Pressure is mounting on ExxonMobil to explain why the oil giant funded climate denial around the world years after its own scientists established global warming was real.
Exxon has a long history of funding climate denial and last September it was revealed that it did so despite a full scientific knowledge about the impacts of manmade climate change in the 1970s’ and ‘80s.
This prompted the New York Attorney General to subpoena ExxonMobil to “determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how those risks might hurt the oil business.” A similar investigation has also been launched in California.These revelations tell us what Exxon knew. The investigations in New York and California are asking ‘what did Exxon do?’
Exxon in the EU
So, while the oil giant has been getting a lot of heat in the U.S. for funding climate denial, this DeSmog UK investigation takes these questions across the Atlantic, and asks: what has ExxonMobil been up to in Europe?
The past 10 years are pretty murky when it comes to deciphering ExxonMobil’s climate denial activities in Europe.
In 2007, the oil giant pledged to stop funding climate denial groups in response to pressure from shareholder activists. However, eight years later the company was found to have given more than $2.3m (£1.7m) to an American lobbying group and members of Congress that deny climate change and block efforts to tackle the issue.
It begs the question: has ExxonMobil been up to the same tricks in Europe?
The last time a full analysis of Exxon’s ties to European climate denial think tanks was done was in 2006 by transparency watchdogs Corporate Europe Observatory, the year before Exxon pledged to stop funding such groups.
In January, DeSmog UK revealed that Exxon spent at least £5.6m in 2014 on EU lobby efforts and corporate donations. The oil giant has also donated more than £2.36m to 15 of the top universities in the UK over the past five years. Now we map the various European groups which are tied to Exxon.
According to ExxonMobil’s latest entry for 2014 in the voluntary EU Transparency Register, it is a member of more than a dozen trade associations, think tanks and lobby groups. Many focus on energy and climate policy with some having a reputation for opposing climate action.
Two of these groups also have close ties helping the tobacco industry’s campaign against the science confirming health impacts from its products. The tobacco industry is notorious for its playbook for stalling control measures on the industry – a large feature of this was funding scientists to cast doubt on the mainstream scientific consensus. Sound familiar? ExxonMobil is currently being investigated for its climate denial efforts in both New York State and California.
More specifically, ExxonMobil was a member of at least five European think tanks in 2014 according to its latest voluntary lobby register entry. Prior to that it’s a bit hazier, so let’s start with the most recent:
Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS)
This think tank was originally set up to deal primarily with issues related to the European integration in the early 1980s.
On climate change, its website describes its main priorities as carbon markets and emissions trading as well as international negotiations. It reads: “The focus of our research is on the design of EU climate change policies to ensure the progressive engagement of the EU’s main international partners. The key challenge is to think about how EU initiatives… could foster the involvement of the broadest possible number of countries.”
CEPS most recent lobby spend is for 2013, when it declared it spent no more than £7,600 (€9,999). The main EU policies it’s interested in include TTIP and Energy 2030 along with energy, climate change, and regulatory policies.
This past March, CEPS invited William Colton, Vice President of corporate strategic planning at Exxon, to explain to “Brussels” how ExxonMobil views the future of energy. Unfortunately for Exxon it got some serious push-back by experts in the audience.
Annual corporate membership ranges from £4,562 to £13,685 (€6,000 to €18,000) depending on the company’s size. But if you’re part of the “inner circle corporate membership” this will cost you £22,809 (€30,000).
European Policy Centre (EPC)
The EPC describes itself as an independent think tankt that “supports European integration, with a multi-constituency membership”. It has a pretty extensive membership list which, beyond Exxon, also includes Chevron, Statoil, Edelman, Ikea, Facebook, and Google. The annual membership fee for a multinational corporation is £7,603 (€10,000).
The think tank spent between £1.71 and £1.9m (€2.25m – €2.5m) in 2014 lobbying the EU commission. Among its many listed interests you can find energy, climate action and the environment as well as agriculture, education, and public health.
