The role of investors in re-channelling corporate influence in climate change

Catherine Howarth & Juliet Phillips, ShareAction

Alfred Palmer - Air pollution from a fossil-fuel power station

Investors should be on the front line of efforts to challenge corporate lobbying weakening climate policies that serve public interest.

Part of the Climate Dialogues blog series

Public policy should be just that – legislation which serves the interest of the public. Economic and environmental security are issues of utmost and inter-related importance to populations across the world. Increasingly, it is recognised that there is no trade-off between climate action and economic stability: as the 2015 report by consultancy, Mercer, indicates, a 2°C scenario does not have negative return implications for long-term diversified investors. As such, it is encouraging to see investors focusing on the problems generated by the lobbying activities of some of the world’s largest high carbon companies.

 This year, ShareAction, the UK-based non-profit that promotes responsible investment behaviour, has been running a campaign to highlight and oppose corporate lobbying designed to weaken and slow down climate legislation. We have mobilised investors with £45 billion under management to urge fossil fuel and other high carbon companies to review memberships of trade associations that have lobbied against strong climate policy in the EU. We’ve helped three thousand individual campaigners to take action on corporate lobbying by emailing French oil and gas giant, Total, to demand they pull out of trade groups that spent millions trying to water down EU climate action. We’ve been in direct dialogue with some of the most notorious of the trade associations themselves, for example by responding to a statement from lobbying group, BusinessEurope, who went on the offensive by calling our campaign ‘inaccurate’. We were pleased to provide a very detailed demonstration of the accuracy of all our statements and the evidence against Business Europe climate lobbying stance.

We’ve helped three thousand individual campaigners to take action on corporate lobbying by emailing French oil and gas giant, Total, to demand they pull out of trade groups that spent millions trying to water down EU climate action.

 It is not always straightforward to determine what counts as ‘obstructive lobbying’. Unlike in the US, where openly oppositional tactics are often used, here in Europe the devil often lies in the detail. Indeed, obstructionist positions are often hidden beneath a guise of climate concern. For example, we often see arguments citing the need to wait for a ‘global solution’ before individual jurisdictions should step forward. Whilst climate change will affect societies, economies and ecosystems all across the world, it is important to remember that climate resilience will mean different things in different places: from addressing pasture and water scarcity affecting livelihoods in Kenya, developing fair procedures for helping climate change refugees from small Pacific island states like Kiribati, to transitioning away from heavily subsidised coal plants here in Europe. It will take a worldwide tapestry of frameworks and legislation to address these many local manifestations of climate change. We need action across the globe, but there is no single silver bullet ‘global solution’. Waiting for this to materialise is waiting for Armageddon.

 It will take a worldwide tapestry of frameworks and legislation to address these many local manifestations of climate change.

 Currently, there is very limited transparency about the trade associations that high carbon companies are members of, the amount of resources spent on them, and companies’ positions on specific climate policies. Without this information, investors cannot adequately scrutinise whether the lobbying being performed on behalf of their portfolio companies is in line with the need to limit the worst effects of climate change. As such, the first step towards solving the problem of harmful lobbying would be to enable big investors to identify it through far stronger disclosure mechanisms. Our investor coalition is asking companies to list the trade associations they belong to, and explain the mechanisms they have in place to spot and prevent misalignment of positioning as between a company’s public stance and that of any trade body it may belong to.

 Getting the right policy frameworks in place to mitigate and adapt to climate change is a vital issue of our age. The corporate lobbying currently taking place to undermine these efforts must be challenged by multiple parties and from all angles. The largest investors in the world, who manage the retirement savings of citizens in many countries, should be on the front line of efforts to challenge backroom corporate lobbying to weaken climate policy and traduce the public interest in a swift and orderly transition to a low carbon economy.

For details of ShareAction’s work on this topic see: http://shareaction.org/guide-corporate-lobbying