This story was originally published by The Guardian and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Fossil fuel companies are forcing governments to compensate them for lost earnings in the transition to a low-carbon global economy, and destroying the world’s ability to counter their harmful activities, former top UN officials have warned.

Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland who was twice a UN climate envoy, said she was "outraged" by the activities of fossil fuel companies, including forcing governments into “investment treaties” that reward them with billions in compensation when countries reduce their reliance on oil, gas and coal.

"It is well worth looking at these investment treaties, there are lots of them — 2,000 of various sorts," Robinson said. "[Under their terms], if countries do the right thing on climate, they have to compensate fossil fuel companies. And they compensate to the tune of US$62 billion (£49 billion) over a five-year period. It’s another of these hidden subsidies."

Several countries, including the UK, France, Germany and Spain, have objected to the energy charter treaty, under which the EU and other countries were supposed to co-operate on energy generation. But many other such treaties are still in force, according to the OECD.

Robinson also warned that fossil fuel lobbyists had managed to severely weaken a hoped-for treaty on the plastic waste that is catastrophically fouling the oceans, and were increasingly hampering the UN’s annual COP climate talks.

"We’ve seen their role at COPs, we’ve seen it for a number of years, and it’s intensifying. That’s the problem, it’s a progression," she warned. The plastics treaty last month had been "watered down," she said, as had plans for a global resolution to phase out fossil fuels at last year’s COP summit in Dubai.

"It’s very evident there was a lot of pressure in Dubai before we got the text we got," she said. In the final outcome, COP28 in Dubai did not mandate a full phase-out but a weaker resolution, to "transition away from fossil fuels," which marked the first time that all countries have made such an agreement.

"I was appreciative that it was progress — it wasn’t as much as we wanted, but it was at least progress," said Robinson, who now chairs the Elders group of former world leaders. "It seems to be a reality that we have to make the case [for tackling the climate crisis] in the context of heavy lobbying of interest groups against the progress we need."

The actions of fossil fuel lobbyists are having a direct impact on the world's ability to combat climate change — particularly when it comes to what former Irish president Mary Robinson calls "hidden subsidies."

She called for more transparency on lobbying at UN and government meetings.

Ban Ki-moon, who led the UN from 2007 to 2016, and is now deputy chair of the Elders, also called on political leaders around the world to step up, as more than half the world’s population goes to the polls in significant elections this year.

Ban warned that the climate crisis was intensifying more rapidly than expected, and governments must redouble their efforts to keep up. He called for at least $1.7 trillion of investment in helping developing countries make the transition to a low-carbon economy.

"Climate change is now approaching much, much faster than we might have thought. There is no time to lose. As a former secretary general, I think that if there is firm political will we can mobilize all this money," he said.

The US and China were among his biggest worries, he said. "A very important presidential election is going to take place in the US. I’m concerned about who will be elected," he said. "President Trump was elected [in 2016]. What happened? He withdrew from the Paris climate agreement. So there was a big vacancy over four years when it comes to the US."

Talk of friction between the U.S. and China was also "very worrying" he added. Relations between the superpowers have been tense, as China has been accused of deliberately overproducing key goods, such as renewable energy components, in order to drive companies in the US and the EU out of business.

"When it comes to the global agenda on climate change, they should cooperate. This kind of global, very dangerous, agenda should not be affected by a political dispute between the two countries," said Ban.

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If ever there was doubt about the predatory nature of the fossil fuel sector - these "forced compensation" , treaties (akin to the Investor State treaties extortion) now all doubt is removed. What else would one expect from these monolithic corporations like the tobacco sector? Eventually justice may prevail in the form of class action lawsuits.