blog 05.07.2024

Open data

How to use beneficial ownership data to tackle environmental corruption

By: Alanna Markle, Senior Manager, Policy and Research, Open Ownership, and Agustina De Luca, Senior Advocacy Manager, Open Ownership.

This is a guest blog. The contribution is intended to bring diverse perspectives and insights, enriching the discussions and content for other members and the public. If you are interested in contributing a blog, please contact the forum's coordinators.

Open Ownership drives the global shift towards transparency and accountability in corporate ownership and control, through direct support to governments and data users to upscale the availability and impact of beneficial ownership information worldwide.

Progress on the implementation of beneficial ownership (BO) registers has advanced significantly in the past decade. Over 80 countries now have live BO registers, with more working to implement them. However, beneficial ownership transparency is about more than establishing registers. It's about reducing opportunities and capacities for corruption; building systems to safeguard public funds; curbing illicit financial flows; and ensuring natural resources are used for the benefit of all citizens.

Worldwide action on beneficial ownership transparency Countries in green have live registers; countries in purple are in the process of implementing a register; countries in blue are planning to implement a register; and pink dots show countries where Open Ownership has engaged (last updated June 2024). Note: Data on the Open Ownership map is drawn from publicly-available sources and may not be comprehensive for all countries.

Actors from government agencies to journalists are already using information on beneficial ownership to achieve these aims, by conducting investigations, making decisions, and performing analyses with the data. For example, co-operation between United Kingdom and European authorities led to the conviction of a glass eel trafficker with alleged proceeds of over GBP 53 million. BO data from the United Kingdom’s public register helped authorities trace the flow of funds between different entities.

Upcoming challenges and uses related to the environment

Further expanding data use is key to achieving greater accountability in policy aims related to climate and the environment, including fighting environmental crime in areas such as fisheries governance and ensuring integrity in the energy transition. Some of the general challenges are related to data availability, structure and reliability. In particular, media and civil society organisations have exposed the misuse of anonymous corporate vehicles and held companies and governments to account. Assuring their access to high quality beneficial ownership data is critical.

A new briefing draws on case studies from Armenia to Zambia and shares actionable lessons from using BO information in natural resource governance. As the race to renewables is already underway, these are highly relevant in the context of the energy transition. For example, it documents a government decision to revoke rights to mine on the basis of criminal convictions of company owners in Ghana, uncovered with the help of the new BO register in the country. It also looks at media investigations into completeness, quality, and red flags in public BO data on extractives in Armenia, and into who is ultimately benefiting from coal transportation permits in Mongolia, which reportedly includes people related to high-ranking government officials.

More broadly speaking, BO transparency is a concrete accountability tool that can be used to support climate integrity in areas including the extraction of critical minerals needed for clean energy technologies, along clean energy and extractive value chains, and in climate finance and environmental, social, and governance commitments. Within natural resource governance, licensing and contracting is a key point for data-driven decision-making that prevents and detects corruption and other fraudulent practices. Agencies can use it to detect risks such as ownership concentration, conflicts of interest, and the deliberate avoidance of criteria for applicants.

Available open source tools

For those both inside and outside of government, open source tools are available that make it easier to understand and use beneficial ownership information and combine it with other datasets. These often connect BO information to other data sources, which for many users is fundamental for reaching new insights. Examples include:

  • The Open Ownership Register, and related tools for converting data into and performing analysis in line with the Beneficial Ownership Data Standard.

  • OpenSanctions, which connects sanction list data with related datasets including BO information from multiple jurisdictions to help with risk detection and investigation.

  • Joining the Dots for Colombia and Nigeria combines datasets from extractive licences and government contracts, asset declarations and politically exposed persons (PEPs) lists, and raises red flags where PEPs are alleged to own or control a company with a government contract or an extractive licence.

Going forward, more progress is needed globally on making BO data widely and readily accessible to all actors with a role to play in helping prevent and detect the misuse of corporate vehicles. Data interoperability is key for making this happen, by ensuring that BO information can be easily combined across jurisdictions and with other datasets and help create a future characterised by integrity.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the guest contributors and do not necessarily reflect the position of other members or organisations in the Countering Environmental Corruption Practitioners Forum.

Authors of this blog presented on the Open Data working group. Information about this session is available here.