We keep hearing how more oil and gas companies are acknowledging climate change risks and are even planning for a low-carbon economy. So, is such a transition really underway? On one hand, we hear that solar and wind power are both now cheaper than coal—then again, coal-fired power plants actually saw their emissions increase last year, as recently reported by several news outlets.
According to one London-based think tank, not only do energy companies keep operating under business-as-usual, but they have actually been more aggressive in funding anti-climate change awareness campaigns.
InfluenceMap claims the world’s five largest publicly-traded energy companies have spent over $1 billion since the Paris climate accords were announced in December 2015. The group’s most recent report found that these companies have been flouting their climate credentials at the same time they were lobbying governments in order to secure and even expand their fossil fuel projects.
Edward Collins, an analyst at InfluenceMap and author of the report, said: “Oil majors are projecting themselves as key players in the energy transition while lobbying to delay, weaken or oppose meaningful climate policy. 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.”
For example, InfluenceMap’s report found that during the four weeks leading up to the U.S. mid-term elections last November, ExxonMobil spent a combined $2 million on targeted Facebook and Instagram ads that showcased the benefits of increased fossil fuel production and, at the same time, actively opposed several U.S. states’ climate-related ballot initiatives—many of which failed to pass, in a victory for ExxonMobil and its peers.
Furthermore, InfluenceMap found that these companies spent close to $200 million annually in a bid to control or delay binding climate and energy policies, which have prevented various governments from reaching their pledges to reduce emissions. The think tank complains that while these energy giants publicly support programs such as carbon pricing, they are also lobbying against such policies in the halls of national parliaments and congresses.
The report also infers that leading global energy companies continue to amplify duplicitous messages. For example, two leading European energy companies have expressed more positive messages on climate policy since 2015. However, the same companies have also pushed for various policies that support a leading role for fossil fuels in the world’s energy portfolio, the think tank argued. In addition, these companies are still members of trade associations that vigorously campaign against any policies designed to tackle climate change, the report found.
Nevertheless, InfluenceMap revealed some silver linings in its report. The authors noted that there is more pressure coming from investors, political leaders and NGOs that are urging legacy energy companies to change their strategies. The Climate Action 100+ initiative, for example, has been successful in convincing institutions representing $30 trillion in assets to score written pledges from some energy companies to curb their lobbying efforts. Meanwhile, several U.S. states are filing climate change-related lawsuits against ExxonMobil and its competitors.
InfluenceMap and its allies are determined to continue their fight for sensible climate policy. “There is growing consensus on the need for urgent action on climate change, uniting scientists, business, investors and civil society in general,” Collins said in a public statement. “This report will provide them with ammunition to press for what the industry has been fearing for decades—meaningful and binding regulations on their operations in line with what is needed to address one of the most important challenges faced by humanity.”
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Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.