Lobbying for Lethargy - the Fossil Fuel Lobby and Climate Change

Mark Jones Jones_M at netcomuk.co.uk
Wed Dec 9 12:53:56 PST 1998


In 1995 the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - the official scientific body assigned to investigate climate change and comprising over 2000 of the world´s best climate and social scientists - delivered a stunning verdict on climate change: that "the balance of evidence suggests a discernable human influence on global climate". This stark conclusion has stimulated a broad scientific and political consensus that climate change is real and that it has to be tackled. And yet, despite this consensus, there are many players in the debate who make it their business to prevent international action at every opportunity - players who will marshal vast resources to frustrate the delicate negotiating process that could lead to binding targets on the emission of the gases that cause climate change.

Some of these players are nation states - especially those who export oil, coal and gas - and a few are simply political ideologues for whom any kind of international regulation is anathema. There is however another, often less visible, lobby which wields huge influence behind the scenes at the negotiations on climate change. This lobby has a clear, vested, financial interest in preventing any action whatsoever - the fossil fuel lobby.

The Fossil Fuel Lobby

The fossil fuel lobby covers a wide range of mostly American industries which either extract, process and sell fossil fuels, generate electricity using coal, oil or gas or engage in commercial activities with high energy demands. Additionally, the automobile lobby often has a major role within this industrial sector. The companies are divided into three industry lobby groups which specialise in intervening in the climate change negotiations:

- The Global Climate Coalition (GCC) - The International Climate Change Partnership (ICCP) - The Climate Council

The memberships of the GCC and the ICCP are given in Annex 1 whilst the membership of the Climate Council is a secret. In fact, the Climate Council is essentially a platform for Don Pearlman, who works for the American law firm Patton, Boggs and Blow whose clients are known to include Du Pont, Exxon, Texaco and Shell.

In addition to these industry umbrella groups there are lobbyists acting on behalf of industry trade associations such as the American Petroleum Institute and the Edison Electric Institute. There are also individual company lobbyists as well as politically-motivated organisations which have a broader economic agenda but put considerable effort into working on climate change. These include the US-based Citizens for a Sound Economy which plans to saturate Denver during the 1997 Group of 7 Economic Summit with 500,000 leaflets warning of the dire economic effects of action to combat climate change. It comes as no surprise to discover that Citizens for a Sound Economy contains few genuine citizens but does enjoy massive financing by corporate interests including Amoco, BMW, Boeing, BP, Chevron, Dow, General Electric, General Motors, Honda, ICI, Mobil, Toyota, Unilever and Union Carbide.

Although these different industry groupings display a varied range of behaviours in public they essentially share a common policy goal. Namely the maintenance of a ´business-as-usual scenario´ for as long as possible to allow their members to maximise profits - this means the unimpeded production and use of fossil fuels. Consequently, these bodies are spending literally millions of dollars challenging the science of climate change and disseminating propaganda concerning the allegedly disastrous economic impacts for the developed world (and specifically the United States) if international action is taken to reduce emissions of climate change gases.

The Arguments

The fossil fuel lobby has been active behind the scenes since 1989 and has focussed its efforts on four major arguments:

1. There is no real evidence that global temperatures have risen as a result of human causes 2. Computer models of climate change have predicted far more warming than satellite records actually show 3. Responding effectively to climate change is simply too expensive. It will cost the US economy billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs 4. There´s no point in the industrial world doing anything to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases, since developing countries like China and India will produce most of the heat-trapping gases in the future.

As the science has firmed up through the 1990s and better data sets have become available the first two arguments have effectively collapsed. They are only used for public posturing before poorly briefed audiences while being effectively abandoned within the negotiations themselves. The scientific consensus around climate change is now essentially unshakeable.

The abandonment of effective scientific dissent has forced the fossil fuel lobby to re-emphasise their economic arguments and to point an accusatory finger at the developing world, especially those countries with the greatest industrial potential - India and China (and this despite the fact that per capita emissions of greenhouse gases in these countries is one twentieth of US per capita emissions).

