As the world convenes in Paris to agree to a binding agreement to avoid dangerous global warming, industry associations represent one of the biggest NGO constituencies admitted to the climate summit.
Through the Business and Industry Non-Governmental Organizations (BINGOs), industry associations receive direct and privileged access to United Nations structures and partially closed meetings with state actors.
Yet the goal of such associations to employ political leverage - in particular, by groups that cater to the fossil fuel industry - can act to slow climate action.
Corporate Europe Observatory along with Corporate Accountability, Friends of the Earth International and Avaaz are among the groups working to expose big business and the fossil fuel industry's lobbying at the European Union and UNFCCC level.
In Paris on Monday (07.12.2015), more than a thousand flyers were posted outside five-star hotels, in an effort to highlight dirty energy lobbyists, as part of Avaaz's “wanted” campaign.
Protesting corporate sponsorship
An example of corporations' ability to infiltrate to the highest level of policy-making process was evident in Warsaw at COP19, where global civil society called upon the UN climate secretariat (UNFCCC) to take commensurate action to guarantee transparency.
This was followed by a mass walkout of environmental and development groups protesting the lack of ambition in the Warsaw climate talks. Dipti Bhatnagar, a climate coordinator of Friends of the Earth, said in addition to protesting the lack of ambition, “We walked out in response to corporate sponsorship.”
Last year at the COP20 in Lima, such sponsorship was less evident. But private sector actors, such as the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) - a powerful lobby movement for big oil - managed to hold numerous events, have a pavilion on COP grounds, and even take part in an onstage conversation with the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres on market-based solutions.
Although corporations should certainly participate in the discussion over climate solutions, Corporate Watch believes sponsorship provides industries with channels to deflect the blame and protect their interests.
The main channels of influence, as described by Canada-based public interest research organization Polaris Institute, are through direct lobbying, industry associations, industry events and partnerships.
“Following the tobacco industry strategy, fossil fuel companies seek to discredit scientists and mold public opinion,” said Oscar Sorio from Avaaz.
Through engagement at the national level, special access to UN officials, or the creation of partnerships, corporations are accused of forwarding special interests while portraying themselves as climate-friendly collaborators.
'Like big tobacco shaping health policy'
At the 21st Conference of Parties in 2015, the private sector is covering 20 percent of the climate negotiations' total costs of $185 million - even more than at COP19.
A recent study by Corporate Accountability International unmasked some of the not-so-green ties of COP21's corporate sponsors, which include the energy provider Electricité de France (EDF), the bank BNP Paribas, and Suez Environment.
EDF is part of a group called Business Europe, which opposes energy from renewables being used in the market. BNP Paribas has been behind tar sands extraction in Canada for decades. And Suez Environment is accused of exploitation because it focuses its water delivery on areas where water is scarce and they stand to profit most.
The study sought to expose such groups' investment, lobbying and financing on coal, among other climate-unfriendly actions.
The UNFCCC faces a clear conflict of interest allowing these private-sector sponsorships.
Christiana Figueres, head of the UNFCCC, responded to such accusations with a call to “stop demonizing oil and gas companies” because “bringing them with us has more strength.”
Groups continue to call on the UNFCCC to jettison big polluters from climate policy platforms. Amanda Starbuck from Rainforest Action Network's climate and energy program pointed out that such companies have “an existential profit motive to continue extracting and burning fossil fuels.”
“The rest of humanity has an existential survival imperative to keep fossil fuels in the ground,” Starbuck added. Such fundamentally opposed interests should disqualify the fossil fuel industry from participating in the global climate talks, Starbuck thinks.
“The people who are actively fighting to stop us from solving this problem have no right to a seat at the table to create the solution.”
John Stewart from Corporate Accountability International stated clearly: “Inviting gas, oil and coal corporations to shape climate policy is akin to looking to Big Tobacco to shape public health policy.”
Shift in lobbying tactics
But when it comes down to drawing a direct link between corporate lobbying and outcomes of climate negotiations, things become a bit murky.
“Is difficult to link a specific outcome to one single lobby effort,” said Oscar Sorio. He added that this is partially because groups like Avaaz are left out of these negotiations. And he also pointed out a shift in lobbying tactics.
“Climate lobbying has been moving from questioning the science to questioning the political movement behind climate action,” Sorio told DW.
While there is an effort to promote transparency and accountability to measure emission targets, many continue to question the loud voice coming from polluters.