More than half of the world’s largest companies are lobbying against policies that could accelerate the delivery of Paris Agreement goals, despite their own publicly stated ambitions to meet these goals.
The Net Zero Greenwash report, published by think tank InfluenceMap, shows that policy engagement does not match net zero communication for 58% of almost 300 companies from the Forbes 2,000 list. After recent estimates showing that corporate GHG emissions are on the rise despite record levels of climate commitments and reporting, this new study reemphasises the fact that in climate matters, words do not always equate action.
Fossil fuel hypocrisy
Unsurprisingly, firms whose policy engagement most contradicted their stated climate goals are large producers or users of fossil fuels: Chevron, Delta Air Lines, Duke Energy, ExxonMobil, Glencore International, Nippon Steel Corporation, Repsol, Stellantis, Southern Company, and Woodside Energy Group Ltd were found to be at significant risk of “net zero greenwash”.
As an example, ExxonMobil’s website has 815 pages containing the term ‘net zero’ (far more than the mean number of 646), and the company announced a goal in 2022 to achieve net zero (Scope 1 and 2) emissions by 2050.
But since then, it has advocated for oil and gas expansion in the US and opposed the US Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules on carbon reduction at coal and gas-fired power plants.
Scrutiny over fossil fuel production and use is growing as more and more evidence emerges that the world is going in the wrong direction: public financing for fossil fuels reached a record US$1.4 trillion last year, when countries should be “closing down coal power seven times faster and gas power more than ten times faster than today,” according to Climate Analytics.
It’s becoming clear that companies will not be able to stop using fossil fuels by 2050 without drastic action from governments to transition away from them, so many corporate leaders are now calling for a phase-out ahead of COP28.
Delta Airlines response
The report points a finger at Delta Airlines for opposing a flight cap that would have reduced noise and emissions at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, as well as the application of the EU's carbon cap-and-trade scheme (EU ETS) on extra-European flights.
In response, a Delta spokesperson told CSO Futures that the company considers reaching net zero by 2050 "a business imperative" and as such, is "advocating for supportive policies, including but not limited to incentives that put our hard-to-abate sector on par with others to reach our goals".
"As a basis for navigating policies across the global markets, we embrace internationally and nationally harmonised policies, such as CORSIA [a carbon reduction and offset scheme for the aviation sector], to prevent the inconsistent application of policies that may result in competitive market distortions or send conflicting market signals," the spokesperson added.
Delta released its first climate lobbying report last year, which summarises its direct and indirect (through trade associations) policy engagement activities. It shows the company supports "climate change policies that are reflective of the globalised nature of the industry", and tends to oppose "inconsistent state and local requirements".
SBTi targets drive more aligned policy engagement
The report used the UN High-Level Expert Group (HLEG) 'Integrity Matters' guidance on lobbying as a benchmark to compare companies and their industry associations’ lobbying activities to their public discourse on decarbonisation and the net zero transition. InfluenceMap came up with four ‘performance bands’ reflecting degrees of alignment between policy engagement and public climate objectives, with ‘A+ to B’ as most aligned and ‘D to F’ as most misaligned.
Only 8% of the companies analysed have set an SBTi-approved net zero target, but this was found to significantly reduce contradictory lobbying efforts. Among those, 64% conduct climate policy engagement either completely aligned with the Paris Agreement or “mixed, but increasingly supportive” of it – while 37% lobby for policies that are unsupportive or misaligned with climate goals.
Net zero communication not correlated with positive policy engagement
Additionally, InfluenceMap looked at the intensity of net zero communication among the companies analysed, to determine whether a higher degree of communication was correlated with more positive engagement on climate-supportive policies.
It found “only a very weak positive correlation”, suggesting that “many companies use the language of net zero but do not then support climate policy”.
In fact, only three companies with high-intensity net zero communication have completely aligned their lobbying efforts with their climate commitments: Apple, Enel and Iberdrola.
As investors grow increasingly weary of greenwashing, it’s crucial that companies provide evidence of their climate claims, and lobbying activities are an integral part of that.
The companies named in this article have been contacted for comment.