Undermining the political power of the fossil fuel industry to make space for political change is one of the most important roles of the divestment movement.
Meaningful climate legislation presents an existential challenge to the current business model of the fossil fuel industry, and as such they spend millions every year lobbying politicians and blocking progress.
- In 2012, the fossil fuel industry spent $400m (£265m) on lobbying and political donations in the US alone
- Companies like Shell have been caught trying to undermine renewables targets
- Whatever they say publically, most companies are members of EU trade associations – BusinessEurope, CEFIC, FuelsEurope and OPG – that have lobbied against reforms to the Emissions Trading System and 2030 framework for climate and energy policies that would have encouraged the strong carbon price
- Identical to the tobacco industry’s approach to undermining health warnings about smoking (in a now-infamous internal memo, tobacco company Brown and Williamson proclaimed, “Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public.”), the fossil fuel industry has been involved in efforts to discredit climate science. ExxonMobil alone spent $27.4 million on such work from 1998 to 2012.
- Recent reports also show that ExxonMobil were aware of climate change as early as 1981 but continued to fund climate denial for 27 more years.
- For more information on the work of fossil fuel companies in promoting climate change denial, see the Climate Deception Dossiers.
- The global fossil fuel sector receives approximately $1.9 trillion in subsidies each year
- Many who have lobbied against tougher legislation on fossil fuel companies move from private sector to government through the ‘revolving door’
- Global Justice Now’s ‘web of power’ infographic shows the myriad links between UK government ministers and fossil fuel companies
Most worryingly, especially for those trying to engage with the industry to change, the fossil fuel industry shows no sign of changing its stripes:
- When challenged over 80% of known reserves needing to stay in the ground the industry has publicly stated that they intend to burn all of their reserves, and don’t acknowledge the risk that any of their assets will become stranded.
- BP has dismissed the idea of ‘unburnable carbon’ as overly simplistic
- In Shell’s annual report it talks about the threat to its profits of mitigation action… and its commitment to exploiting “higher energy-intensive sources than at present”. They reassure shareholders they won’t be affected by stranded assets, and model fossil fuel consumption sufficient to cause six degrees of warming by the end of the century
- ExxonMobil concludes stranded assets aren’t a threat, as they think it “highly unlikely” that the necessary action to keep warming below the 2C threshold will be taken, and as such they will be able to exploit their reserves.
- In 2013 the top 200 fossil fuel companies spent $674 billion on finding and extracting more fossil fuel reserves, and only $254 developing renewables
- The much awaited transition from fossil fuel companies into wider ‘energy’ providers isn’t happening. BP or “Beyond Petroleum” sold off its entire wind and solar energy investments in 2011, In 2007 Shell hit a high of 2.5% invested in “alternative energy” today it’s down to 1.5%, same story with Chevron (2008 2.5%, now 1.5%). According to Sustainalytics, 75% of the 200 list have no evidence of cleantech revenues.
- In the same breath as accepting shareholder resolutions on climate risk this year, Shell announced its plans to relaunch its arctic drilling.
- After years of dialogue, Jonathon Porritt have stated engaging with fossil fuel companies over climate change is futile.
- Even Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude exporter, has said it could forsee phasing out the use of fossil fuels by the middle of this century to become a “global power in solar and wind energy”