Australian mining giant BHP Billiton and the Business Council of Australia have been named on a global list of companies and trade associations that are actively obstructing climate change legislation, in a new report by the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists.
The report, a product of research conducted by USC and Cambridge University, has revealed that 45 per cent of the 100 largest global industrial companies are obstructing climate change legislation – 95 per cent of which were members of trade associations demonstrating the same behaviour.
The findings were published on the website of newly formed London not-for-profit, InfluenceMap, an investor tool that will provide a quantitative corporate ranking on climate influence to help distinguish the progressive corporations from the obstructive.
It is the first platform in the world to quantitatively score companies based on their climate policy communications and actions, and to integrate companies’ links with trade associations into an overall score.
In its summary on BHP Billiton, InfluenceMap says the miner has low level negative engagement with climate regulation, with both the company and its CEO “reported to have supported repeal of the Australian carbon tax.”
“The company appears to be supportive of GHG intensive energy sources, supporting continued use of coal,” it says, and is also a member of the International Association of Oil and Gas producers and the Business Council of Australia, both of which get a negative ranking on InfluenceMap.
On the Business Council of Australia, InfluenceMap makes particular note of their “strong opposition to the Australian carbon tax, supporting the tax’s repeal, which they were reportedly strongly involved in achieving in 2014.
“They seem to support emissions trading and the purchase of international permits, although they have also voiced concerns about the emissions trading scheme publicly and in consultations.
“They also appear to want Australia to lower its GHG emissions reductions, to protect international competitiveness in the absence of united global action in the lead up to a UN treaty on climate change.
“Although their CEO (Jennifer Westacott) advocates for a transition to a low carbon economy, evidence suggest she supports greater use of coal and other measures that would maintain a high GHG energy mix.”
Worryingly, the research shows that corporate influence over climate extends beyond the activities normally associated with lobbying, to include intervention in public discourse on climate science and policy via advertising (Little Black Rock, anyone?), PR, social media, and access to decision makers, as well as the use of influencers, such as trade associations and advocacy groups.
This particular finding coincides with reports from The Guardian on Tuesday that the world’s biggest public relations firm – Edelman – has decided it will no longer work with coal producers and climate change deniers, due to the threat this work poses to the company’s legitimacy and bottom line.
“The exclusion of coal and climate denial, as well as fake front groups that oppose action on global warming, is outlined in internal communications obtained by the Guardian and confirmed by company executives. It signals an important shift in a company that reported earnings of $833m and has played a critical role in shaping public opinion in the US and globally about climate change,” the report says.
“On climate denial and coal those are where we just said this is absolutely a no-go area,” Michael Stewart, Edelman president and chief executive for Europe, who led the review, told the Guardian.
“When you are trying in some way to obfuscate the truth or use misinformation and half-truths that is what we would consider getting into the work of greenwashing, and that is something we would never propose or work we would support our client doing,” he went on. “Greenwashing, fake front groups, anything like that is completely inappropriate.”
Gretchen Golman, a lead analust at the USC, said this sort of behaviour by companies – using trade groups or others to do their dirty work of lobbying against comprehensive climate policies – was becoming more and more common.
“Companies get the delay in policy they want, while preventing nations from acting to fight climate change. It is unacceptable that companies can obstruct climate action in this way without any accountability.”
On a more positive note, Google and Unilever (owners of Dove, Knorr, Flora and other brands) are ranked as leaders in InfluenceMap’s scoring system, supporting multiple strands of climate policy globally.