In the past decade, the world’s most powerful oil and gas corporations have significantly changed their rhetoric surrounding climate change. Most now recognize that climate change is occurring due to human activity, with their business operations obviously playing a huge role. Some, like Shell and ExxonMobil, have even gone as far as proposing lawmakers to introduce a carbon tax in order to tackle climate change.
“We see carbon pricing as an essential policy tool to tackle climate change and pave the way for a smooth energy transition,” a Shell spokesman said in a statement in 2018.
“Shell has long supported a strong and stable government-led carbon pricing framework,” the spokesman said. “It’s our view Government-led carbon pricing mechanisms are the lowest cost way to develop low carbon technologies for a low carbon economy.”
This positioning, however, sounds more and more like a front that hides a “business as usual” approach. According to a recent report by British think tank InfluenceMap, five major oil corporations have funneled more than $1 billion into climate-related branding and lobbying that support measures directly counter to the Paris Agreement. In light of these findings, any climate-friendly statements from behalf of oil spokesmen are simply ridiculous.
“Oil majors are projecting themselves as key players in the energy transition while lobbying to delay, weaken, or oppose meaningful climate policy,” Edward Collins, author of the new report, said in a statement. “They advocate gradual implementation of market-based and technological climate solutions, but the latest [United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report makes clear that urgent policy action and limitations on fossil fuel use are needed to avoid dangerous climate change.”
Here’s what Total’s CEO Patrick Pouyanne had to say during a speech at a 2015 gas and electricity summit in Paris:
“Sometimes in all these discussions you have the impression that all fossil fuels are the bad guys. But the bad guys are part of the solution.”
“Whatever people think, we still need fossil fuels. We need to make advocacy for gas. We need to explain to our policy makers that gas has to be encouraged,” Pouyanne said.
“Policy makers are not convinced in many countries that gas is part of the solution for climate change, we in the industry need to speak up.”
“Our shared ambition is for a 2°C future,” the statement reads. “It is a challenge for the whole of society. We are committed to playing our part. Over the coming years we will collectively strengthen our actions and investments to contribute to reducing the GHG intensity of the global energy mix. Our companies will collaborate in a number of areas, with the aim of going beyond the sum of our individual efforts.”
InfluenceMap used the latest disclosures and corporate messaging to come up with its total estimate for climate lobbying and branding. The authors of the report write that ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP and Total spend $115 million a year lobbying against climate regulations — even those that they publicly support. What’s more, the amount of money oil companies are spending on lobbying has increased in the past two years.
Some of this money is responsible for obstructing climate-related news. ZME Science reported in 2016 how Exxon and Shell spent $114 million in 2015 to manipulate lawmakers and public discourse on climate change. Increasingly, social media seems to play an ever more important role in pushing big oil’s agenda — opposing legislation to tackle global warming. In the run-up to the US midterm elections, InfluenceMap reports that global oil giants spent $2m on targeted Facebook and Instagram ads which promoted the benefits of fossil fuels.
“InfluenceMap’s research confirms a widely held suspicion that Big Oil’s glossy sustainability reports and shiny climate statements are all rhetoric and no action,” said Catherine Howarth, Chief Executive of ShareAction, a UK charity focused on responsible investment, in a statement. “These companies have mastered the art of corporate doublespeak — by boasting about their climate credentials while quietly using their lobbying firepower to sabotage the implementation of sensible climate policy and pouring millions into groups that engage in dirty lobbying on their behalf.”
By all accounts, their lobbying is working. Big oil is often given a seat during important policy meetings and even high-level discussions like those organized by the Conference of the Parties (COP), where world leaders hammer out deals that set how much emissions they should cut.
Meanwhile, major oil companies save face by investing a tiny fraction of their portfolios and revenues into renewable energy and then making a huge deal out of it.
“This spending accompanies the expansion of the companies’ 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,” InfluenceMap wrote. “Combined capital investment will increase to $115 [billion] in 2019 but only about 3 percent of this will go to low carbon investments, according to company disclosures.”
Now, more than ever before, it’s important to call out the lies, greenwashing, and manipulations of oil lobbyists and the politicians who are in their pockets. Share this article with a friend.