These economic arguments against combatting climate change inevitably conjure up extreme visions of industrial collapse and widespread unemployment (600,000 job losses annually is the favoured figure of the Global Climate Coalition) but show little grasp of real world economics. As the Union of Concerned Scientists in the United States has pointed out: "This new myth is being rolled out by a business lobby group, the GCC and its allies, now that their strategy of trying to discredit climate change science has failed...they have switched from promoting junk science to pitching junk economics.

"The economic models that generate these dire forecasts are deeply flawed. They assume that the only way to reduce emissions is by an enormous carbon tax. In reality, the United States and other countries are likely to use a range of fiscal, research, informational, incentive and regulatory policies to achieve cost-effective emissions reductions.

"The models also grossly underestimate the capacity of America´s economy to achieve the kind

of technical innovations that we´ve seen in the past in response to other major environmental problems. Once national standards have been set - whether to reduce air pollution, to clean out our rivers and streams, or to protect the stratospheric ozone layer - American business and industry have proven clever at implementing cost-effective solutions. These solutions have created hundreds of thousands of new jobs and improved many companies´ competitiveness in global markets."

Ignoring the Alternatives

It soon becomes clear, from even the most cursory analysis of the fossil fuel lobby´s economic arguments, that they are all too willing to simply ignore the massive positive job implications of developing renewable energy technologies and increasing energy efficiency. Any business activity that can thrive without fossil fuels is simply discounted. Additionally, the fossil lobby consistently fail to predict the economic losses that would follow from inaction on climate change - for instance, the studies by the insurance industry of mounting losses from climate-related disasters.

As recently as February, 1997, 2000 economists, including six Nobel laureates, signed a statement arguing that the US should join other nations to take measures to slow climate change and agreed that "preventable steps are justified". The economists, who are from across the political spectrum, argued that: "Economic studies have determined that there are many potential policies for which the benefits outweigh the costs. Policy options are available that would slow climate change without harming employment or US living standards, and these may be economically beneficial in the long-run."

The last argument deployed by the fossil fuel lobby - that action is pointless in the face of growth in the developing world - is simply a red herring. Firstly, it is obvious to all parties to the climate negotiations that the developing world will postpone action until convinced that the industrialised nations are serious about tackling climate change. International action must start with the West. Secondly, developing nations currently make relatively small per capita contributions of climate change gases and are not responsible for the historic burden of carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere (which was generated by Western nations during industrialisation). So from a perspective of political pragmatism, equity or simple justice, it seems clear that the industrialised world must take the lead in combatting climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Taking the Gloves Off

Although the fossil fuel lobby are capable of producing superficially sophisticated arguments about economics and the minutiae of climate change, they are also willing to tackle the dirty business of discrediting opponents and spreading disinformation. Most aggressive among the groups is the GCC, which argued in 1995 that the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change was making a "political judgement" when stating that there was a discernable human influence on global climate. The GCC then went on accuse the IPCC of "scientific cleansing" in 1996 - claiming that chapter eight of the IPCC´s report had been changed between draft and final version in order to suppress scientific uncertainty and pursue a political agenda. The accusations soon acquired a nasty personal edge with allegations being made against Dr Santer, the lead editor of chapter eight. The accusations were in fact unfounded and the GCC has lost credibility as a result of its tactics. As one climatologist pointed out: "They can´t attack the science, so they attack the scientists".

Yet despite the millions of fossil fuel dollars spent lobbying for inaction, the GCC has yet to derail the international negotiations and is beginning to suffer attacks from senior sources. Timothy Wirth, US Under-Secretary of State for Global Affairs, has dismissed the GCC and the other fossil fuel lobby groups as "naysayers and special interests bent on belittling, attacking and obfuscating climate change science" while the New York Times described the GCC as waging a "systematic campaign of disinformation". And even more troubling than the loss of credibility is the recent defection of two prominent GCC members - BP America and the Arizona Public Service Company - who seemed to find the street-fighting style of GCC ill-tuned to their own corporate positions.

