Integrity of Paris Climate Agreement at Risk from Fossil Fuel Emitters

By Anam Zeb

As the 22nd Conference of Parties (COP) gear up to meet in Morocco this November to chart out the rules of play for the Paris Climate Agreement, agreed at COP 21 last year, it is disturbing to note that the conference itself has been funded by corporate institutions responsible for more than 200 million tonnes of greenhouse gases.

Amidst much anticipation, controversy, and fanfare, the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted the New Climate Agreement. Under this agreement, among others, parties commit to ‘holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.’ The Paris Deal is hailed as one of the first comprehensive plans to tackle the mammoth challenge of climate change. The deal is comprehensive enough, for example, to recognize the importance of the inclusion of the private sector in the climate negotiations- and while this is a practical step, the involvement of the private sector has brought its own challenges.

In a groundbreaking report last year, Corporate Accountability International highlighted to the international media that the 21st Conference of Parties was sponsored by 4 companies that have been responsible for emitting more than 200 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere annually. The report, Fueling the Fire- The corporate sponsors bankrolling COP 21, says European energy giants sponsoring the summit include Engie (formerly known as GDF Suez), EDF, Suez Environment and BNP Paribas. Collectively, the four firms own all or part of 46 coal-fired power plants around the world, including in South Asia. Similarly, groups such as the ‘Oil and Gas Initiative’, a group of 10 CEOs of global energy companies made a joint statement of support for the COP 21 process. This is despite Shell, another large emitter openly opposing the market deployment of renewable energy in Europe being a part of this group. Similarly, Exxon Mobil, another member of the initiative, was recently discovered to have concealed their knowledge of its contribution to climate change over the past 20 years.

As COP 22 approaches, it is important to acknowledge that while it is not surrounded with as much fanfare as the previous COP where the Paris Agreement was adopted, this conference may be of even higher significance as the rules of implementation of the Paris Agreement will be set out during the conference. The heightened role given to the fossil fuel industry, and their lobbying techniques, have in the case of COP 21 contributed to hurdles in the negotiations processes, such as limiting warming and limiting emissions. There is a risk that in COP 22, it will continue to be the case. The companies sponsoring the climate change summit are in direct opposition to the aim of the UNFCCC- to limit global GHG emissions and to protect the planet from its effects.

It is not impossible to still include non state actors in the climate negotiations process, while maintaining the integrity of these negotiations. The precedent set by the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is an example of how this can be done. Parties of this convention recognized that the tobacco industry’s interests were counter to those of the Convention. That’s why they included a provision called Article 5.3 that prescribes a set of guidelines to help governments protect policymaking from tobacco industry interference at the national level. Therefore, precedents exist to limit the participation to those who do not seek to stop the climate crisis, but that only want to make profit out of it.

Some countries that represent 70% of the world’s population requested to initiate a process to develop a similar conflict of interest plan, in March 2016. Pakistan is preparing to submit its plan for greenhouse gas emissions to the UNFCCC, as well as submitting some of its first projects to the Green Climate Fund to acquire funding for climate change. It is necessary for Pakistan, as one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change, as well as being directly impacted by the activities of these fossil fuel giants, should join the movement to limit the influence of these companies on climate negotiations.