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Paris Agreement climate targets are being missed because of corruption

If we don’t fight corruption, we will never reach the Paris Agreement’s target of keeping the planet's temperature from rising above 1.5°C 

Brice Böhmer

The climate crisis is widely recognised as the most critical global challenge of the century. Governments, and international and multilateral organisations, are making a green recovery part of their plans for post-COVID-19. But in order to save the planet, corruption must be addressed, as the two are inextricably linked.

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Last weekend, world leaders gathered for a virtual summit on the five-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement – the global treaty that aims to cap global heating at around 1.5 degrees centigrade.

At the meeting, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on governments to declare a state of climate emergency, and urged developed countries to follow through on their pledge of US$100 billion to combat climate change and support the move away from a carbon-heavy economy. “We need to gain confidence in the developing world [...] Trust is only possible if the developed countries in general are able to fulfil their promises,” he said.  

Trust is indeed key to ensuring that all countries honour the commitments of the Paris Agreement. But, in order to establish trust, principles such as transparency, accountability and integrity have to be at the centre of efforts to ensure effective action against climate change.

Unfortunately, there have been multiple scandals involving corruption and fraud in climate finance projects, including in the UN Development Programme’s multi-billion dollar Global Environment Facility.

Preventing corruption needs to be a core focus in discussions, to ensure that climate funds are not lost to corruption. 

Climate crisis and corruption: one and the same

Transitioning away from fossil fuels is an essential component of combatting climate change. Indeed, Secretary-General Guterres recently told The Guardian: “Our objective is not only not to have more exploitation of new oil and gas resources [but] to make sure that a meaningful part of the oil and gas already discovered stays below the surface.”

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However, political interference and the undue influence of oil and gas companies weakens institutions and governance processes put in place to mitigate climate change. 

Undue influence and illicit lobbying from industry exerts a disproportionate, moneyed influence over climate and environmental policy making. Campaign donations and various forms of lobbying fall into legal grey areas. This clouds our ability to know or observe to what extent the oil industry is undermining progress on climate action and ambition. We need to know the details of payments made and deals struck by these industries with lawmakers. 

Recent cases in Australia and in the UK – and the likely hundreds more that remain hidden and unnoticed in a grey area between legal and illegal – make abundantly clear that the fossil fuel industry remains an obstinate force fighting against saving the planet. 

This murky influence even extends to the very meetings where progress on climate change is meant to be discussed. There is an urgent need for a conflict of interest policy at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to prevent entities with private interests from influencing or undermining national and international climate policy. 

Time to act against undue influence and corruption

The Climate Action Network has called on Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to commit to good governance and act with the highest degree of integrity when deciding on the future of our planet. A conflict of interest policy is urgently needed for the UNFCCC.

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The fossil fuel industry exerts disproportionate, moneyed influence over climate policy making: this is what happened [at COP25] in Madrid. Climate policy must serve the interests of all people and the planet, not just a few private concerns. We urgently need to shift perspectives and stop corruption and undue influence if we want to win the fight against climate change
Brice Böhmer

“We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.” – Greta Thunberg 

The climate crisis threatens the global environment, which will lead to enormous human suffering, particularly of marginalised and vulnerable groups. 

Environmental defenders must be protected against human rights abuses. They are our eyes and ears and voices, ensuring that climate funds help the right people through the appropriate channels. They are often the catalyst in eventually pushing governments to address and mitigate corruption risks. 

For me, the hope lies in democracy – it is the people who have the power. If enough people stand up together and repeat the same message, then there are no limits to what we can achieve.
Greta Thunberg

During the 19th International Anti-Corruption Conference held earlier this month, a roundtable of climate and environmental experts gathered to discuss how corruption stops climate action from being taken. Illicit financial flows and corporate secrecy allow environmental destruction and forest crimes in the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon; the same patterns of restricted space for activists and critical media we see the world over affect climate defenders and journalists particularly hard.

The causes of anti-corruption and protecting the environment are intrinsically connected. The climate crisis is a corruption crisis, too. We can only save the planet if we stop corruption.

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