This week marked 50 years since the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. Governments from across the globe are meeting in Sweden to commemorate this event, though there is not much to celebrate. Climate pledges are not being met and a disheartening 10 per cent of global environment and sustainable development targets have been achieved or seen significant progress since 1972.
Daily climate news speaks for itself. Fossil fuel companies continue to plan and implement new oil and gas projects that would drive the climate past internationally agreed temperature limits. To top it off, anywhere between 1.4 and 35 per cent of climate action funds have been lost to corruption, and just in 2021, over 350 land and environmental defenders were murdered.
There’s no doubt that the world is in a climate emergency. And yet, the disconnect between the already occurring environmental devastation and the lack of concrete efforts is puzzling when it comes to climate action.
In search for answers as to what went wrong in turning climate promises into action, some culprits keep popping up: lack of transparency in how pledges are implemented, accountability for those breaking them, and protection of those who fight to protect our environment and planet.
And while these are complex issues, this is no time to despair. Here are five actions anti-corruption fighters can take to reclaim power in the fight against the climate crisis.
1. Assess and improve the governance of climate funds
It's the lack of money, but also how it's being spent. Multilateral funds, which help pool resources from different donors, have hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide to invest in climate action.
Transparency International recently reviewed five of these major climate funds with pledged commitments of US$40 billion. Our findings revealed the strongest protections for integrity, especially around codes of conduct and financial management. Still, some shortcomings remain across the board, including a lack of clarity on sanctions in case of wrongdoing and accessibility of documents beyond the English language.
Funders and implementers should prioritise governance issues that hinder climate finance flows and project implementation. Areas of accountability, in particular, are often lagging behind with little sanctions for corruption and little information about decisions made and appeal processes.
With the growing amounts of money these funds hold, tackling corruption is key – any amount lost to corruption and mismanagement is too high and puts lives in danger.
2. Make lobbying more transparent
Climate policy development is a constant lobbying target of some of the most influential groups and industries actively working to delay or dilute climate standards and procedures. Between 2018 and 2019, major oil companies spent approximately US$200 million to control, delay, or block climate policy. The doors to climate talks are also wide open to private interests that wield disproportionate influence, as even the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) fails to set up strong safeguards and lacks measures to address conflicts of interest.
And while some face no issues in accessing climate negotiations, others are left in front of closed doors. Limited access for representatives of indigenous groups has been called out multiple times, including at the yearly COP meetings.
Revolving doors – occasions where employees leave their government positions and join the fossil fuel industry to lobby their former employers - are also notorious in the sector, resulting in lobbyists dangerously undermining transformative climate action through their privileged access.
We’ve called for a revision of COP rules, and we will keep up the pressure until climate policymakers give this issue the attention it deserves and establish a system to prevent industry representatives from being part of country delegations and stop such industries from unduly influencing the proceedings.
3. Reduce corruption risks and integrity gaps in climate technology
In hopes of cutting corners and holding back the rise in global temperatures, there has been an increasing supporting trend toward the use of climate geoengineering – technologies for manipulating the environment - in the past few years.
Geoengineering technologies related to carbon capture and storage (CCS) and solar radiation management (SRM) are among the most commonly presented solutions. What many advocates leave out, however, are significant corruption risks and potential far-reaching and unknown impacts on society and the planet as we know it.
Anti-corruption fighters must continue to call for public accountability concerning geoengineering technologies, including setting up public ownership, accountability, transparency, and redress mechanisms to regulate corporate geoengineering activities and provide remedies for any harm these may cause.
4. Monitor the use of green public funds
To achieve climate goals, public budgets need to prioritise green projects – everything ranging from infrastructure to protect against rising sea levels to workers’ reskilling programmes in fossil fuel industries. And as increasing amounts of public funds are being directed at such initiatives, the risks of corruption and mismanagement grow.
People, however, don’t seem to believe that public funds will be distributed fairly. Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) showed that in the Pacific, 68 per cent of the respondents think that businesses rely on money or connections to obtain government contracts. Other regions that we’ve explored don’t fare much better, with 52 per cent of respondents in the European Union (EU) holding the same belief.
With such mistrust in the proper use of public funds, collective action mechanisms must be applied wherever possible to bring civil society and affected communities closer to the process in collaboration with public institutions and contractors. Transparency International’s integrity pact is a tool that allows for just that, as it introduces an independent monitoring mechanism – usually led by a civil society organisation - into a procurement project. Integrity pacts have already proven to increase transparency and accountability in several climate-related projects monitored by Transparency International chapters, most recently in Greece, Hungary and Slovenia.
To boost the chances of green investments implemented according to principles of good governance and achieving their stated impacts, governments should consistently use the integrity pact in strategic contracting projects.
5. Protect environmental and land defenders
Environmental defenders often blow the whistle on corruption when demanding accountability in climate funds, green projects, and the use of land and natural resources. Their actions are critical to the future of our planet, and safe reporting channels are the primary way we can help protect them.
Our global network of Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) can help – they empower individuals, families and communities to safely report corruption when they see it happen. Through the years, reports received by ALACs were often related to land and environmental crimes.
In Lebanon, for example, communities living by Litani river suffered for years because of the heavy pollution of the river, their source of drinking water and their irrigation supply. Despite repeated complaints to authorities, no action was taken as many politicians were closely connected to the businesses polluting the area. The tide turned only when the residents started contacting the local ALAC in large numbers.
The ALAC carried out aerial filming of the region in collaboration with investigative journalists, making it easier to identify those responsible for pollution. Their efforts resulted in officials taking action and ensuring that the work on wastewater treatment plants started.
Since 2003, more than 270,000 clients have been served in our ALACs offices, and we continue to strengthen the network while also advocating for stronger whistleblower policies and reporting channels in all areas. If you know of a corruption case, you can reach out to our network at any time.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in the face of the climate crisis while witnessing inaction from governments and the fossil fuel industry. The anti-corruption movement proves that being a silent observer is not the only option and that there are many ways we can come together and demand more from those in power.
Whether by following the money, protecting whistleblowers, or calling for fair representation at negotiations, by joining forces we can make sure our actions bring results.