Corporate sponsorship: from Canada to UNFCCC

Corporate influence creeps into the UNFCCC process.

By Crystel Hajjar

Canada just announced that its delegation to UNFCCC COP17 will be defending the interests of the tar sands. This is not necessarily a new development; governments, including our own, have been negotiating on behalf of polluters, rather than people, for a long time. We know that the federal government gives the tar sands industry $1.4 billion of subsidies and tax breaks per year, and that our government supports false scientific research to promote the tar sands. The only interesting difference this time around is how shamelessly Canada is flaunting its defense of the tar sands.

In Canada, our government’s environmental policies have been bought by the fossil fuel industry. The government’s decisions, specifically those related to the environment and climate, have been blatantly biased; clearly showing favouritism towards the tar sands industry. As a result of this neglect of good environmental regulation, policy, and human rights, the tar sands industry is gaining trillions of dollars, at the expense of pristine land and the health of Indigenous communities downstream. Under the slogan of creating jobs, money is being diverted from clean energy sources, green investments and other beneficial services to be given to the most destructive mining industry in the world. These questionable decisions are easily understood once we consider the various high profile government posts that are occupied by former oil executives.

The fact is that corporate influence on policies is much larger than we think. It is not an understatement to say that this influence extends well beyond national governments to affect international bodies, rerouting the outcomes of many of their agreements.

A recent report by Polaris institute describes the corporate influence on United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, some of which is already evident. It identifies the following five ways in which corporations influence the outcome of the negotiations.

  • Corporations influence governments through direct lobbying of their own delegations. Judging by Canada’s most recent announcement, it seems like the oil industry has succeeded in getting the Canadian delegation to lobby on its behalf. Moreover, it took little effort to find out that the oil companies’ representatives are present on the Saudi delegation. It is not uncommon for Canadian delegates to meet regularly with corporate representatives prior to COP.

  • Representatives from industry form industry associations that pass as non-governmental organizations, and are often given observer status in negotiations, which allows them to reach negotiators and play an advocacy role. Just as I am writing this at the exhibit center, I went for a tour around the civil society booths and found the Natural Gas Union, Carbon Capture and Storage Associations, International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association, not to mention the ones where corporate influence is not as easily identifiable.

  • Industry events are climate related events organized by industries during COP and other UNFCCC events. This allows the industry representative to interact with governmental officials and influence their decisions. I haven’t heard of any events organized by industry representatives but we know that many tar sands companies representative are currently in Durban.

  • Corporations create partnerships with the UN which gives the opportunity for private sector input that is generally directed towards economic growth and expanding profit.

  • Corporations can also influence governments through corporate funding and investment, which is generally the least influential.

I find it genuinely interesting to be at COP17 and watch these things so closely. I’ve heard and read a lot about the dynamics and sources of influence in these negotiations but it is a different scenario to see them.

2 Responses to “Corporate sponsorship: from Canada to UNFCCC”
  1. Rohit Mehta says:

    Great article Crystel, I didn’t realize that corporate sponsorship played such a key role, or that COP was attended heavily by industry reps! I will share your article in the hopes that others learn about this.

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  1. […] power stands out right now, right here, in those negotiations that I am attending. There are great corporate pressures  that are influencing the current negotiations and are holding the participants to reach a legally […]

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