COP-Out 26? Companies Leave Climate Policy to Trade Associations
In a few days, leading companies will join the global COP26 gathering in Glasgow, dripping in pro-climate pledges and greenwashing. But back in Washington, where the fate of historic climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act hangs in the balance, they are leaving the lobbying to their anti-climate trade associations. These groups — the US Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, and National Association of Manufacturers — are attacking the legislation and its pay-fors, with the tacit consent of so-called “climate-positive” members.
This corporate hypocrisy is documented in the ClimateVoice Corporate Scorecard, which looks at where 20 leading “climate-positive” companies stand on the climate provisions of the Build Back Better Act. (InfluenceMap, which provided the scorecard data, studied the 20 largest, US-based companies with broadly positive positioning toward climate change policy.) While half of the companies have made at least some statement of support for the climate provisions of Build Back Better, not a single company has been willing to take the step of publicly distancing themselves from all of their trade associations opposing the bill. To its credit, Salesforce has spoken up against the worst offender, the Chamber of Commerce (which Apple left years ago) but not the others.
It’s no secret why the trade associations are on the warpath against Build Back Better. Many — but not all — companies balk at paying more corporate taxes, even to save the planet. But the most obvious reason is the dominance of Big Oil in these associations, particularly the Chamber. Chamber Watch is among the groups that have documented how the fossil fuel industry is among the Chamber’s biggest backers.
The influence of the carbon crowd within the Chamber has persisted in the face of shifting public opinion on climate change and the changing views of many members. In 2017, the Chamber vowed to challenge “efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through existing environmental statutes.” This then translated into Chamber efforts to oppose restrictions on fracking, and to advocate for opening more federal land and waters to drilling and lifting the oil export ban, a priority for the oil industry. Again and again, the Chamber has shown which side of this fight it is on.
But if the influence of Big Oil in the Chamber hasn’t changed, the world around us has. These climactic weeks on Capitol Hill will determine our future survival — not just for these businesses and their customers, but for every community in America. For average people whose loved ones drowned in their cars, saw their homes devoured by flames, or perished in a scorching heat wave, siding with Big Oil in this critical moment would not just look callous and self-interested. It would reflect a breathtaking inability to see the “code red” message from the IPCC this summer: that we simply cannot afford another failure to act.
Time is short, and major climate provisions of Build Back Better are already threatened. The bill is not perfect, but it contains major steps forward for climate. Fees on methane will have a major short-term effect on warming. Tax credits, rebates and investments in renewable energy, EVs and transit will have both short and long-term impacts. Together, the climate provisions are vital to get on track to keep warming well below 2°C (and ideally below 1.5°).
Pay attention not just to what companies say at COP26, but to what they do in DC in the coming weeks, when we have a chance at climate legislation that could pull our planet back from the brink of disaster. Companies that claim to be pro-climate, like Google, Microsoft, and Walmart, must take this opportunity to clearly and publicly distance themselves from the destructive anti-climate actions of their trade associations, or suffer the judgment of history.