Five ways COP21 can enhance corporate accountability

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Protestors in Paris for the COP21 talks. [MarkDixon/Flickr]

The Paris climate change talks could – or should – also be a watershed for corporate transparency and behind-the-scenes lobbying, argues Jerome Chaplier.

Jerome Chaplier is Coordinator of the European Coalition for Corporate Justice.

The spotlight is back on the environment with the UN Climate Change Conference bringing almost 200 countries to the table. Although not ambitious enough to put us on the two-degree path, the talks are still instrumental for a global shift in the right direction. Here are five corporate accountability action-areas states should include in their Paris climate change agenda:

Making human rights central to the debate

Ahead of COP21, all UN special rapporteurs have unanimously called for human rights to be put “at the core of climate governance.” Referring to a potential internationally binding agreement, they insisted “any response to climate change must respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights.” Their view is echoed by civil society and the general public who did not let COP21 go unnoticed. On 29 November alone, over 600,000 people joined a global protest against climate change spanning from Melbourne to Vancouver. With the entire world watching, state leaders could use the UN conference as a starting point for a rights-based approach to climate change.

Promoting enhanced transparency

COP21 is an opportunity to demand more transparency in corporate reporting. Greenhouse gases are the number one cause of climate change, and we should know who’s topping the emissions’ charts.

Businesses need to start publishing thorough information on their emissions, including data on value chains and subcontractors, and the EU Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFR) is an essential tool in this regard. Coming into effect end of 2016, the legislation requires large EU companies to issue annual reports on how their activities impact on human rights and the environment. What remains now is for the EU and its member states to efficiently transpose the directive into law, ensuring full and accurate disclosure on adverse environmental impacts, such as natural resource use and emissions.

Pushing for a shift in corporate governance

Putting human rights at the core of climate change goes hand in hand with a shift in corporate governance. Companies need to better integrate environmental and human rights concerns into their internal decision-making process. The current business model based on short-term gains is draining our planet’s resources, creating global income disparity and chaining developing communities to a vicious circle of abuse and poverty. Subscribing to a sustainable business model where profits are balanced by societal benefits should become the norm and not the exception. Otherwise we are entering a climate race to the bottom from which both the people and the planet will emerge as losers.

Choosing better regulation instead of deregulation

COP21’s objective is to achieve an international agreement on climate change that tackles greenhouse gas emissions. In drafting such legislation, human and environmental rights can neither be seen as burdens for business nor as voluntary standards. The EU and national governments should act on behalf of their citizens and promote ambitious regulation, better emissions standards and efficient monitoring mechanisms. If the Volkswagen scandal taught us anything it is that we can’t trust the foxes to watch the henhouse anymore.

Phasing out regressive lobbying

Corporate activity is the main driver of climate change. For example, two thirds of CO2 emissions can be traced back to just 90 companies. Coincidently, big businesses are also the strongest opponents of enhanced environmental regulation. A report published in October by Influence Map, shows a staggering 95% of the top 100 private companies in the world were members of trade associations lobbying against climate legislation. 45% were directly involved in activities obstructing progressive climate policies. The Paris talks could close the door on regressive lobby groups advocating against increased legislation and improved standards. Alongside showcasing examples of good business, COP21 should name and shame those behind environmental harm, whether they are companies or the states who are sheltering them.

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