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Addressing Corruption In An Era Of Climate Change

Climate Change

Professor Juliet Sorensen (Northwestern University School of Law) and Northwestern Law students Michelle Kennedy and Cassandra Myers are attending the Sixth Conference of the State Parties (CoSP) to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in St. Petersburg, Russia. For more on the opening of the Conference, see here and hereOver the next few days, FCPA Professor will be publishing various posts regarding the proceedings.  

This post is from Michelle Kennedy.


With the Paris Conference on Climate Change 2015 coming up at the end of this month, the relationship between climate change and corruption could not be more relevant. The panel that explored this topic presented unique perspectives that provided a comprehensive view of the complex issues at hand, which range from the increased frequency of natural disasters to the growing impact of the forestry sector.

To open the discussion, Tim Steele, the Senior Advisor on Anti-Corruption of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Southern & Eastern Africa, emphasized the urgency of the issue. The adverse effects of climate change include rising oceans, depleting forests, and an increased frequency of natural disasters, which is why he insists that this issue be addressed before it is too late.

“Catastrophe causes opportunity,” Steele urged, which was elaborated upon by Professor Juliet Sorensen of the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University School of Law and the co-author of the upcoming book, Public Corruption and the Law: Local, National, and International. She explained that because we are living in a world with a sharply increased frequency of natural disasters, there has also emerged the need to recover from these natural disasters more quickly. This recovery necessitates an infusion of public funds from the federal government, international organizations, and state and local resources, in order to meet the basic human needs of the victims and to rebuild the community. The vast funds that arrive quickly create ample opportunity for corruption, thus exemplifying the causal relationship between catastrophe and opportunity. For example, if recovery funds are corruptly used to award contracts to builders based on relationships rather than merit, this may result in sub par buildings and poorly constructed roads. If a natural disaster strikes again, then the damage will be greater than it otherwise would have been without corruption. The community then needs to be rebuilt again, thus perpetuating the cycle and displaying the urgent need to address corruption in an era of climate change. Sorensen urged, however, that there are encouraging opportunities in both law and policy to address these issues, such as the Disaster Fraud Task Force at the United States Department of Justice, which deals with all aspects of fraud mismanagement and corruption in the wake of natural disasters. On an international level, the European Union Emergency Response Coordination Centre is a new resource that provides real time monitoring and immediate reactions to natural disasters.

In order to assist the countries that suffer the worst effects of climate change, the polluting countries have made monetary contributions, known as climate finance, as explained by Rukshana Nanayakkara of the Asia Pacific Department of Transparency International. This financial support provided by developed countries for mitigation and adaptation action in developing countries is expected to reach $100 billion by 2020. This vast amount of money involved displays the ample opportunity for the corrupt diversion of funds.

To ensure that these climate adaptation funds are administered in a transparent manner, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (“OECD”) conducts vigorous evaluations on its member countries to determine whether they are effectively pursuing allegations of bribery in the context of publicly funded post-disaster projects. Moving forward, Leah Ambler of the OECD Anti-Corruption Division proposed that combatting the significant risks involved in climate finance be accomplished by an increase in corruption risk awareness initiatives, active enforcement of anti-corruption laws, collaboration with the private sector to ensure effective anti-bribery compliance programs, and independent implementation of new regulatory schemes related to climate change mitigation.

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