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24th Oct 2020

Green Deal

ExxonMobil lobbyists pushed for weaker EU Green Deal

  • Separately, researchers from Brown University revealed that bots are promoting companies such as oil giant ExxonMobil (Photo: Roy Luck)

US oil and gas giant ExxonMobil lobbied the European Commission to weaken climate regulation for the transport sector, a new report published by the think tank InfluenceMap revealed on Friday (6 March).

Last November, ExxonMobil lobbyists met with a member of the cabinet of the commission first vice-president, Frans Timmermans, ahead of the announcement of the Green Deal - after the company avoided a ban from the European Parliament for failing to attend a hearing on climate denial.

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According to the notes from this meeting, ExxonMobil officials suggested the commission should "give serious consideration to extending [the EU Emissions Trading Scheme] ETS beyond stationary sources" - referring to road transport.

In the communication of the Green Deal, the commission committed to increasing the ambition for the transport sector, but also to carry out an impact assessment on whether to include road transport into the ETS framework - a policy mentioned in the political guidelines of the commission and seemingly pushed by ExxonMobil during that meeting.

However, consumer groups and NGOs believe that including road transport into the ETS would be a "distraction from active decarbonisation measures" with little to no impact on emissions reduction.

"The ETS is not the miraculous solution to regulate the climate impact of road transport. To the contrary, it won't do much to transport emissions unless the carbon price goes through the roof," said Jo Dardenne, ETS expert at NGO Transport & Environment.

"Let's not push a sector to fit a policy but ensure the policy is fit for the sector," he added.

However, pushing the transport sector towards carbon pricing, which is apparently what Exxon appears to be calling for, could have social consequences, partly seen in the 'Gilles Jaunes' [Yellow Jacket] protests in France following a planned increased tax on diesel and petrol.

In addition, ExxonMobil also lobby to remove of the bloc's tailpipe emission rules as they are "directly associated with the majority of the company's carbon footprint," states the analysis.

EU's tailpipe emission rules were adopted in 2018 aiming to reduce over 37.5 percent of emissions from cars and 31 percent of vans by 2030.

According to the commission, "Timmermans and his team regularly meet with a balance of different NGOs, trade unions, academics, industry representatives and other civil society organizations [but] final policy decisions are taken by the college of commissioners in full independence".

Two-pronged policy

ExxonMobil lobbyist also pushed for long-term technology solutions that avoid completely phasing out fossil fuels, such as carbon capture and storage (CSS) technologies, hydrogen and biofuels.

However, according to InfluenceMap's report, this is commonly used as a marketing strategy.

In fact, the petrol giant has been advertising the use of algae-biofuels and CCS, although they represent less than three percent of its overall capital expenditure.

"Yet another evidence piece of an ongoing strategy by the company to capture the narrative on climate, dwelling on long-term technical solutions, while attempting to avert the decisive regulatory action urgently required to mitigate climate change," said Edward Collins, InfluenceMap's director of corporate climate lobbying.

Additionally, experts say that the role of these technologies in achieving the Paris Agreement's goals is uncertain and will likely be constrained across different economic sectors.

The EU is assuming that "future generations will somehow be able to suck hundreds of billions of tonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere with technologies that might never exist at scale, and definitely won't in the timeframe we have to stay in line with the Paris Agreement," a group of youth climate activists, including Greta Thunberg, warned on Wednesday.

Bot support

"Since 2015, ExxonMobil's attempts to water-down or delay meaningful policy responses to climate change despite its public-facing shift towards more climate-positive marketing," according to InfluenceMap.

While ExxonMobil offers its support for the Paris Agreement, the company keeps questioning the need for immediate action towards a global low-carbon energy transition, using extensive social media to promote the role for oil and gas in the 'energy mix'.

Researchers from Brown University recently found that bots write a quarter of 6.5m tweets from the period surrounding US president Donald Trump's announcement of the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord in June 2017.

Their study also revealed that bots were responsible for tweets about 'fake science' 38 percent of the time, while 28 percent of tweets about ExxonMobile were posted by bots.

"There is a general acceptance among the European public about climate change and nobody is denying this anymore. Also, the public debates are normally in national language, so I am not sure how influential these bots can be in Europe," said Mikkel Fugl Eskjær, expert on communication and climate from the Aalborg University.

"That's maybe the reason why we forget that there are major economic forces that are trying to influence the political agenda and will continue to do so," he added.

Opinion

ExxonMobil has nothing to hide in terms of EU lobbying

ExxonMobil does not publish an EU "corporate giving" report, but has nothing to hide in the way it works with European NGOs and think-tanks, with plenty of long-term investment in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in existing and emerging technology, the US company's Lisa Boch-Andersen writes in reaction to allegations made by Corporate Europe Observatory.

Opinion

ExxonMobil funds global warming sceptics – will Brussels clear the air?

ExxonMobil has for years donated tens of thousands of dollars to Europe-based think-tanks which are ardent opponents of the EU's efforts to combat climate change. Commissioner Siim Kallas upcoming lobbyist rulebook is one chance to lift the veil of secrecy around this practice, but will he deliver asks Olivier Hoedeman of Corporate Europe Observatory.

Exxon warns over gas liberalisation

Speaking at an oil and gas conference, the head of Exxon's European gas marketing, Brian Hamilton, warned that the EU's efforts to liberalise the gas market could seriously undermine the sector, writes the Financial Times. Exxon is the world's largest energy group.

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