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COPs and robbers

The week in corruption, 5 November 2021

Young people display placards as ministers prepare for COP26 in Milan, Italy. Posters read: "System change, not climate change" and "COP26, one last chance"

Young activists display placards as ministers prepare for COP26. Milan, Italy, 1 October 2021. Image: Mauro Ujetto / Shutterstock

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The world’s biggest annual climate conference, COP26, is underway in Glasgow. Despite the promise of “the most inclusive COP ever”, activists have had to follow negotiations from the sidelines. Representatives of major gas and oil companies, however, have continued to rub shoulders with decision-makers, just like in previous years.

Earlier this week, news broke that government leaders achieved a new deal to end and even reverse deforestation by 2030. This is the first COP pledge to recognise protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples as a climate solution. Indigenous communities play a crucial role in protecting their lands from illegal deforestation but – as Transparency International recently documented – often face discriminatory corruption, so this high-level recognition is both welcome and long overdue.

Illustration showing symbols of Xinka people in Guatemala

Transparency International highlights two communities who have waged long and committed battles against dubious land deals – a fight which has meant tackling both corruption and discrimination simultaneously.

Defending land and lives

But don’t hold your breath just yet. The Glasgow declaration fails to mention the need for accountability and good governance measures when delivering on these promises. In this regard, things aren’t much different from 2014, when the New York Declaration on Forests was adopted. Despite ambitious targets set back then, the Declaration has so far failed to achieve its objective, as corruption has continued to fuel deforestation.

Take Nicaragua, for example, whose signature is missing from the Glasgow deforestation deal even though the country is losing its forests at the fastest rate in the world. Deforestation rates have almost doubled since 2014, when Nicaragua’s national forestry agency came under President Daniel Ortega’s direct control.

And now, an investigation from the Organized Crime and Corruption Project has found that Nicaragua's Vice President – and Ortega's wife – Rosario Murillo and other public officials handed out forestry permits to politically connected companies. What’s more, Nicaragua’s reforestation programmes – which are co-financed by international donors – have allegedly benefitted the private interests of a certain supreme court judge.

In 2018 alone, climate finance totalled US$546 billion globally, and corruption finds fertile ground in such vast sums of money. Cases documented by Transparency International show corruption remains a major barrier to the success of climate adaptation and mitigation measures.

Illustration of a map with sections marked by dollar signs, two hands are approaching to capture these lands

From fossil fuel lobbying to the illegal rosewood trade, Transparency International’s Climate & Corruption Atlas documents cases of corruption in climate finance and projects. These stories underscore the importance of protecting these multi-billion-dollar flows of money from corruption.

Climate & Corruption Atlas

Over the next years, as wealthy nations – many of which are the biggest polluters – scale up the delivery of climate finance, they must also do more to ensure that these funds do not end up in private pockets.

Transparency International is working tirelessly around the world to build a range of integrity measures – from advocating on behalf of affected communities to proposing better mechanisms to disburse much-needed climate finance. The aim is, ultimately, to protect our people and our planet.

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