Talk, as they say, is cheap. But now it seems that those NGOs concerned about action on climate change are looking beyond the talk, to see what business is actually doing.

Ahead of the COP21 discussions in Paris in December, research from the London-based non-profit InfluenceMap, which launches today (midnight GMT Sep 15 so Sep 16) reveals that 45 of the 100 largest global industrial companies – including BMW (ETR:BMW), EDF (EPA:EDF) and Boeing (NYSE:BA) - are obstructing climate change legislation. It also says that 95 percent of these companies are members of the trade associations demonstrating the same obstructionist behavior.

InfluenceMap is using a unique research methodology developed with the across-the-pond Washington-based Union Of Concerned Scientists.

“More and more, we’re seeing companies rely on their trade groups to do their dirty work of lobbying against comprehensive climate policies. Companies get the delay in policy they want, while preventing nations from acting to fight climate change. It is unacceptable that companies can obstruct climate action in this way without any accountability” says Gretchen Goldman, from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Lobbying, of course, is not new. How to recognize it and deal with it occupied a significant portion of the debate at the London conference last week of the Principles For Responsible Investment #PRIInPerson on Twitter.

But the InfluenceMap research says it shows that corporate influence over climate extends beyond the activities normally associated with lobbying, including intervention in the public discourse on climate change science and policy via advertising, PR, social media and access to decision makers, as well as the use of influencers such as trade associations and advocacy groups.

It is willing to name those businesses that are leaders in supporting multiple strands of climate policy globally. Its scoring system suggests, for example that Unilever (NYSE:UL) leads, whereas rival Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), despite its stated support for action on climate change, is a member of BusinessEurope. This is a lobbying group which recently came under attack in the British media for an obstructionist stance on climate legislation.

The lack of transparency around the relationships between corporations and trade associations is flagged by InfluenceMap.

Such information is becoming more important to investors using sustainability ratings to inform their decision making processes. “Mainstream fund managers are now attaching climate-lobbying criteria to their investment decisions, such as the $850 billion Norwegian Government Pension Fund, which in April of this year announced new standards allowing it to exclude companies responsible for unacceptable levels of greenhouse gas emissions, criteria that are likely to include obstructive influence over climate policy” says Dylan Tanner, Executive Director at InfluenceMap.

But as far as investors are concerned, lobbying is done by both sides, and is not “inherently bad.” It ranges from transparent submissions made to public consultations, through to opaque and undisclosed influence on political leaders, lawmakers and regulators, says Susheela Peres Da Costa, Deputy Managing Director at Regnan – Governance Research & Engagement in Australia, who attended the PRI conference.  

“But the problem - for an issue like climate change - is the asymmetry in influence, designed specifically to avoid decisions being made on net merits. A small group of individuals and corporates with a lot to lose in the near term will naturally be more focused, more persistent in marshaling and deploying resources, and more motivated - in many cases to the point of duplicity - than is the vastly larger group who gain from a safe climate” she says.

 

Dina Medland is an independent writer, editor and commentator with a strong focus on issues around corporate governance, ethics, the workings of the boardroom and sustainable business. She is on the team of contributors to @ForbesEurope and is an ex-Financial Times staff member who has been a regular contributor in recent years. Further details about her background and a portfolio of work – including her commercially sponsored blog ‘Board Talk’ are available on her website http://www.dinamedland.com