Confused on Conflicts (Of Interest)

ECO is confused. In last Wednesday’s SBI contact group on Arrangement for Intergovernmental Meetings (AIM), a number of Parties and civil society representatives raised concerns. While they recognise the importance of enhancing participation by observer organisations, they are concerned about the potential conflicts of interest that may arise when the UNFCCC engages with observers with a commercial interest. Parties requested that rules on conflicts of interest be established to protect the integrity of the UNFCCC.

Attempting to meet Parties’ concerns on Thursday, the Secretariat set out the rules in place for both the observer admission process and the UNFCCC’s engagement with the private sector (respectively UNFCCC Rules of Procedure and the UN Guidelines on Cooperation between the United Nations and the Business Sector). But, here’s the tension: neither address conflicts of interest.

So, how is the UNFCCC identifying and addressing conflicts of interest of potential observers? Now you see why we’re confused.

But we’re also worried. The Paris Agreement swings the door wide open to non-state actors, including the private sector, to enhance climate action and engage in the policymaking process. While the objectives of the UNFCCC are to protect people and the planet from the effects of climate change, and therefore act for the common good, the private sector’s objectives are first and foremost to maximise profits. Entities with conflicting interests engaging in the policymaking process could create numerous conflicts that the UNFCCC currently has no process in place to address.

For example, when an observer organisation representing the commercial interests of its private sector members is able to use its access to slow, derail or direct the outcomes of negotiations toward the interests of its members, that is a conflict of interest. And if Parties and the UNFCCC want real and timely solutions to climate change, this must be rectified.

Given the new and unprecedented level of private sector engagement, ECO urges Parties and the UNFCCC to protect the integrity and legitimacy of the UNFCCC, its Parties, and its outcomes by developing a due diligence process to safeguard against conflicts of interest.

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