In 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its Net Zero by 2050 report, echoing many of the core findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2018 Special Report on limiting global warming to 1.5C. Despite these clear warnings from the world's leading scientists, Australia's climate policy continues to be 'insufficient', in line with global warming of between 2 and 3 degrees.
Australia continues to fall out of step with its key trading partners on long-term climate ambition. According to the World Bank, Australia is the 13th largest economy in the world. Of the top twelve economies, eight have net zero by 2050 targets, including the UK, US, and Japan, while two countries (China and Brazil) have net zero by 2060 targets. Moreover, the 2021 Sustainable Development Report ranked Australia as last out of 193 UN member countries on climate action, a demotion from the country's ranking of 2nd last in 2020.
In September 2020, InfluenceMap released its first report looking specifically at corporate lobbying on climate policy in Australia. It analyzed the climate positions of 20 of the country’s most influential industry associations and how they had engaged on relevant policy. In 2021, this work has been updated and expanded to include the 50 largest companies operating in Australia, based on greenhouse gas emissions and economic value.
The results of this new analysis are divided into three key themes.
This covers the 50 largest corporate entities in Australia, judged by a weighted assessment of Australian tax revenue and overall GHG emissions. InfluenceMap’s analysis ranks companies based on their overall support or opposition to Paris-aligned climate policy, both in their direct policy engagement and indirect policy engagements via their trade associations.
Strong oppositional lobbying from fossil-fuel value chain sectors are strongly outweighing supportive voices. This is having significant, negative consequences for Australian climate policy. Of the 14 policies analyzed by InfluenceMap, 6 had been weakened following overwhelmingly negative lobbying from the corporate sector.
The research highlights the increasing number of statements made by companies and industry associations communicating support for net zero emissions by 2050, while lobbying against science-based pathways to achieve this goal.
The diagram below charts the Total Score and global Engagement Intensity for the 50 companies operating in Australia that are most significant to climate change (please see FAQs for how these companies were chosen). The higher the Total Score, the more the company lobbies to support Paris-Aligned climate policy. The Total Score expresses how supportive or obstructive the company is towards climate policy aligned with the Paris Agreement, incorporating an analysis of its trade association links. The Engagement Intensity (0-100) expresses the intensity of this activity, whether positive or negative.
Only one company (Apple) was found to be supportive of climate policy. However, InfluenceMap found no evidence of engagement with Australia climate policy from Apple.
The remaining companies are divided evenly between those that oppose climate policy and those that have an overall mixed position. Of the companies with mixed positions on climate action, the highest scoring are companies in the financial sector. The opposing group is dominated by mining and energy companies.
The fight between these two broad groups over Australian climate policy, however, is not a balanced one. The results show that the group of companies with positive or mixed positions on climate change generally have lower engagement with specific Australian climate policies, instead predominantly communicating positive top line messages around the need for climate action. This is particularly true of the financial sector. In stark contrast, the companies with negative positions on climate action have much higher levels of engagement overall.
Many of the companies included in this study are multinational corporations. When analyzing any company’s lobbying, InfluenceMap includes all publicly available evidence of engagement with climate policies globally. As such, the Engagement Intensity scores charted above reflect the companies’ global engagement. Despite having high global Engagement Intensity scores, some companies have very low engagement with Australian climate policy specifically. For example, of the 50 companies, Shell has the highest global Engagement Intensity score. When looking at engagement with only Australian climate policy, however, Shell has one of the lowest engagement levels.
In order to determine which companies are the most engaged within Australia, InfluenceMap analyzed how many Australian-specific engagements each company had. The diagram below shows the top 15 companies most engaged with climate change and climate policy in Australia. For a breakdown of how all 50 companies ranked by engagement within Australia specifically, please see in the report.
The diagram below shows the most highly engaged companies on climate change in Australia. The values show the number of times the company has lobbied in Australia
One policy that has been lobbied on positively overall is Independent MP Zali Steggall's Climate Change Bill, which would legislate a net zero by 2050 emissions target in line with the long-term targets recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Despite strong support from Corporate Australia, however, the House Environment and Energy Committee rejected the bill. Instead, the Government continues to pursue its gas-fired recovery.
The Government's 'gas-fired recovery' is misaligned from the science of the IPCC and the International Energy Agency, which recently stated there can be no new investments in fossil fuels beyond those already committed to in 2021. Furthermore, increased investment into gas is also unnecessary, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator's 2020 Integrated System Plan, which found the least-cost, least-regret energy mix did not require the expansion of gas fired power.
Public statements supporting net zero emissions by 2050 have become increasingly common, including from Santos and Origin Energy among others. Many of these same companies, however, continue to push the role of fossil fuels, and gas in particular, either directly or indirectly through third-party industry associations.
