence of similar strategies being used by fossil fuels and big polluting industries.

Yet whereas the UN’s public health body has recongised the need to put a firewall between its policy-making intended to reduce tobacco use and the companies that profit from it, the UNFCCC has done the opposite, literally inviting fossil fuel sponsorship of the climate negotiations. It has, in effect, invited the mosquito in to help eradicate malaria.

The seventy-odd civil society groups, from countries and regions as diverse as India, Mozambique, Ukraine, USA, Chile, Bulgaria, UK, the Middle East, Russia, Ghana, Australia, Nigeria, Spain and South Africa urge Ban Ki-moon and Christiana Figueres to look at such examples and take commensurate action to protect climate policy-making from the vested interests of the fossil fuel industry – or companies whose core business model depends on the excessive emission of greenhouse gases – and their attempts to undermine and subvert urgently needed action.

Rachel Tansey, Writer and Researcher on Environmental and Economic Justice, @ecospaceship

 [1] For the full text of the letter, see

[2] For more information on the role of corporations at COP19, see

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