Big energy discussion 'scrubbed from record' at UN climate talks

Patrick GALEY
Among those allowed to participate in UN climate talks are representatives of trade organisations who count among their members oil giants (AFP Photo/Wikus DE WET)

Bonn (AFP) - Hours of discussions over whether the United Nations climate process needs protecting from big energy interests were "scrubbed" from official conclusions at a conference in Germany this week, AFP has learned.

Talks between nations over how to implement the Paris climate goals wrap up in Bonn Thursday, when summaries of discussions and decisions will be presented to delegates and observers.

Among those allowed to participate in UN climate talks are representatives of trade organisations who count among their members energy giants such as ExxonMobil and Shell.

Industry representatives say their presence as observers at climate negotiations is crucial as it will be the private sector that is tasked with implementing change in the global economy.

Critics question why lobby groups tied to fossil fuel companies should be allowed inside a process that specifically aims to slash the planet-warming emissions those fuels cause.

The UN says that no outside interests influence decisions taken during the climate negotiations, but there is currently no protection against potential conflicts of interest between polluters and policymakers.

Delegates in Bonn this week held five sessions discussing how to enhance the transparency of the UN climate process.

According to observers who were in the room, three of those sessions saw delegations specifically raise the issue of conflict of interest.

The Least Developed Countries negotiating bloc of 47 nations, led by Uganda, submitted a proposal to draw up conflict of interest protections, observers told AFP.

One debate session saw the issue raised by multiple nations, with the United States warning that any attempt to regulate which organisations had access to the talks was a "slippery slope".

Australia and the European Union were supportive of the US stance, according to observers to the talks.

Yet the final draft session notes on Thursday made no mention of conflict of interest nor the hours of discussion on the topic.

"Despite the support from almost 50 countries and environmental groups around the world... obstruction mainly from the US and Australia blocked the establishment of a conflict of interest policy," said Philip Jakpor, from the campaign group Environmental Rights Action.

"These obstructions from countries scrubbed the conclusion notes of any mention of the issue."

He said that "hours of discussions" had not been accurately reflected in the final summaries.

- 'Mosquitos to malaria' -

The Paris agreement does not mention fossil fuels but a recent landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the safest way to slash emissions would be a rapid and widespread phaseout of oil, gas and coal.

Jakpor said having groups representing oil majors at the talks was allowing those companies undue influence on nations' plans to green their economies.

"For those of us from African countries where you have malaria -- you don't bring the mosquito to lead the taskforce," he said.

The final text from the UN said countries identified ways "to further enhance the openness, transparency (and) inclusiveness" of the climate talks.

Jesse Bragg, from the Corporate Accountability watchdog, told AFP that the discrepancy between discussions and the official conclusions was an example of "corporate capture" at UN climate talks.

"How can we ever expect to adequately respond to this crisis if even mere discussion about the role of industry fuelling it is censored?"