The world’s five biggest publicly-traded fossil companies have spent more than US$1 billion in shareholders’ money to lobby against climate action in the years since the Paris Agreement was signed, even as they continue to tout their environmental credentials, according to a report released this week by UK-based InfluenceMap.
The report “explains how oil majors made a significant change to their messaging strategies following the 2015 Paris Agreement, as they realized that public, political, and media attention was shifting overwhelmingly in favour of more urgent action on climate change,” the report states. The five colossal fossils—ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP, and Total—”now spend around $195 million each year on branding campaigns that suggest they support an ambitious climate agenda but mislead the public on the extent of their actions.”
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“Oil majors are projecting themselves as key players in the energy transition while lobbying to delay, weaken, or oppose meaningful climate policy,” said analyst Edward Collins. “They advocate gradual implementation of market-based and technological climate solutions, but the latest IPCC report makes clear that urgent policy action and limitations on fossil fuel use are needed to avoid dangerous climate change.”
The research “reveals a trend amongst the companies of carefully devised strategies of positive messaging and negative lobbying on climate change designed to maintain public support on the issue while holding back binding policy,” the report states. “This is while expanding their operations with combined annual sales of over $1 trillion and profits of $55 billion in 2018, the vast majority of which is oil and gas-related.”
The most important part of the campaign, it adds, “is the nearly $200-million-a-year lobbying component, designed to control, delay, or oppose binding climate and energy policy. This lobbying has hindered governments globally in their efforts to implement climate-motivated policy post-Paris.”
InfluenceMap identifies Chevron, BP, and ExxonMobil as the most avid lobbyists against government action aligned with the Paris goals.
“Royal Dutch Shell and to some extent Total have made steps since 2015 to be more positive on certain areas of climate policy,” the authors add. “However, both companies have also supported policy that will extend and expand the role for fossil fuels in the energy mix, and remain part of highly climate- oppositional trade associations.”
The report identifies targeted social media buys and “misleading branding campaigns” as key elements of the fossils’ strategies, with the “most direct, negative and egregious climate lobbying” outsourced to trade groups like the American Petroleum Institute, which campaigned successfully for oil and gas deregulation during 2018 midterm elections in the United States. “Oil and gas funded groups also appear to have coordinated efforts in California, at the U.S. federal level, and in the European Union to block progressive policy on the electrification of the transport sector,” the report states.
This all well maybe true but in our western capitalist economic system these companies’ sole responsibility is to their shareholders. It is therefore the shareholders who have to change and I believe this is starting to happen as major ethical fund companies and pension funds start to divest from fossil fuel related companies.
Once assets (oil in the ground which is expensive to extract) start to become stranded it will have a snowball effect. The problem will be to co-ordinate the slowing of oil production with a massive increase in the production of alternative energy supply. Perhaps the investment industry can lead in this effort as they control the capital.