04 June 2009

Stepping around the UN: how and where is a global climate agreement being made?

All sorts of misplaced hopes are currently being pinned on a global climate agreement, due to be reached at the UN climate conference in December. As things stand, the negotiating texts are fairly dire as regards action to tackle climate change, since they are framed around expanding market mechanisms and displacing action onto Southern countries. A key part of this has to do with how the debate is framed around "least cost" action rather than what is environmentally effective or socially just.

So while the talks currently underway in Bonn set out negotiating texts, working these over in excruciating detail, the framework they adopt is set out elsewhere. What follows here is a quick sketch of some of the key initiatives shaping the global treaty that exist outside of the formal UN process.


* G8. The Group of Eight remains a key body for setting the global climate agenda in a business-friendly manner, even though it may eventually be eclipsed by the G20. A first tier of corporate lobby influence includes the participation of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and World Economic Forum (WEF). The World Bank and various Regional Development Banks also play a vital role. Second tier initiatives include Globe (currently chaired by Steven Byers MP, the former UK Trade and Industry Minister); and the Club of Madrid and UN Foundation (the former is a group of ex-Presidents, the latter a private organisation), which have advanced various principles at the G8 which have then found their way into the formal climate negotiations. The G8´s work to shape a global climate agreement started in earnest during the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, when Tony Blair launched the Gleneagles Dialogue.

* Major economies forum. Started by Bush and revived by Obama, this club of industrialised nations is now holding monthly meetings of representatives from: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Denmark (as chair of COP 15) and the UN also participate. A heads of state meeting of this grouping will convene at the G8 in Italy in July.

* World Business Summit on Climate Change: for a quick report, see here. This was hosted by the WBCSD, Copenhagen Climate Council, 3C, World Economic Forum (WEF), the Climate Group and the UN Global Compact.

* World Economic Forum hosts its own Climate Change Initiative, as well as carrying forward proposals at regional meetings. A "World Economic Forum Business Expert Task Force on Low-Carbon Economic Prosperity" which partners the WEF with the UK government will deliver recommendations in autumn 2009.

* Global business groupings: WBCSD and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) are the key bodies. The WBCSD, in particular, has been instrumental in pushing "sectoral carbon markets", which would expand the use of carbon offsets - as well as undermining attempts to waive intellectual property rules so that low-carbon technologies can be developed more quickly.

* Climate specific business grouping.

Project Catalyst is crucial here. With support from the consultancy McKinsey, its working groups include "a total of about 150 climate negotiators, senior government officials, representatives of multilateral institutions, business executives, and leading experts from over 30 countries." The UK government is heavily represented amongst these.

The Climate Group is also influential, with a task force on the climate agreement led by Tony Blair. As Henrey Derwent, CEO of the International Emissions Trading Association, IETA (and formerly the head of climate policy for DEFRA, in which role he played a crucial role in G8 negotiations in 2005) puts it: “PricewaterhousCoopers and the Climate Group have done a lot of work on scaling up the CDM [Clean Development Mechanism].” Their recommendations can be found here.

3C is an initiative of CEOs of major companies, hosted by Swedish energy giant Vattenfall.

IETA is an associating that promotes a global carbon market, as well as suggesting business-friendly rules for how those markets are governed.

Regional, national and sectoral

* Below this lies a far broader network of sectoral, regional and national lobbying - far too exhaustive to list here.

* USCAP is key in the push for carbon markets in the USA. It lines up alongside more powerful industry bodies that oppose or seek to water down all climate legislation. A good breakdown can be found here.

* The EU climate and energy package, passed in December 2008, was lobbied hard by numerous industry sectors. Avril Doyle MEP, the centre-right Irish MP who was rapporteur on carbon trading for the EU Parliament, suggests that German coal power and chemicals producers were loudest lobby voices.

* There are also a plethora of inter-governmental and inter-regional meetings to shape the agenda - including EU-US, US-China and EU-China bilateral meetings. US and EU carbon markets are not dependent on a global agreement, while the EU is pushing plans to link these together across the OECD (industrialised nations) by 2015.

* Most industry sectors are preparing their own plans on the climate agreement too. The head of the International Air Transport Association (a private industry body), for example, effectively pre-announced the International Civic Aviation Organisation (UN body) plan on climate at the World Business Summit - suggesting that the latter is captured by corporate interests.

Specific companies

A lot of the usual suspects are involved, but amongst the most active - either on their own or, more typically, through broader associations, are: BP, Shell and Vattenfall. PricewaterhouseCoopers and McKinsey are also very active as advisers.

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