Lobbying: The Biggest Obstacle To Advancing Global Climate Action?!


With global emissions and extreme weather on the rise, it’s time to take a look at just what is getting in the way of increased global ambition.

It could be argued that the activities of specific anti-climate groups are the single biggest hindrance to advancing climate action around the world.

To date the anti-climate movement has been successful in blocking ambitious climate action necessary to limit global warming to two degrees (the recognised ‘safe level’ that avoids the worst impacts of climate change). On the surface this may appear surprising – with many business-friendly green groups (such as the Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change or The Climate Group) vocal in articulating the business community’s support for progressive action on climate change.

However, they only represent a fraction of the business community and are often outmanoeuvred by powerful (yet less outwardly vocal) opposition groups.

Striking example

The most salient example of this is with the UNFCCC climate negotiations in Copenhagen, which took place in December 2009. This meeting was supposed to gain agreement on a new global deal to solve climate change. The Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change was successful in gaining support of more than 950 companies from 60 countries and set the ‘business case for an ambitious, robust, effective and equitable UN climate framework’ and offered ‘a progressive global consensus on the shape of an agreement’. However, a comprehensive global deal on climate change was not reached and the negotiations were, to some extent, derailed by the ‘Climategate’ emails scandal, which was funded by a combination of industry groups and opposing national governments.

As you may be aware COP 20 is underway in Lima, but no legally binding global agreement is expected in Paris next year. US and China have struck a deal to cut and cap emissions by 2025 and 2030 respectively, but neither superpower is required to do much in the overall context of what is needed.

Problems in Europe

Recently in Europe, industry has hindered reforms to the EU emissions trading scheme, which has been hit by permit oversupply (and subsequent low carbon prices) as a result of the cap being set before the global financial crisis.

To attempt to solve this issue the European Commission proposed to temporarily withhold a number of permits from circulation, although due to industry opposition the proposal has been watered down to such an extent it will not come close to raising prices to a level that would make the scheme fit for purpose (i.e. to stimulate investment in low carbon alternatives).

When the shoe is on the other foot

There is, however, one notable example where the pro-climate lobby came out on top (which is included to reinforce the power of lobbying when it comes to environment legislation).

In 2010 there was a proposition (known as ‘Proposition 23’) to suspend California’s landmark ‘Global Warming Act of 2006’. Opponents of Proposition 23 included high profiles businesses such as Virgin America and Warner Bros, who were involved in a campaign that outmanoeuvred and (perhaps crucially) out-funded supporters of the proposition by a factor of nearly four to one.

In summary, whilst there are many other hindrances to advancing climate policy, such as political will and the motives of certain national governments, overcoming the power of vested interests remains a very significant barrier.

A new approach is required.

The most effective way to get obstructive businesses on board is to show that it is within their interest to solve climate change and that there are numerous opportunities in a low carbon future. Clearly the increased prevalence of extreme weather is not enough.

About the Author Thurstan Wright

Thurstan is an experienced environmental commentator, having spent many years working in the climate change & sustainability arena within a variety of top tier academic, non-profit and corporate settings. He currently works as a Senior Analyst at IDEAcarbon, writing daily articles on the latest developments in the global carbon markets, climate finance and the UNFCCC negotiations. Previously Thurstan worked as a Policy Analyst for The Climate Group (a leading climate change NGO) where he wrote regular articles on international climate policy, drafted speeches for external partners such as the Rt Hon. Tony Blair & former BP CEO Lord Browne and managed the organisations relationship with a variety of corporate sponsors (including Barclays, Marks & Spencer and Cadbury). Before that Thurstan worked in a research and project management capacity for the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

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