While climate change and energy policies affect everyone, there are powerful corporate actors who work behind the scenes to influence public policy and protect their profits. Tania Broughton reports on a move to improve transparency.
Despite the power wielded by these climate lobbyists, in South Africa there are no transparency and accountability laws regulating any form of corporate lobbying or the influence it has over lawmakers, which could result in “policy capture”.
This is according to Just Share NPC, a non-profit shareholder activism group which says it is driving urgent action to combat climate change and reduce inequality.
To this end, it has now partnered with the local amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism and launched access-to-information requests to promote transparency by throwing a spotlight on behind-closed-doors engagements between business and government.
“The United States is perhaps the best-known example of the extent to which it is possible for corporate lobbying to influence political decision makers,” said Just Share NPC communication manager Annette Gibbs.
“However, the fact that lobbying in South Africa does not receive the kind of media attention and publicity that it does in the United States does not mean that there are not similar levels of corporate influence over regulatory processes in this country. The fact that this influence is entirely unregulated and untransparent means that it can take place without any scrutiny or accountability on the part of either lobbyists or public officials,” she said.
Those who have received the requests for information, in terms of the country’s Promotion to Access to Information Act (PAIA), have until later in September to respond.
Just Share says this application is to safeguard against attempts by private industry actors – in particular from the fossil fuel industry – to shape government laws and policies. The documents it wants include minutes of meetings and submissions, undertakings or agreements.
Those who received requests for information include the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE), the National Treasury, the Presidency, the Energy Council of South Africa and the Minerals Council of South Africa. A request has also been sent to Sasol, a major emitter of greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants.
Each request asks for details of meetings between these government and industry actors which pertain to: South Africa’s policy and regulatory approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation, South Africa’s energy mix, the just transition to a low-carbon economy, and any associated infrastructure and resource exploration activities.
The requests to Sasol and DFFE also extend to discussions on the implementation of air quality laws.
By the end of August, several had already acknowledged receipt of the requests, Gibbs said.
“There is growing awareness globally of the risk of corporate lobbyists working behind the scenes to delay or dilute climate change policy. Research suggests that industry bodies in South Africa are heavily engaged in such lobbying,” she explained.
“These requests are an important step to ensure greater transparency in climate policy making in South Africa. The public has a right to know whether powerful commercial entities are working behind the scenes to influence government climate policy to protect their profits rather than our future.”
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