Starting in July 2009, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists fielded an eight-country team of reporters to uncover the special interests attempting to influence negotiations on a global climate change treaty. Relying on more than 200 interviews, lobbying and campaign contribution records in a half-dozen countries, and on-the-ground reporting from Beijing to Brussels, our team pieced together the story of a far-reaching, multinational backlash by fossil fuel industries and other heavy carbon emitters aimed at slowing progress on control of greenhouse gas emissions. Employing thousands of lobbyists, millions in political contributions, and widespread fear tactics, entrenched interests worldwide are thwarting the steps that scientists say are needed to stave off a looming environmental calamity, the investigation found.
The project fielded reporters in eight of the major economies deemed essential to a successful treaty: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Japan, and the United States, as well as the European Union. Among our findings:
• Both developed and developing countries are under heavy pressure by fossil fuel industries and other carbon-intensive businesses to slow progress on negotiations and weaken government commitments. The clash cannot simply be framed as one between richer and poorer nations.
• China’s moves to hasten development of renewable energy, Brazil’s pledges to curb Amazon deforestation, and other steps to address climate change in the developing world have prompted a strong pushback from domestic in-country interests determined to maintain the status quo.
• Instead of a broad frontal assault on the climate science that marked the pre-Kyoto battles, lobbyists seeking to dilute the Copenhagen treaty have changed strategy, acknowledging there is a problem while focusing on slowing or easing national commitments.
• The intensity of the lobbying can be seen most clearly in developed countries, where official registers reveal that thousands of industry representatives have attempted to influence climate legislation. In the United States, there are now about 2,810 climate lobbyists — five lobbyists for every member of Congress — a 400 percent jump from six years earlier. And in Australia, Canada, and the European Union, hundreds more lobbyists are at work attempting to block or water down strict limits on carbon emissions.
• Powerful corporations are fielding multinational efforts to influence the debate, such as Peabody Coal, the world’s largest coal company, in Australia and the United States; and oil giant Exxon Mobil in Canada, the European Union, and the United States. Although largely operating at a national level, opponents of a strong climate change treaty are employing similar fear tactics worldwide, including threats of massive blackouts and job losses.
• The voices of scores of business advocates for stronger climate change policy, including alternative energy companies and would-be players in the carbon market, can barely be heard above the clamor of the older, well-capitalized, and deeply entrenched industries that have been lobbying on climate change for more than 20 years.
• As a result of the forces arrayed against stricter emissions limits, no developed nation has made a firm pledge for the kind of emissions cut scientists say will be needed within the next decade to stave off catastrophic climate change.