We can’t tackle the climate crisis without tackling corruption.
International funding for climate adaptation and mitigation measures like renewable energy, sustainable transport and flood shelters is set to reach over US$100 billion per year by 2020. Even more, around US$600 billion annually, will be spent from national budgets.
These funds are in danger of being lost to corruption where they are most needed. Countries that are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change often have higher levels of public sector corruption. Instead of improving peoples’ lives, climate funds might be siphoned off to private accounts, or wasted on vanity projects that benefit the few rather than the many.
This Monday is International Anti-Corruption Day. This year it falls in the middle of the world’s most important climate conference, the COP25, currently underway in Madrid, Spain. Our minds do not often make the link between climate and corruption, but unfortunately the two are deeply interlinked.
Corruption risks and undue influence in key sectors
The world needs to take crucial steps towards a greener future, including protecting forests, improving sustainable transportation and developing renewable energy sources. These all involve industries with particularly high corruption risks, like construction, forestry and energy. This is a massive obstacle for effective climate action.
The World Bank estimates that 20 - 40 per cent of water sector finances are lost to corrupt practices. Similar rates apply for the transport and energy sectors. In some sectors, this is exacerbated by criminal activities. Between 15 - 30 per cent of global logging activities are illegal. In key countries that produce tropical timber, this rate can be as high as 50 – 90 per cent of the volume of all forestry.
Undue influence from vested interests also prevents measures being taken to solve the climate crisis. A recent report shows that the world’s five biggest oil and gas companies spent over US$1 billion on climate-related branding and lobbying – only in the three years after the Paris Agreement.
Environmental defenders at risk
Where corruption thrives and rule of law is weak, those standing up against environmental crimes are risking their lives. Death rates among environmental activists have been rising steadily over the past 15 years. Since 2002, over 1500 people – farmers, NGO workers, lawyers and journalists – have been killed for defending their environment and lands.
When it is dangerous for people to stand up to powerful interests, it becomes more difficult for everyone to hold the powerful to account and speak out against corruption.
Corruption and sustainable development
Corruption harms the environment and slows down progress towards all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Read more about why SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) is key to all other SDGs.
What needs to be done
For action against climate change to be effective, we urgently need to shift perspectives and step up efforts towards transparency, accountability, and integrity. We must make good governance the cornerstone of the fight against climate change.
End undue influence
Lobbying and campaign finance information must be made public. We need to be able to track how money influences climate policy - especially money spent by the fossil fuel and other big industries.
COP parties must ensure equal opportunities to shape climate policy. This means preventing conflicts of interest and making sure advocates from all areas, as well as ordinary citizens, have access to decision makers.
Protect civic space & environmental defenders
We must protect those who protect the environment, and end impunity for crimes against them. Laws that protect human rights must be properly enforced. Legal intimidation and criminalisation of activists has to end. We also need reliable access to information, safe channels to report corruption, and laws to protect whistleblowers.
The voices of those affected by climate action must be heard at all stages of climate project’s cycles – from policy design, to implementation and evaluation. We must create and protect spaces for citizen participation, because civil society engagement is key to effective decision making and sustained support for climate action.
Communities from around the world have proven that civil society can act as an effective watchdog, demanding accountability from governments and businesses in their actions against climate change.
It might not be too late to solve the climate crisis. But it will only possible if we safeguard climate funds from corruption and make sure global climate policy serves the interests of all people and the planet, not just a few private concerns.
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