Info Service on Health Issues (May16/05)
Bonn, 24 May (Hilary Chiew and Chee Yoke Ling) – A number of developing countries have requested for a report of procedures with regard to identifying and avoiding the risk of conflicts of interest with the engagement of non-state actors in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process.
Representing the Like-minded Developing Countries (LMDCs), Ecuador raised the concern at the 23 May informal consultation that discussed observer engagement in the intergovernmental process under the agenda item of the 44th meeting of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 44) titled ‘Arrangements for intergovernmental Meetings’.
The SBI and two other UNFCCC bodies are meeting in Bonn from 16 to 26 May. The other two bodies are the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice and the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement.
Acknowledging the procedures of engagement presented by the UNFCCC Secretariat on 19 May, Ecuador said they do not address the concept of conflicts of interest let alone provided procedures for systematically addressing conflicts of interest with commercial-interests actors.
It said the engagement is not just about observer accreditation but perhaps more importantly if the Secretariat is entering into ‘partnerships’ and all kinds of activities with business and their associations.
The LMDC therefore called upon the Secretariat to prepare a report for consideration by Parties at the next SBI meeting (SBI 45 in December) as the basis for further action.
Ecuador was reacting to paragraph 22 of the draft conclusion proposed by the SBI Chair dated 20 May which reads:
“The SBI acknowledged that the secretariat has in place procedures to ensure due diligence and to avoid conflict of interest when engaging with observer organizations.”
Uganda speaking for the African Group said the Paris Agreement provided for enhanced participation by non-state actors which included the private sector.
“In so doing, it makes it critically important to safeguard the integrity of the UNFCCC process by dealing with the potential conflict of interests this could create,” it stressed.
It supported the request of the LMDC for a report by the Secretariat at SB 45.
India and Bolivia also echoed their support.
Australia said it supported active engagement of non-state actors and cautioned against making value judgment of who can and cannot access the process. While the UNFCCC process is a Party-owned arena, it is of the view that the arena should be transparent, accessible and open.
The European Union said it would be difficult for it to accept any statement that would indicate that the present procedure of due diligence fails to avoid conflict of interests.
Ecuador had first raised this issue at a contact group discussion on 19 May that addressed several issues under the agenda item on ‘Arrangements for intergovernmental meetings’. It called for rules and standards to guide the participation of non-state actors in the UNFCCC processes, saying that a distinction has to be made with those with commercial interests.
The call was supported by other developing countries. Guatemala also wanted special attention to be given to the issue of conflict of interests in the participation of non-state actors.
These calls were made at the meeting of the SBI which considered various issues under the agenda item on ‘Arrangements for intergovernmental meetings.’
At that contact group meeting, Ecuador welcomed the scaling up of observer participation in the UNFCCC process but stressed that it is important to have standards and rules to guide the participation of non-Parties stakeholders.
It said non-state actors should not be put in the same basket as “some have commercial interests” and there should be due diligence criteria or guidelines for the Secretariat to engage with them.
Supporting Ecuador, Guatemala called for a review of the application process for observer engagement and called for special attention to be paid on the matter of conflict of interests.
Echoing Ecuador, Bolivia said it was also concerned with the real and potential conflict of interests of businesses in the UNFCCC process.
To this, SBI Chair Tomasz Chruszczow (Poland) asked “what is wrong with that, as each of us has a specific interest”, adding that there are criteria for the approval of non-state actors and asked Parties not to forget that many business communities and the media are actively engaged with climate change issues all over the world.
“We are simply seeking to have their views heard and considered by Parties,” he added.
In response, Ecuador insisted that distinction must be made among non-state actors and requested for the Secretariat to make a presentation at the next meeting on the engagement procedures.
Corporate Accountability International, a member of Climate Justice Now!, expressed similar concerns voiced by Ecuador, Bolivia and Guatemala and urged Parties to consider seriously the possible conflict of interest that may arise when a public institution like the UNFCCC engages with entities in the private sector whose profit motives or interests conflict with the public objectives of climate policy.
It said because sound climate policy must affect profits of industry, the interests of the two conflict. As such, it supported the creation of a process to identify and avoid conflicts of interests to protect the legitimacy of the UNFCCC, its Parties and its outcomes.
China acknowledged the importance of civil society in the process. It said many non-governmental organisations had expressed interests to help countries to prepare their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) and welcomed this as many developing countries lack capacity. However, it cautioned that each developing country has its own circumstances and national sovereignty in preparing the NDCs.
Bolivia highlighted the gap in relation to the effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities in the engagement of observers. It said they had contributed substantively to the Convention with regard to protection of Mother Earth through their collective actions in protecting biodiversity and ecosystems that address climate change. It said the recognition of indigenous peoples and their voices in this process in a real and effective manner is very important.
Hence, a platform for the exchange of experiences and sharing of best practices on mitigation and adaptation in a holistic and integrated manner which aims to strengthen the knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of indigenous peoples and local communities was established in Paris. It called for the operationalisation of the platform.
On 19 May, at Ecuador’s request, the Secretariat had outlined the process of engagement of civil society and stressed that it has measures in place to conduct proper due diligence when interacting with the private sector. However, many delegates and observers agree that the Secretariat had presented the procedure of observer participation but not on management of risks.
WHO negotiates engagement framework
Meanwhile, intense negotiations have been taking place at the World Health Organization since 2015 on a Framework for Engagement with non-State Actors (FENSA). This is part of WHO’s governance reform agenda launched in 2011. Until January 2015 the process was a Secretariat-led process and in 2015 Member States took the helm by establishing the Open-Ended Intergovernmental Meeting to negotiate on FENSA.
The document contains two parts: (i) an overarching framework setting out the common rules for all non-State actors (NSAs); and (ii) the specific policies for each category of NSAs.
During the past year Member States have reached consensus on most parts of the FENSA text. However, consensus has yet to be reached on the critical aspects of the private sector policy, which sets the special rules of WHO’s engagement with the private sector.
Developed countries are pushing for an equal treatment of private sector with NGOs (with no distinction made with public interest NGOs) and resisting specific rules to prevent the undue influence of private sector on the WHO. Issues related to conflict of interest are also part of the debate.
One of the unresolved proposals relate to risk assessment of a proposed engagement to be conducted in addition to due diligence.
The final negotiations are scheduled for the annual World Health Assembly (23-28 May) attended by ministers convening at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.