Environmental groups have panned companies sponsoring the 2015 Paris Climate Conference for “greenwashing,” or taking advantage of the event to make them look more environmentally friendly.

In particular, France’s largest utilities Engie and EDF and Paris-based bank BNP Paribas were accused of hypocrisy in sponsoring the UN climate meeting, according to a Financial Times report.

“Companies are looking at the climate conference as a business opportunity, using it as a way to make themselves look ‘green’ while continuing with business as usual,” Pascoe Sabido, a campaigner at Brussels based-group Corporate Europe Observatory, told Financial Times.

Engie and EDF are reported to own 46 coal-fired power plants worldwide, which produce more than 190 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions a year, according to a study by Corporate Accountability International, an environmental group.

Meanwhile, BNP Paribas has previously been under fire for financing a range of “dirty” fossil fuel projects. The company was also criticised for funding the exploration of oil sands in Canada and Tata’s controversial Mundra coal-fired power plant in Gujarat, India.

Addressing accusations from environmental groups, BNP Paribas announced on November 19 that it will no longer finance coal mining activities, whether through direct financing of mining projects or by financing mining companies specialising in coal extraction, unless they have put in place an energy diversification strategy. The bank also committed to doubling its financing resources allocated to the renewable energy sector to €15 billion (AU$ 22 billion) in 2020.

Engie said last month it will not invest in any new coal projects, adding that existing contracts will be honoured, while EDF announced it is investing $2 billion (AU$2.79 billion) a year in renewable energy capacity worldwide.

Still, environmental advocates expressed their fears that the companies’ sponsorship of COP 21 could influence the final agreement.

“It is in part a way for companies to leverage opinion inside the event. The companies will try and use it to influence the events,” said Jean-François Julliard, head of Greenpeace France, according to Financial Times.

In September, the UN called on businesses to step up their actions to tackle climate change by taking full responsibility for their own emissions with a new campaign, "Climate Neutral Now." Since businesses are major contributors of carbon emissions, they need to measure, reduce and offset their emissions, according to UN.

“It is going to require action today and tomorrow and everyone needs to get on board from governments and corporations to cities, regions and individuals,” said Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

COP21 will, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C. It will be one of the largest international conferences ever held in France, which is expected to attract close to 50,000 participants including 25,000 official delegates from government, intergovernmental organisations, UN agencies, NGOs and civil society.

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