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Corruption and climate change

By Kellie Tranter - posted Tuesday, 17 November 2009

In London last week a panel at Clifford Chance discussed the topic “Corruption and Climate Change: an opportunity for improved global governance, or the next resource curse?” They debated whether or not corruption is being neglected in the push to combat global climate change.

A similar debate is long overdue in this country, and it’s needed now.

At the 13th International Anti-corruption Conference last year a plenary session was held to discuss climate change and corruption. It noted that:


Climate change and the threat it poses to sustainable economic growth increasingly dominates and challenges the international policy agenda. Climate change goes beyond the “mere” issue of Greenhouse gas emissions and their negative effect on the environment, however, as it links major issues of development such as financing for aid and technical assistance, sustainable national development strategies and energy policies, public financial management and the delivery of basic public services, especially to the poor. Tackling the role of corruption in many of the above areas is crucial to better development outcomes, and, as a result, climate change will be an area of key concern for anti-corruption stakeholders in years to come ...

Climate change is a complex problem. The stakes in tackling it properly are clearly high, but for none more so than the beneficiaries of the existing endemic corruption. But what are the costs of corruption?

According to Transparency International the cost of corruption is four-pronged: political, economic, social, and environmental. Paragraph 4 of its Corruption faq, “What are the costs of corruption?”, is worth reading closely, using it as a checklist against recent Australian experience. See for yourself how many of those circumstances resonate with you personally!

And now read it once more bearing in mind the number of Australian politicians and "senior executive" public servants who have fallen from grace in recent years when their corruption and bribe-taking has been exposed; and the extent to which lobbyists and the business interests they represent effectively buy preferential access to politicians and preferential treatment in the decisions that affect their interests; and the number of times politicians, with hefty taxpayer funded lifetime benefits, resign one day and are appointed to well-paid positions in large corporations the next.

I don't know anyone who can't point to at least one instance of what their community sees as corrupt conduct by a local, state or federal politician that has been neither investigated nor punished.

In 2002 Dr Svetlana Winbourne of Management Systems International wrote:


... For those countries that are rich in environmental resources and whose economies are primarily based on them, resource distribution, extraction and management become fertile ground for corruption.

Does this help to explain Australia’s abysmal 2008 Environmental Performance Index ranking? Surely questions need to be asked.

Suggestions for structural change to get rid of moral hazards like these have been flung about for years, but they never amount to anything. State government independent corruption investigative commissions do a good job as far as they go, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they're hardly scratching the surface. Is it any wonder that the average Australian has little faith in their own government, and is apathetic about a political system which offers them no real choice?

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About the Author

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

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