Like it or not, UN needs private sector input in climate talks
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As the current round of U.N. climate talks here in Bonn near their conclusion, delegates are allowing themselves a sense of cautious relief. The Trump administration has postponed a final decision on its continued involvement in the U.N. climate treaty — and the Paris Agreement concluded in 2015 — until after this meeting concludes on Thursday.

A hard-working, albeit smaller-than-usual, U.S. delegation is on hand, and the talks are moving ahead on a range of technical matters.

United Nations negotiators are looking ahead to 2018, when countries will review progress since the 2015 Paris Climate Summit. They are considering how to further scale-up actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, develop structures to ensure adequate financing of climate action and foster technological innovation to meet the climate challenge.


This assessment will unfold, country-by-country, reflecting the unique “bottom-up” nature of the Paris treaty. Every country has set its own pledges and actions, captured in a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). The U.S. has the option to review and change its national pledge, should it decide to remain in the U.N. process and the Paris Agreement.


As has become the norm, dozens of business and non-governmental interest groups are in attendance. This might seem like a potentially confusing and crowded venture, but, in fact, it is quite the opposite. The U.N. climate process can best be thought of as an ecosystem — the more diverse it is, the healthier it is. 

This was demonstrated by the U.N.’s decision, before the Paris summit, to open its climate deliberations to a vast range of business and nongovernmental interest groups, which came forward in substantial numbers to join the discussions leading up to the Paris Agreement. This inclusiveness and diversity was directly responsible for the political momentum and broad support that allowed that historic agreement to be reached.

Yet, here in Bonn, some countries and NGOs now wish to take a step backward. In their view, business should be banned or severely restricted in these meetings, because of what they regard as inherently disqualifying — the fact that business seeks to make a profit and deliver value. Moreover, these parties assert that some sectors — coal, natural gas, petroleum, etc. — should be disallowed due to the contribution their products make to carbon emissions.

This exclusionary and anti-democratic concept is termed “conflict of interest,” even though it has no relation to more traditional due diligence and other principles of open and transparent policy development practiced by countries around the world. 

At a moment when the world faces substantial challenges to not only meet current climate pledges under the Paris Agreement, but also go further, could there be any more counter-productive proposal? It has been widely recognized that attaining the objectives of the Paris Agreement depends on mobilizing private money, technology and know-how in every country and throughout the entire global production system.

Since their inception, the U.N. climate talks have welcomed and accredited business groups — including my own — as observers, and these groups are a vital part of the ecosystem here. Most national governments consult with multiple stakeholders, including the private sector, in creating regulations, which is a hallmark of good governance. Yet now some wish to introduce exclusions and bans into this vital United Nations process.

In letters to the State Department and White House, we at the United States Council for International Business have urged the U.S. to remain in the Paris Agreement and play an active role in the U.N. climate process going forward.

To do so will require that the American business community is also actively involved and able to take a seat at the U.N. table. The magnitude of the challenges we face means that we must both redouble our efforts and engagement in these critical negotiations. 

More broadly, we are urging U.N. member states to take concrete measures to mobilize private investment and technology to advance sustainable development and tackle climate change, while at the same time meeting growing energy demand and creating U.S. jobs.

In addition to improved options for business involvement to share expert and technical views, we look to the U.N. to strengthen policy frameworks — including strong intellectual property protection and open trade — to spur the deployment of innovative technologies to address climate change.

For its part, the business community can contribute to the review and improvement of national pledges, both individually and in their totality. We are ready to discuss market-oriented options to incentivize the reduction of greenhouse gases and drive investment to needed infrastructure for energy access.

The U.N. climate talks are a big, complicated process that will continue to move forward with or without the U.S. on board. However, without both U.S. government and private-sector leadership, this process will certainly fail to achieve its goal of putting society and the economy on a track to reduce and manage climate risks, meet growing energy demand, create jobs and ensure shared economic prosperity.

Norine Kennedy is vice president for energy and environment with the United States Council for International Businessfounded in 1945 to promote free trade and help represent U.S. business in the United Nations.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.