Patnow Coal Plant's Chimney

Corporations who bear the most responsibility for contributing to climate change emissions - and then profiting from those activities - are campaigning to increase their access to international negotiations like the upcoming COP17 meeting in Durban. At the same time, these carbon-intensive industries are working to defeat progressive legislation on climate change and energy around the world.

Our new report, ‘Who’s holding us back – How carbon-intensive industry is preventing effective climate legislation,’ reveals that our biggest barrier to achieving successful, progressive policies at the international, national, and even sub-national levels is the powerful carbon-intensive industry with its vast army of lobbyists, front groups, and political rolodex.

The behaviour of these powerful corporations flies in the face of common sense – with all of the signs telling us that it would be smarter to bring in strong climate laws, and focus on clean, green energy.

Earlier this month we heard that Solar PV had tripled in China over the past year with cost projections far below what was expected.  This news was consistent with other exciting news on plummeting costs and technological breakthroughs in the uptake of clean, safe renewable energy around the world this year.  At the same time analysis by the European Commission [i] and several independent research institutes [ii] indicate that it would now be in Europe’s economic interests to introduce stronger climate legislation.  In fact, numerous examples now exist that prove that fighting climate change creates a stronger economy like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the US which is creating jobs, lowering electricity rates and at the same time lowering greenhouse gas emissions. 

With the economic crisis swirling around us, we constantly hear the cry for ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’.  And there are additional fears about energy prices hitting families hard.  However, it is a mistake to assume that progressive action on climate change is a hurdle to fixing the economy, it is in fact, the very answer the world needs to help solve this crisis.  You don’t have to take our word for it.  Earlier this month the rather conservative International Energy Agency released a report that included a clarion call for quick action and argued that addressing climate change and moving to a clean energy economy is not only an environmental imperative but also good fiscal policy: 

“On planned policies, rising fossil energy use will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change.”

“… we are on an even more dangerous track to an increase of 6°C [11°F]….  Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.” (From the 2011 World Energy Outlook [WEO] release summarized here at Think Progress).

The polls show that the public understands the issue – there is in fact a remarkable alignment around the world in support of swift action to address climate change reduce global warming pollution and shift to renewable energy. [iii]

So what’s holding us back?

 ‘Who’s holding us back,’ shines a light on how these actors have undermined or are attempting to undermine progressive climate policies in Europe (e.g., lobbying against a 30% emissions target for 2020), the US (e.g., successfully killed climate legislation in the Senate, opening up new areas to oil extraction), Canada, and South Africa.

This research shows beyond a doubt that there are a handful of powerful polluting corporations who are exerting undue influence on the political process to protect their vested interests.

In this report, we document the tricks of the trade that polluting corporations use to pull the strings of our politicians and mislead the public. We expose the influence pipelines that see these companies play not only our leaders, but entire countries against each other to hold back action on the climate.

Our governments must work with and learn from the business sector but we will not avoid irreversible climate change impacts unless they listen to and act on the behalf of their citizens. In the run up to COP17 its time for the politicians that hold the fate of our economy and environment in their hands in Durban to listen to the people, instead of polluting corporations like Shell, Eskom and Koch Industries.

Read: Who’s holding us back – How carbon-intensive industry is preventing effective climate legislation

Tzeporah Berman is the Co-director Climate and Energy Program at Greenpeace International


[i]: European Union. 2010. MEMO/10/215. Climate change: Questions and answers on the Communication Analysis of options to move beyond 20% greenhouse gas emission reductions and assessing the risk of carbon leakage. 26th May 2010. 

[ii]: Carlo C. Jaeger, Leonidas Paroussos, Diana Mangalagiu, Roland Kupers, Antoine Mandel, Joan David Tàbara. 2011. A New Growth Path for Europe. Generating Prosperity and Jobs in the Low-Carbon Economy. Synthesis Report.

[iii] Goldenberg, S. 2009. Global poll finds 73% want higher priority for climate change. The Guardian.  30th July 2009.