This is one group that has ties to the tobacco industry. In January 2010, a report revealed that in the 1990s EPC helped tobacco companies, as well as other industry groups, to lobby to increase “the likelihood that the EU will produce policies that advance the interests of major corporations, including those that produce products damaging to health, rather than in the interests of its citizens.”
As documents show, British American Tobacco approached EPC on the issue. The EPC then formed an organisation called the Risk Assessment Forum.
This was essentially a front group through which Big Tobacco and other corporations lobbied for EU policies to incorporate rigorous impact assessments – these assign monetary values to the costs and benefits of a particular policy and are criticised for their inability of assigning easily measurable values to fundamental impacts such as lives lost or harmed compared to business impacts. BAT believed incorporating such assessments would weaken or eliminate the introduction of public smoking restrictions and those against tobacco advertising.
During the 1990s, the EPC also had close ties to the now-defunct climate sceptic think tank, the European Science and Environment Forum. You can read DeSmog UK’s account on how this climate sceptic think tank came into being and what it did to attack the science here.
Friends of Europe
This think tank has a broad focus to promote “new thinking” on political, economic and environmental issues in Europe. Corporate membership costs £1,558 (€2,050) per year.
In 2014, it declared a lobby spend of less than £7,600 (€9,999). Among its listed policy interests you can find climate action, environment and energy as well as health, education, and single markets.
ExxonMobil has sponsored a couple of the think tank’s events on energy. For example, in 2013 it sponsored the European Policy Summit co-hosted by Friends of Europe and where ExxonMobil executives were among the speakers. You can read all about it in the Summit report summary: A New EU Energy Policy for the 21st Century.
More recently, Exxon’s name is also plastered on a spring 2015 report on Europe’s Energy Outlook: The race against the clock based on that year’s European Policy Summit attended by Exxon.
This entry was pretty obscure on Exxon’s registry as the oil giant prefers to name all organisations by acronym rather than their full title.
However, a separate Austrian petroleum company, OMV Aktiengesellschaft, also lists itself as a member of CERA on the EU lobby registry, except it took the time to spell out the full titles for each of the organisations it declared membership to.
This shows that CERA stands for the Cambridge Energy Research Associates – an international energy consultancy operating under the parent company IHS (Information Handling Services). CERA specialises in advising governments and private companies on energy markets, geopolitics, industry trends, and strategy.
Exxon has repeatedly been a ‘strategic partner’ of the annual IHS CERAweek event, including in 2014. And last year, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson gave a keynote address at the conference where he spoke of the environmental benefits of natural gas and the opportunities in the Arctic.
Exxon also helped fund at least one of CERA's research projects – a 2006 report entitled Modernizing Oil and Gas Reserves Disclosures. This report was then sent by CERA to Florence Harmon, Acting Secretary Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington D.C. in September 2008.
Council for Multilateral Business Diplomacy
Like CERA, this Geneva-based group also seemed pretty mysterious. At first. It does not have a lobby register entry and much of the content on its original website – as well as the new one the first redirects you to – is password protected. But it seems this group has pretty serious connections with top officials, and it focuses a lot on climate change. It’s also relatively small, with just 22 members in 2016.
The organisation was established in 2007. According to its LinkedIn description, this group “provides a forum for informal dialogue on global policy issues between representatives of multinational enterprises and international organizations… It is designed to bring business together with the many institutions and international organizations based in Europe that directly affect the commercial and regulatory environment for international business.”
ExxonMobil has been a member since 2008 according to the Council’s annual reports. That year Council members were able to be briefed by, and discuss climate, energy and environment issues with, senior officials of the World Health Organisation, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the World Meteorological Organization, and the OECD.
In 2010, the Council hosted a luncheon meeting with Dr Renate Christ, Secretary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, following the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit. As its annual report describes: “Dr Christ gave useful insights on the 2009 Copenhagen Summit and the IPCC work plan for its next assessment report and special studies on the carbon cycle, sea level changes, agricultural practices, housing and ethics.”
Part two in our series will explore what happened to Exxon’s EU think tank ties in 2007 after it pledged to stop funding climate denial.
Photo: Adam Maracz via Flickr