ISO has pushed its huge marketing machinery to promote something called the “London Declaration” on climate change. There’s a lot of confusion over this, and ISO benefits from the fact that people think it was some world summit or international regulatory agreement, such as the Paris Agreement. It’s not.

The London Declaration was just an internal ISO policy document that it pushed in front of its members at the 2021 ISO General Assembly. It attempts to bind ISO’s actions to those of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) related to “climate action.”

Per ISO, the London Declaration will:

  • Foster the active consideration of climate science and associated transitions in the development of all new and revised International Standards and publications
  • Facilitate the involvement of civil society and those most vulnerable to climate change in the development of International Standards and publications
  • Develop and publish an Action Plan and Measurement Framework detailing concrete actions and initiatives and a reporting mechanism to track progress

And, yes, ISO is not only benefitting from the confusion between the “Paris Agreement” — which was an actual international summit of world leaders — and its “London Declaration,” they are actively tying the two together to make it appear that ISO had something to do with the Paris accords, when it absolutely did not:

Even the name is supposed to confuse you on this point, making it sound as if the “London Declaration” is some new update to the “Paris Agreement.”

Again, however, the London Declaration was just an internal ISO thing, dreamed up by its marketing department, and then rolled out with great fanfare. But it raises a lot of questions, which need to be asked.

Cherry Picking Only One Cherry

First, why did ISO go all-in on only one of the UN’s seventeen SDGs? The UN SDGs include actions to eliminate hunger, eradicate poverty, provide for gender equality, and other such goals. Why did ISO pick “climate action” and then shift its entire corporate direction and business plan to suit that one topic?

The answer requires you to remember that ISO is a publishing company, not a nongovernmental organization (NGO). ISO makes money by selling books, which it happens to call standards, and then generates more revenue through the licensing rights of those books. By charging nations to “belong” to ISO, it generates just enough membership revenue to allow it to claim to be an NGO, but just barely. *

By choosing “climate action,” ISO doesn’t alienate key markets for selling its books. Even China can sign onto largely empty promises of fixing the climate, even while they do the opposite. Had ISO instead hung its hat on the UN SDG related to “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions,” ISO would have risked losing those key partners, and access to their markets. Even the United States would have balked at that one.

So “climate action” was the least offensive of the UN SDGs, making it ripe for picking.

ISO’s Hypocrisy on Climate

ISO claims the London Declaration is a “push to transform the approach to climate action and advance international work to attain net-zero goals.” But what, exactly, is ISO doing?

As usual, nothing of actual impact.

ISO has limited its climate action work to the content of its books, nothing more. The London Declaration simply demands that ISO standards address climate change, in whatever form might apply, and that’s it. In short, ISO will just publish books that tell the people to do stuff that ISO isn’t, itself, doing:

ISO is uniquely positioned to give guidance to all types of organizations, irrespective of their size, scope or location, on implementing, integrating and promoting environmentally responsible behaviour.

How could ISO have taken actual, practical steps to help the climate? First, by banning all in-person plenaries, conferences, committee meetings and world travel. But ISO — which insiders call the “International Sightseeing Organization” — would never do that. Its staffers and biggest supporters, like BSI and CQI, rely on ISO holding meetings in tropical locales, like Barbados of Jamaica, so they can write off beachside vacations on their taxes as “business trips.”  You never see ISO conferences hosted in Karachi or New Jersey.

Meanwhile, ISO’s activities are uniquely suited for virtual, online interaction, and don’t need in-person trips at all. Standards development can be done entirely online since it’s a matter of writing documents, voting, and talking. But if ISO were to stop such activities, it would (again) risk losing members whose representatives participate in ISO events purely for travel opportunities.

The Real Reason

Sergio Mujica

So if ISO isn’t really interested in climate action, why has it launched such an unprecedented campaign aligned with the UN on that theme?

The answer is Sergio Mujica.

Mujica was elected to his second — and final — term of office as ISO Secretary-General in 2021. Meanwhile, ISO Secretary-General António Guterres won his second, and final, term in 2021 as well. Like ISO, the UN has five-year term limits.