But the in-your-face tactics of the GCC are not necessarily a guide to effectiveness and the other key umbrella body, the ICCP, may well prove to be the more damaging in the long term. The ICCP employs a distinctively less aggressive and confrontational style in its lobbying but shares exactly the same policy agenda as the GCC and uses considerable cunning and guile to get its own way. The secretive Climate Council is also working hard to ensure that little international action will be taken on climate change and can be expected to be active throughout 1997 and beyond.

Lobbying for a Future

In contrast to the ´lobbying for lethargy´ conducted by the fossil fuel lobby there are alternative business groupings which are actively working for real action to control the gases which cause climate change. These groupings - including the US Business Council for a Sustainable Energy Future (BCSEF) and the European BCSEF - represent industries that will thrive under a tough international regime for controlling greenhouse gases such as industries working in renewable energy and energy efficiency. There are also lobbyists working on behalf of commercial sectors which believe themselves to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially the insurance and reinsurance industries with their need to assess the frequency of extreme weather events. However, whether these lobby groups can successfully counter the influence of the fossil lobby in 1997, fuelled as it is by millions of dollars, remains an open question.

1997 is a critical year for international negotiations on climate change. It culminates in the Conference of Parties in Kyoto in December where binding commitments to targets and timescales for reducing the emissions of climate change gases are meant to be agreed. The fossil fuel lobby will be there in force, as they will at every preliminary meeting and other international conferences including the Group of 7 Economic Summit in Denver and Earth Summit II in New York. The fossil lobby will argue in the face of scientific consensus that climate change science is flawed, that the industrialised world will be bankrupted if it takes action and that the developing world is the major villain. None of these positions are true and the real price of taking no action to combat climate change will be catastrophic for our civilisation, leaving millions dead, homeless or impoverished. Ultimately, the governments of the world must decide whether to allow the suicidally short-term interests of the coal, oil and gas lobby to prevail or whether a sustainable future based on renewable energy technology is something worth working for. The future of our civilisation is in their hands.



Global Climate Coalition Membership

Board Membership

Air Transport Association Allegheny Power Aluminium Association Inc American Automobile Manufacturers Association American Commercial Barge Line American Forest and Paper Association American Iron & Steel Institute American Petroleum Institute American Portland Cement Alliance Association of American Railroads Association of International Automobile Manufacturers Atlantic Richfield Coal Company Chemical Manufacturers Association Chevron Chrysler Corporation Cinergy Council of Industrial Boiler Owners CSX Transportation Inc Cyprus-Amax Drummond Company Duke Power Company Edison Electric Institute Exxon Ford Motor Company General Motors Greencool Illinois Power Company Mobil Corporation National Association of Manufacturers National Lime Association National Mining Association National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Process Gas Consumers Southern Company TECO Energy Inc Texaco Inc US Chamber of Commerce USX Corporation Union Electric Company Western Fuels Association

General Membership

BHP Minerals CONRAIL Consumers Power Dow Chemical Company ELCON Eastman Chemical Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co Hoechst Celanese Chemical Group Kaiser Aluminium & Chemical Corp McDonnell-Douglas Norfolk Southern Northern Indiana Public Service Co Ohio Edison Shell Oil Company Society of the Plastics Industry Union Carbide

International Climate Change Partnership Membership (1996)

3M Company AB Electrolux/White Consolidated Industries Aerospace Industries Association Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy Alliance for Responsible Environmental Alternatives - Canada Allied Signal American Standard/Trane Assn of Home Appliance Manufacturers AT&T BP America Carrier/United Technologies Celotex/Centre for Applied Engineering Dow Dresser Industries Dupont Elf Atochem Enron European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) - European Fluorocarbon Technical Committee (EFTEC) Sector FMC Corporation General Electric ICI Klea Japan Fluorocarbon Manufacturers Association Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association York International

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