ExxonMobil’s record of spreading doubt about climate science, despite internally recognising the impact of its fossil fuel products, was the focus of a public hearing on climate denial recently held in the European Parliament.
The event was informative and shed light on climate denial tactics by big polluters. But ExxonMobil did not bother to show up and face questions from elected representatives.
Such flagrant disregard for a democratically elected institution, added to the corporation's history of devastating climate denial, must now mean an end to the company’s access to policymakers.
ExxonMobil declined an invitation to the first hearing by a public institution into the company’s climate duplicity, saying it was prevented from participating by ongoing court cases in the US.
The litigation in question alleges that ExxonMobil knew about the destructive impacts of fossil fuels on the climate and worked to cover them up.
The fossil fuel giant said in its response to parliament: “Public commentary, such as would be solicited at the hearing, could prejudice those pending proceedings”.
Despite claiming that it cannot engage in commentary on this topic, ExxonMobil runs a website devoted to defending itself against the charges they face in these very court cases.
At the hearing, climate denial expert Geoffrey Supran described the company’s system of deceiving the public and policymakers to shelve action that could hurt their profit margins.
Supran has studied 200 internal company documents going back 50 years, most of which acknowledge the science that burning fossil fuels would lead to climate change.
Meanwhile, the company continued a decades-long campaign of paid ads in US media casting doubt on that same science and contending that the role of greenhouse gases in climate change was unclear.
Other reprehensible tactics were also employed. For instance, ExxonMobil was a member of the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), a corporate alliance that lobbied against emissions regulation from 1989 to 2002.
The GCC spent $30 million campaigning against the Kyoto protocol and was so successful that the White House told them that President Bush "rejected Kyoto in part based on input from you."
This calculated campaign of deliberate climate misinformation was very successful - and it’s not over. Still today, big oil and gas companies continue to fund climate denial groups and fight against solutions like renewable energy and strict emissions reduction targets.
According to a report by influence map, the world's five largest oil and gas companies spend around $200 million a year on lobbying against climate action.
A recent report by lobby watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory showed that in Brussels ExxonMobil spends an estimated €3.5m on lobbying every year and enjoys regular access to top-level policymakers at the European Commission.
ExxonMobil also sits on several key EU expert groups and advisory panels. Indeed, the company’s influence in Brussels is such that the Commission tried to enlist its help in EU-US trade talks in 2013, considering ways to smooth the firm’s expansion in Africa, Russia and South America.
There can be no doubt that this company is a behemoth of corporate influence with tentacles that stretch into all areas of EU policymaking.
However, as the teenagers of the inspirational climate strike movement have been showing us from the streets recently, the fightback to protect the planet needs to tackle powerful forces if it is going to be effective.
Despite the treacherously greedy record of ExxonMobil, six of its 12 Brussels lobbyists have badges allowing them direct access to the European Parliament. This must end.
My political group in the European Parliament will propose ExxonMobil be stripped of its access badges and become only the second corporation, after Monsanto in 2017, to lose access to MEPs.
In 2017, Monsanto (now a division of chemicals giant Bayer) refused to attend a hearing about the effects of its weed-killer glyphosate. It faced consequences, so should ExxonMobil.
While not enough to curb the influence of these dodgy companies on decision-making in the EU, such a move would be a step towards ending the fossil fuels industry’s capture of climate policy and would send a signal to other big businesses that this institution is no longer their playground.
Ultimately, it’s a question of accountability. If the fossil fuels industry does not want to hear what we have to say, fine, there’s the door.
We cannot accept that these nefarious, two-faced organisations have representatives on the inside weakening and delaying crucial legislation, while the young people outside are screaming the truth about what needs to be done to safeguard the planet. It should be the other way around.
Lynn Boylan is an Irish MEP from Sinn Féin and the European United Left–Nordic Green Left group.
Right of Reply
Following the publication of an earlier article on this subject, Richard Scrase, media adviser at ExxonMobil, commented: "We ... believe that market-based systems that place a uniform, predictable cost on greenhouse gas emissions are more effective policy options than mandates or standards. Market-based policies more effectively drive consumer behaviour and technology innovation, while mandates and standards limit consumer choice and can perpetuate ineffective technologies."