Which puts the ISO Secretary-General role up for grabs right around the time that Mujica will be readying to step down from ISO.

Mujica was an unremarkable Chilean bureaucrat, running that country’s customs agency for a few years, and earning himself an investigation for allowing his department to enable money laundering and drug trafficking. But his personal connections and self-promoting manipulation enabled him to escape the trap of low-paid South American bureaucratic government and make the jump into high-flying, international quasi-private enterprise.

While the real power behind ISO remains with the unseen “ISO Executive” — and no one is particularly sure who that includes — the Secretary-General role is no mere figurehead, like its rotating “ISO President” position. The Sec-Gen has some degree of real power, which improves with the person’s ability to navigate international waters. For all his failings in Chile, Mujica was able to find people in positions of power that were drawn to his tepid, but flattering, management style at ISO.

Peak Mujica

The London Declaration represents peak Mujica. A flimsy, meaningless marketing move glitzed up with enough gravitas and slick infographics to make it appear at least partially legitimate, enabling it to hitch itself to the star of a much more powerful organization. The tactic worked to get Mujica himself moved from Chile to Geneva, why not try to do it to land ISO in the good graces of the United Nations?

On a practical front, the London Declaration is absolutely batshit crazy. ISO publishes over 20,000 standards, and Mujica is dead-set on insisting that all of them will be updated (eventually) to address climate change. It’s insane on its face.  Injecting “climate change” into ISO 9001 makes no sense, of course, but it makes even less sense to add it to ISO 20000-1 on IT service management systems, or ISO 27001 on information security, or ISO 7810 for the design of credit cards. Simply put, ISO may have a tiny handful of standards where climate is on-topic (like ISO 14001), but the overwhelming majority are not.

This means that ISO will force the various Technical committees (TCs) to add meaningless head-nods to the subject, without any actual requirements. Already, TC 176 has crafted two versions of climate change language for the next edition of ISO 9001, neither of which actually add requirements. One version throws the words in a non-binding “note,” and the second just name-drops “climate change” in a list of other, optional things to “consider.”

ISO 9001 has become a dumping ground for meaningless, meandering text that doesn’t feature any actual requirements (“emotionally protective workplace“) but which pads the page count enough to justify an increase in the standard’s cover price. ISO will just replicate that practice with all its standards, now.

A Desperate UN Laps It Up

Mujica (l) at London Declaration announcement.

But even though (a) ISO isn’t taking actual action to reduce its own carbon footprint, and (b) the moves ISO is making amount to adding meaningless text to off-topic standards that will have no practical impact on the world’s climate, the entire thing appears to have worked. The UN has embraced ISO’s moves, unsurprisingly, since the UN is desperate for anyone to pay attention to its SDG campaign. (That campaign has been going on, in one form or another, since at least 1992, and has produced no tangible results.)

So, now, Mujica is making great personal hay out of his move, being sure to put himself front-and-center as the poster boy for ISO’s “London Declaration.” And this puts his face front-and-center of a host of folks who will be deciding on Guterres’ successor in 2027. (That process will begin a year or two earlier, making the timing even more perfect for Mujica.)

As a result, when you start to see the topic of climate change appear in standards like ISO 9001 — or if you’re one of the remaining dummies working on ISO TCs and having to spend countless hours working on the change while being criticized relentlessly for ignoring feedback on the issue — remember that you’re doing this all to get some guy from Chile you never heard of elected as the next head of the UN.

This never had anything to do with actual climate change.

* ISO may be registered as a non-profit NGO in Switzerland, but that’s because the Swiss have notoriously lax financial laws, allowing them to be the host country for the finances of criminals the world over. But I’ve reviewed the Swiss law on NGOs, and it appears that ISO isn’t even in compliance with them, and may have already run afoul of its alleged NGO status. The Swiss government isn’t much interested in investigating, however. I’m reaching out to attorneys in Switzerland to probe this line of inquiry further.

About Christopher Paris

Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001 and Surviving AS9100. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.


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