The year 2016 may become a milestone for safeguarding the interest of the Earth and its people as the two most important UN conferences -- COP22 (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and COP7 (WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) -- to address climate change and public health will commence on the same day, from November 7 in Delhi and Marrakesh, respectively.
The two accords are important instruments for both people and governments to take back power from the hands of the industries responsible for global warming and tobacco epidemics.
Two milestone accords in the history of reducing global warming and detrimental diseases
Last year’s historical Paris Agreement, adopted in COP21, is the first universally binding climate change agreement to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius and also the first UN agreement that will enter into force in less than a year on November 4, this year.
Likewise, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) embodies the most effective tobacco control policies from across the globe into international law to protect public health and restrict Big Tobacco. Because of the prospects of these agreements, Big Tobacco and Big Oil and its friends, have long been infiltrating the UN negotiations to impede any progress to curb their activities of emission and tobacco production.
Luckily, in both bodies, WHO’s FCTC and the UNFCCC, alliances of governments are finding ways to drive these industries out of the talks for good, and hold them accountable for the damages they caused.
Infiltration of Big Tobacco and Big Oil in FCTC and the UNFCCC
In the 1950s, when the fatal consequences of smoking was just surfacing, larger tobacco firms formed together the Tobacco Industry Research Council (TIRC), to deny the harmful effects of tobacco and confuse the public.
It wormed its way into the United Nations’ World Health Organisation and infiltrated WHO’s conferences, wreaking havocs and slowing down any progress to control tobacco consumption and production.
Realising conflict of interest between both the parties, WHO finally undertook the legally binding treaty, known as WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) to “call for a limitation in the interactions between law-makers and the tobacco industry” under Article 5.3.
Now we must move from words to deeds and put Paris into action. We need all hands on deck -- every part of society must be mobilised to reduce emissions and help communities adapt to inevitable climate impacts
However, even today, the Big Tobacco has been constantly looking for ways to penetrate the forthcoming COP7 at Delhi. According to a press release by the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA), its president, François van der Merwe, appealed the national governments to include tobacco growers from all of the tobacco growing countries to the COP.
As he said: “Measures impacting tobacco cultivation and tobacco farmers cannot be decided only by health officials and activists, and requires the participation of tobacco growers and other stakeholders, including related ministries.”
Similarly, The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report indicates that the Big Oil knew about greenhouse effect from the beginning of 1977, whereas the world only became aware of the scientific facts of climate change 10 years, after the big polluters.
The Big Oil purposefully kept the information a secret and spread climate disinformation for many years like the tobacco industries did to mislead people about the side effects of tobacco.
Corporate lobby groups associated with polluting industries -- from ExxonMobil to Peabody Coal -- are granted access as observer organisation, and have been infiltrating ways to arrange closed-door meetings with high-level delegates and promoting their interests to block any success in reducing global warming.
The UNFCCC has so far welcomed the corporate groups affiliated with big polluters in the UNFCCC negotiations.
In fact, UNFCCC body has not mentioned about “banning the fossil fuel lobbyists” from climate talks and climate change decisions in its landmark Paris Agreement.
However, in Lima at COP20, a report by 350.org suggests that climate activists presented the UNFCCC secretariat a document with over 53,000 signatures calling for fossil fuel corporations and their lobbyists to be banned from the UN Climate Talk.
Why kicking out Big Tobacco and Big Oil is necessary
According to the WHO fact sheet report, tobacco epidemics kill around 6 million people a year; more than 5 million of these deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while more than 600,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.
Globally, tobacco use killed 100 million people in the 20th century, much more than all deaths in World Wars I and II combined. The facts suggest that tobacco-related deaths will number around 1 billion in the 21st century, if current smoking patterns are not ceased.
The scenario is not so much different for damages caused by climate change because of global warming from burning fossil fuels -- in the name of power generation.
The most comprehensive report ever on the human impact of climate change shows that about 300,000 people die every year because of climate change and about 3 million people are affected from either direct or indirect impacts of global warming.
Why COP7 and COP22 are negotiations of interest
The WHO FCTC is the world’s first public health treaty that provides a new legal dimension for international cooperation in combating the tobacco epidemic and is considered to be one of the most widely embraced treaties in the history of WHO and the UN.
The governing body comprised of 180 parties, which regularly reviews the implementation of the convention and takes action to promote its effectiveness in controlling tobacco.
WHO’s report on Article 5.3 of the treaty states that Interpol’s application for observer status was rejected in the sixth session of the COP because of its partnership with Philip Morris International, an American global cigarette and tobacco company, which accounts for 15.6% of the international cigarette market outside the US.
Thus, this year everyone is waiting for new progress to rein in the Big Tobacco and its associations from the convention. This year, world’s most substantial anti-tobacco treaty, the WHOFCTC, will review the implementation of the treaty so far and the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.
The 22nd session of the COP is going to be the first meeting of the world climate envoys, after the successful Paris Agreement comes into effect this fall. As suggested by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon: “Now we must move from words to deeds and put Paris into action.
We need all hands on deck -- every part of society must be mobilised to reduce emissions and help communities adapt to inevitable climate impacts.”
Thus, the world is waiting for the two UN conferences to open new “possibilities” and institutionalise “effective policies” to protect the environment and our health from the tobacco and fossil fuel giants.
Shaila Mahmud is a researcher and writer working in the field of climate change and development.