By Juliet Phillips, Campaigns Officer, ShareAction

3 November 2015

Corporate influence that weakens climate legislation is a shady phenomenon, but what does it actually look like in practice? Probably something like lobbyists from trade associations with names like BUSINESSEUROPE, Cefic and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers pumping legislative chambers with arguments such as ‘we can’t trade economic growth for climate legislation’ and ‘Europe shouldn’t have to take action until the rest of the world does’.

The damage that this unhelpful humdrum does is clear. It undermines the ambition of European climate legislation, kills off stronger emission-reduction targets and prevents policy support for renewable energy. This year, ShareAction has been shining a light on this lobbying and urging companies who claim to be climate-conscious to distance themselves from obstructive trade associations.

We’ve been joined by thousands of online supporters, calling on oil and gas giant Total to quit the dirty lobby. This is a company who’s been trying to clean up its act recently – heavily investing in solar and speaking out in favour of carbon pricing. We questioned whether they could really be a ‘leader’ if they were supporting these unhelpful lobbying positons behind the scenes. For example, BUSINESSEUROPE has argued against EU reforms which would have increased the price of carbon, and lobbied against targets for renewables. If Total really wants to support these initiatives, why would they remain members of groups which proactively sought to undermine them?

A lot of companies take the line “we’re better in than out” when it comes to their membership of trade associations. This is for a number of reasons – climate lobbying isn’t the only thing these groups get up to, and they also provide information-sharing forums for things like health and safety practices. This can provide a material benefit to companies, and is in some cases the only opportunity they’d have to access this data. Furthermore, we’re often told that companies are better positioned by staying inside these trade associations and providing a ‘positive influence’ and curving the influence of negative voices. Indeed, these arguments were given by Total.

However, what they have committed to is being more transparent about their lobbying activities, and more vocal in their support for progressive policies within these EU trade associations. This is a welcome move. Increased disclosure will allow investors and civil society to maintain better vigilance over corporate influence, enabling us to hold companies accountable in cases where they’re saying one thing about leadership, whilst funding trade associations who’re promoting quite a different line on climate. Additionally, more disclosure helps undermine the legitimacy of obstructive lobbying groups. If a company is a member of a trade association arguing against a policy on renewables, but the company is very clear about their support for that policy, then the case that the trade association represents the “voice of business” is undercut, and their ability to influence policy-makers is restricted.

This isn’t a closed case. It is a first step, not the leap that we need if we are to achieve urgent government action on climate legislation. It often feels like chipping away at a very large boulder with a pocket-sized chisel.  But if enough of us keep chipping away, keeping the pressure up and challenging the legitimacy of obstructive positions, we can continue to ‘name and shame’ groups like BUSINESSEUROPE and make it known that it’s not acceptable to lobby against climate legislation. The public has spoken, investors have spoken, and now their own member companies are speaking. ShareAction will continue to call on firms like Total to straighten up their position on lobbying, and with your help, we can get that boulder moving.

Thanks Juliet! To find our more about our #CleanWordsDirtyLobby campaign, visit our website or contact Juliet here

To find out more about oil companies’ obstruction of climate legislation check out this report by Influence Map.