Georgina Stevens explores the changing face of corporate lobbying in the run up to the climate summit in Paris.


Representatives from 195 nations are currently gathered in Paris for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to discuss a new global agreement on climate change.


Billed by many as the ‘final chance’ for climate change mitigation, the aim is to produce a legally binding international agreement that limits global warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.



A coming of age

184 countries have submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) ahead of the talks, detailing proposed national reduction targets and how they hope to achieve them. These account for some 90% of the world’s carbon emissions.


And whilst these plans do not go far enough (they only limit warming to 2.7 degrees Celsius), they provide a solid base from which negotiations can begin, particularly when compared to previous meetings, such as Copenhagen, where no prior plans were submitted.


There are also some strong commitments on the table, notably from China (emissions in decline by 2030) and the G7 (zero emissions by 2100). And some timely changes in the elected representatives of Australia (one of the world’s largest coal exporters) and Canada (home to the world’s 3rd largest oil reserve) are hoped to have significant positive impacts on negotiations.


Non state actors

The private sector has also been conspicuous in the run up to the talks, with an impressive array of initiatives, coalitions and announcements.  Some ambitious commitments were made, such as the RE100 initiative, which saw 39 companies (including IKEA, Apple and Google) committing to sourcing 100% renewable energy by set dates.


Obama’s American Business Act on Climate pledge [3] saw 81 companies (including Unilever, Facebook and Walmart) commit to targets on reducing emissions, waste and water use, increasing low-carbon investments, deploying more clean energy, and engaging their supply chain. These and other initiatives have provided much needed positive energy ahead of the talks.


However, other pronouncements made have been completely at odds with the lobbying activities of the companies involved, either directly opposing key climate legislation or indirectly opposing climate legislation through membership of certain trade associations.


Mixed messages

In April 2015, a coalition of 43 Global CEOs wrote an open letter to world leaders urging for concrete action on climate change at COP21.  Some of these companies were also working hard to show they were taking action themselves. For example BT Group, IKEA, M&S, Phillips and Unilever were all signatories of RE100.


Others, however, have been found to be actively lobbying against climate legislation in the same breath. For example, Dow Chemicals was a signatory to the letter, but is also said to have advocated for less unilateral action in the lead up to COP21, and opposes many key targets and reforms. [5] Similarly, Enel Energy has been found to have lobbied against key climate legislation and scored badly on Influencemap’s (IM) ranking.


In a review of the oil and gas majors, [6] IM has found many more examples of this. Shell’s and Total’s external statements on climate were found to be the most at odds with their lobbying activities, with both calling for ambitious action at COP21, whilst at the same time campaigning against multiple targets and regulation.


Total has been campaigning against the EU’s 2030 emissions reduction targets, and lobbying the Commission to reduce the scope of the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).  Shell is on the board of CEFIC, a powerful European chemicals trade body that recently lobbied aggressively against much needed reform of the ETS, and against energy efficiency and renewable energy targets and regulation.


In a report released in October 2015, IM found that nearly all (95%) of the leading 100 non-state owned, non-financial companies in the 2014 Forbes Global 2000 were members of trade associations that lobby against climate legislation on their behalf. [4] It also found that 45% of companies were engaging in activities that obstructed climate policy directly.  IM also ranked the companies using multiple data sources such as CDP data, disclosures to Government, and publicly available reports and promotional material.


BP crowned Europe’s fiercest opponent of action on climate change

In October 2014, a coalition of ten oil and gas companies called for an effective climate agreement at COP21. [8] BP was a signatory to this call, but behind the scenes its efforts to fight both energy efficiency measures and strict legislation on CO2 emissions made it the lowest scoring European company on IM’s scoreboard.  It also had an impressive lobby spend in 2014, which was declared at between €2,750,000 and €2,999,999[7].


IM’s review of the automotive sector found Honda, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Nissan and Renault were most supportive of key EU and US climate related emissions regulations.  Volkswagen (perhaps unsurprisingly), Daimler, BMW, FCA and Ford were the least supportive, and also the least prepared for compliance with expected 2020 CO2 emissions and efficiency regulations.


Big Oil will see you now

Research and campaigning charity Corporate Europe Observatory has reviewed meetings held at the EU commission in the run up to COP21.  It has found that 80% of the meetings held by Miguel Arias Cañete, EU Commissioner for Climate and Energy, and Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President for the Energy Union, were with the private sector (companies, trade associations and reps).


Of those meetings, most were with the energy sector, principally fossil fuel companies, including BP, Statoil and Shell, in mainly one-on-one meetings.


NGOs and trade unions made up 15% of the meetings and were often seen as part of larger meetings.


Corporate Europe Observatory’s report also detailed Cañete’s connection with the fossil fuel industry: a former shareholder and president of two oil companies, one of which his brother-in-law remains president and which resulted in over half a million people signing a petition against his appointment as Commissioner for Climate and Energy.


Greater transparency and ambition needed

Undoubtedly greater transparency around corporate lobbying activities is essential, particularly at such a pivotal moment in time, and this is starting to happen. In September 2015, 25 global institutional investors representing over US$3.8 trillion in assets under management, wrote to nine publicly listed FTSE 100 giants – BHP Billiton, BP, EDF, Glencore, Johnson Matthey, Proctor and Gamble, Rio Tinto, Statoil and Total – explicitly calling for improvements in practice and transparency in this area.


CDP has been asking questions about corporate lobbying in its annual corporate questionnaire,[11] which has provided information to the investment community for two years now.  It has also produced a guide on responsible corporate engagement, [12] alongside United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and others, which has 85 signatories to date, including Nestlé, Vodafone and Kingfisher. [13]


Companies themselves are coming to realise the risks surrounding some of their trade association memberships.  For example, Unilever left BusinessEurope last year over the lobby group’s stance on environmental policies and sustainability issues.  Most notable about this particular decision: Unilever was reported, by the Policy Studies Institute at Westminster University, to have become more confident in backing ambitious climate action after leaving the group.


So clearly what is needed is for a few more companies to question their trade association memberships, tackle them head on over obstructive policies, and leave if necessary.  Of course this will not happen overnight, but increasing scrutiny from the investment community and from the media around key events, such as COP21, will certainly help.


Companies lobbying for change
Of the top 100 of the 2014 Forbes Global 2000* the following companies were found to be the most active supporters of climate policy globally. Tweet them to keep the pressure on.
Deutsche Telekom

Cisco Systems


Companies not lobbying for action on climate action

Of the top 100 of the 2014 Forbes Global 2000* the following companies were found to be least supportive of climate policy globally. Tweet them asking them to change their stance.

Exxon Mobil
21st Century Fox
Reliance Industries
Phillips 66
Koch Industries


Georgina Stevens is a freelance journalist and broadcaster, and founder of sustainability incubator and advisory, One Pumpkin.