21 May 2011

Corporate Lobbying: A Force for Good?

It might seem highly contentious to some to suggest that major corporate interests could be a positive force in any context, particularly an environmental one, but when it comes to the issue of climate change it really does seem that some have seen the light. A number of Europe’s leading companies, including Unilever, Philips and Lloyds TSB, are urging governments to support setting a target of cutting European greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020, rather than the current 20% target. It is clear that globally we are only going to make headway on reducing emissions if one of the major blocs makes a progressive move like this, and it isn’t going to be China or the US, so it’s up to Europe to demonstrate leadership. Failure to do so will carry a high price in the disruption of climate we will be committing ourselves to.

Nobody is suggesting that the companies named above and others like them who support the 30% target are to be held up as positive examples in everything they do. There are plenty of ways in which they are far from perfect. But when, as in this case, what they are lobbying for are measures which will help the climate and promote the development of new jobs in green industries across Europe, then surely we have to give them some credit. It caused a lot of controversy though amongst the 170 Greenpeace activists from across Europe that I was amongst earlier this week in Belgium, but in the end most decided that we needed to encourage the good companies as well as criticising those blocking progress. The following day we took action at the European Business Summit in Brussels to highlight how the business community is split and some companies are lobbying hard to prevent European governments toughening up emissions reduction targets.

It doesn’t come as a surprise to find that companies such as BP, cement manufacturer Lafarge and big chemical and steel companies are leading the way in arguing against more ambitious emission reduction targets. But you might be surprised by some of the other businesses standing in the way of progress. Microsoft for example claims it strives to be a leader in environmental responsibility but is a key member of a leading European business group lobbying against the 30% reduction target. Volkswagen may try to sell you their cars on fuel efficiency but behind the scenes it is lobbying against stronger fuel efficiency targets and emission reductions. And Veolia, whose website leads with the statement “A partner for people and planet”, and which sponsors various environmental charities, is heavily involved in two organisations lobbying against the 30% target.

Branded as climate laggards, these companies and others like them do not want to see Europe take the lead in committing to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Read their websites and listen to what they say and you could be forgiven for thinking they are all in favour of positive environmental action, but that’s just the public face of greenwash. It’s what they are saying in private and promoting through business lobby groups to governments which really matters and often that is very much at odds with what they want us to see.

So to come back to my title; there are times when corporate lobbying can be used in a positive manner, some companies are doing so and we should be prepared to support them. But sadly when it comes to climate change, too often the corporate lobby is standing in the way of progress rather than promoting it.

More details on the companies concerned, both leaders and laggards, and the campaign can be found on the Greenpeace page at: http://bit.ly/l3uthl

1 comment:

  1. This issue is back on the agenda with an EU Parliament vote on a 30% target - with BusinessEurope, the European employers’ confederation; the EuropeanChemical Industry Council (CEFIC) and the European Confederation of Iron and Steel Industries (Eurofer) all opposed - see http://www.corporateeurope.org/climate-and-energy/content/2011/06/caught-cross-hairs