Of the 50 companies included in this research, 20 had directly lobbied in 2020-2021 for the continued or increased use of gas in the energy mix, including BHP, AGL Australia, Santos and Origin Energy. Additionally, 44 out of 50 companies were members of industry association's promoting the use of gas. This is despite nearly half the companies (23) having publicly supported net zero by 2050
Offering top line support for net zero by 2050 has increasingly become a tactic used by the gas lobby to portray themselves, and the role of gas, as aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement and recommendations by the IPCC. This group includes large Australian energy producers AGL Energy, Origin Energy, Santos, and Woodside. Claims that fossil gas is a clean or green climate solutions, however, are misaligned from the science of the IPCC and the IEA. This claim, particularly in advertising, is increasingly coming to the attention of regulators globally for misleading consumers, investors, and policy-makers. Equinor, BP, Shell, and ExxonMobil amongst others have all been warned by advertising regulators or sued for false advertising in recent years. Australian energy giant Santos is the most recent company to join this list, having been sued for "misleading and deceptive conduct" in claiming gas is a "clean energy" in August 2021.
The gas lobby has been successful in securing several big wins from the Australian government. Following lobbying from groups including Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA), Gas Energy Australia (GEA), Business Council of Australia, and Queensland Resources Council, the government has:
Australia's climate policy battles continue, with further debates including reforms to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the Government's gas grants program, and setting a net zero emissions target by 2050. This platform can be used to track corporate lobbying on climate policy, and highlight which companies are lobbying against climate policy, which are lobbying for it, and which companies are sitting on the sidelines.
In September 2020, InfluenceMap analyzed the 20 industry associations most engaged with key climate and energy policy streams in Australia. Our research found that 75% of the groups assessed were broadly unsupportive of a Paris-aligned policy response, taking negative positions on climate regulations while promoting a pro-fossil fuel agenda, led by the Minerals Council of Australia, Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and NSW Minerals Council. In 2021 the significant majority of these groups continue to oppose Paris-Aligned climate policy.
A central ask of companies from the investor community, including Climate Action 100+ (CA100+), is to audit and publish reviews of their industry associations' climate change lobbying and alignment. As of May 2021, 13 of the 50 companies in-scope have published a review, starting with BHP in 2017. InfluenceMap is tracking and assessing these industry association reviews on an ongoing basis to feed into active investor engagements, which can be found on our CA100+ webpage.
Since the first review by BHP in 2017, 9 Australian industry associations have been identified as being at least partially misaligned with the companies’ climate policy positions. In the vast majority of these instances, the companies chose to remain "inside the tent" and progress the industry associations' climate change policy positions internally.
The table on the slide below compares the 9 industry associations' positions in 2017 and 2021. There have been slight improvements in many of the industry associations' positions, with 8 of the industry associations improving by one grade, while 1 industry association appears to have become more oppositional to Paris-Aligned climate policy - the Australian Institute of Petroleum. That said, the majority of these groups continue to obstruct Paris-aligned climate policy in Australia, and significant improvements in detailed lobbying positions are needed to bring these industry associations' lobbying into alignment with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
In 2020 and 2021, a small number of companies have decided to suspend or terminate their membership to obstructive industry associations. This includes AGL Australia leaving Queensland Resources Council (QRC) in 2020, and Equinor leaving Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association in 2021. BHP and Origin Energy suspended their membership to QRC in 2020, but Origin has decided to rejoin the highly oppositional group in 2021. With more reviews expected in 2021, there will be increased investor scrutiny on corporate links to obstructive industry associations.
Nine industry associations were identified by companies as partially misaligned with their own positions. However, InfluenceMap's analysis suggests that many cases of misalignment with the Paris Agreement were missed due to underlying problems with the review process, including “cherry-picking” high-level positive statements to support a finding of alignment. Our analysis indicates that 12 Australian industry associations have climate lobbying practices misaligned with the Paris Agreement (ranked as a D or below under InfluenceMap's system), with 1 group materially misaligned (ranked as F or below).
Australia’s industry associations are significantly more engaged with climate change regulation than their member companies. The graph below compares the level of engagement from the 20 industry associations most engaged on Australia climate policy with the level of engagement by all 50 companies included in this research.
The graph highlights the relationship between these powerful and highly active industry lobbyists - the majority of which were found to be having a negative impact on Australian climate policy - state and federal governments, and Australia’s current climate policy landscape. In order to bring about progressive action on climate in Australia, Australia’s industry associations need urgent reform to support Paris-Aligned climate policy
Percentage of lobbying in Australia carried out by the 50 companies versus the 20 industry associations covered in this research (based on the publicly available evidence found and analyzed by InfluenceMap)