Australia’s pro-climate companies urged to lobby government more
Australian companies that say they support action to address the climate crisis do little to no lobbying of governments compared with vocal fossil fuel industries, a report has found.
The analysis by InfluenceMap, a UK-based climate thinktank, found the growing support by companies for net zero emissions targets for 2050 had not been backed by steps to push for the policies needed to meet the goals of the Paris agreement.
A new interactive platform published by the organisation examined the climate lobbying positions of 50 major companies and 20 industry groups operating in Australia. It found while the fossil fuel sector was highly engaged, pro-climate companies were not.
The group said this contrasted with the situation in other developed countries, where large businesses wanting climate action were found to be far more engaged in developing climate policy.
InfluenceMap’s program manager, Faye Holder, said the research showed strong lobbying by companies and industry groups opposed to Paris-aligned climate action was “drowning out” pro-climate corporate voices.
“For example, the financial sector in Australia – which claims to support action on climate including net zero – registers relatively little policy engagement compared with the mining and energy sectors,” she said.
The research found the Australian entities most likely to be publicly supportive of action on climate change tended to be financial institutions at risk of losing money on stranded assets or natural disasters.
Those with the most positive climate lobbying positions included the big four banks, which have all publicly supported a net zero by 2050 target.
National Australia Bank was ranked the highest on the platform’s grading system with a B-, followed by Westpac with a C+. ANZ and the Commonwealth Bank were both given a C.
Despite this, InfluenceMap’s director, Ed Collins, said the Australian financial sector trailed its international counterparts in lobbying for greater climate action.
“Frankly, [they] are staying out of the debate,” Collins said.
The analysis found the three companies with the worst climate policy engagement grades were coal power generators and coalminers: Sunset Power International, Peabody and Whitehaven Coal.
InfluenceMap said the situation in Australia contrasted with the EU, where utility companies increasingly involved in renewables projects had countered efforts by fossil fuel companies to weaken environmental laws.
In Japan, a group of nearly 200 companies lobbied for an ambitious emissions reduction target of 50% by 2030. In California, major retailers successfully lobbied to introduce the world’s first zero-emission commercial trucks.
The report follows previous work by InfluenceMap that examined the role industry associations played in shaping government policy. The emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, described the report as “garbage”.
This time it found the 10 companies having the greatest indirect impact on climate policy through their industry associations were all fossil fuel companies. The top five were BHP, Rio Tinto, Santos, Glencore and Yancoal.
Matto Mildenberger, a political scientist from the University of California Santa Barbara who studies state capture said the report showed the fossil fuel industry continued to hold Australia in a “strangehold” on climate policy.
“The fossil fuel industry in Australia has systematically worked to weaken and block climate action, despite the existential risks posed by climate change to Australia,” Mildenberger said.
Dan Gocher, from shareholder activist group the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, said the research showed climate policy lobbying continued to be dominated by a small number of companies that play an outsized role in public debate.
“Those companies that consider themselves climate aware need to be far more active in the debate,” he said.
Gocher said there had been several reasons they had not been, including chief executives not having the confidence or experience to speak about the issue and some companies believing they needed to “get their own house in order” before they took on an advocacy role.
“The other [issue] is fear of backlash,” he said. “You’ve seen this with banks when they come out and say they’re not going to buy into a thermal coal mine – a flurry of MPs come out and bash them.”