Science & Environment

UN examines fossil fuel influence in climate talks process

coal industry Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Green campaigners say representatives of fossil fuel industries have too much influence

Campaigners say there should be greater scrutiny of industry bodies that are involved in UN climate talks.

Environmental groups allege that fossil fuel industries are funding a number of business and industry participants in these talks.

These groups should be restricted, say the campaigners, because they say their goal is to slow down or derail progress.

Business representatives say that the discussion is an attempt at censorship.

At this meeting in Bonn, the UN has convened a special workshop on the role of observer organisations that make up a significant proportion of the attendees at these events.

Some countries including India, China, Indonesia and Ecuador are calling for clearer and tighter rules around potential conflicts of interest.

A recent report from Corporate Accountability International gave details of what the group claimed were the connections between fossil fuel industries and business non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with links to the UN climate talks process.

"There are over 270 business and industry NGOs accredited to the UNFCCC," Jesse Bragg from Corporate Accountability International told BBC News.

"Many of these groups represent the interests of fossil fuel companies around the world."

"What many parties are saying now is that we need to take a look at what voices we want to have heard in the climate policy making process."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Campaigners are pushing for tighter restrictions on fossil fuel organisations

When asked what the differences were between the industry and green groups that try and influence proceedings, Mr Bragg said:

"Environmental groups represent the public interest - these business groups represent the financial interests of certain industries. Fundamentally we are talking about representing people or representing profits."

Supporters of tighter regulations say the example of the World Health Organization is a good model for the climate talks. The tobacco industry is not allowed to be part of the negotiations relating to the Global Tobacco Treaty.

However, one of the groups that has been held up in the report as having conflicted interests has strongly dismissed the idea that it has ever taken part in the UN climate talks process.

The National Mining Association (NMA) is a US body that represents the interests of more than 300 corporations and organisations involved in the extraction of coal and mineral resources.

"NMA is on record as withdrawing from these discussions and urging our government to do the same," Luke Popovich, NMA vice president told BBC News via email.

"We are listed on a UNFCCC website as an 'observer' from a filing some 10 years ago that was never activated and was never removed from the site. NMA will have no role in these discussions, period."

Mr Popovich also railed against the attempt of green groups and others to restrict organisations that promote the use of fossil fuels from having a role in the UN discussions.

"If they believe climate change is real why do they wish to prevent dialogue, to censor discussion, on what might be the rational policy responses to climate change?

"They are smitten by their own voice and no other."

Another group that was criticised in the Corporate Accountability report was the US Chamber of Commerce. It has rejected the accusations out of hand.

"It's wrong to imply that the chamber is working to undercut the UNFCCC," wrote the Chamber's Stephen Eule in a blog post.

"The chamber, through its energy Institute, plays a constructive role in the UNFCCC process. The energy institute, for example, initiated the major economies business forum on energy security and climate change, (BizMEF) which was modelled after the government-to-government major economies forum begun under President Bush and continued under President Obama."

"With more than 20 partners from developed, emerging, and developing economies, BizMEF provides governments with a broad array of responsible views on things such as greenhouse gas markets, transparency, technology, finance, national pledges, and adaptation, among other issues.

At a time when the participation of the US in the Paris climate agreement is uncertain, the UN is unlikely to take swift action, if any, on the question of observer organisations, their operations and funding.

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