Fossil fuel big five 'spent €251m lobbying EU' since 2010

Report comes amid calls for set up of firewall to protect politics from industry influence

The five biggest oil and gas companies, and their industry groups, have spent at least €251m (£217m) lobbying the European Union over climate policies since 2010, research has revealed.

The data on the scale of lobbying by oil companies and their representatives comes as 200 organisations demand the setting up of a firewall around democratic politics to protect it from the influence of the fossil fuel industry.

lobbying graphic

Declarations from the EU’s transparency register reveal BP, Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Total have registered spending €123m between 2010 and 2018 on lobbying EU institutions, the report by a coalition of NGOs reveals. Their 13 industry groups declared spending a further €128m in the same period.

In total, between 2010 and 2018 the companies and their lobbying industry bodies have spent at least €251.3m on lobbying activities within EU institutions, according to the report by Corporate Europe Observatory, Food & Water Europe, Friends of the Earth Europe and Greenpeace.

The researchers say the figure represents the tip of the iceberg, as in some years companies made no declarations of spending in the voluntary register. The report also does not examine lobbying spending by each company relating to national parliaments and institutions.

Analysis of the European commission’s public record of meetings shows the oil firms and their industry groups employ 200 lobbyists in Brussels, who have held 327 meetings with top EC officials since 2014, when Jean-Claude Juncker took office – the equivalent of more than one meeting per week.

lobbying graphic 2

At the same time, the profits of the big five have continued to rise to more than $82bn (£62bn) in 2018.

Pascoe Sabido, researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory, said: “Big polluters like Shell, BP and their lobby groups have delayed, weakened and sabotaged EU action on the climate emergency thanks to their hefty lobby spending. A cool quarter of a billion over the last decade buys a lot of access and influence in Brussels.”

The report comes after the Guardian’s Polluters series, which revealed that 20 oil and gas companies – including BP, Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Total – can be directly linked to a third of greenhouse gas emissions since 1965. The companies – which include multinationals and state-owned firms – are continuing to expand their operations and driving the climate emergency, despite having been aware for decades of their industry’s devastating impact on the planet.

The report says the lobbying has succeeded in watering down EU climate legislation. Lobbying, it says, peaks at times when legislation is being drawn up. The oil and gas companies, and their industry groups had high spending in 2014 during the discussions over the EU’s 2030 climate targets, when they spent €34.3m on lobbying the EU institutions.

The report says the climate targets were weakened as a result; they included no binding energy savings target and included a “woefully inadequate” renewable energy target.

The Guardian recently revealed how the car industry and big oil companies are the most negative influencers on climate policy of all the top 250 biggest investor-owned industry and their trading associations.

The NGOs behind the report are demanding that politics be freed from fossil fuel influence. In a call, supported by 200 civil society organisations, they said they wanted to see an end to the fossil fuel industry accessing decision making. They are calling for:

  • an end to lobbying meetings with fossil fuel and their representatives

  • no revolving door between public office and the oil and gas industry

  • the end of fossil fuel subsidies

  • no sponsorships or partnerships with industry representatives

The call to set up a firewall between the fossil fuel industry and democratic politics comes as pressure is growing on the oil and gas industry. The US Congress held a hearing on Wednesday examining the oil industry’s efforts to suppress the truth about the climate emergency.

In New York, a supreme court trial opened this week examining allegations that ExxonMobil misled its investors about climate change.

In the UK, BP and Shell have faced a growing backlash. This month the Royal Shakespeare Company announced it was ending its sponsorship deal with BP and the National Theatre said it would end its Shell sponsorship in the new year.

(January 1, 1959) 

The physicist Edward Teller tells the American Petroleum Institute (API) a 10% increase in CO2 will be sufficient to melt the icecap and submerge New York. “I think that this chemical contamination is more serious than most people tend to believe.”

(January 1, 1965) 

Lyndon Johnson’s President’s Science Advisory Committee states that “pollutants have altered on a global scale the carbon dioxide content of the air”, with effects that “could be deleterious from the point of view of human beings”. Summarising the findings, the head of the API warned the industry: “Time is running out.”

(January 2, 1970) 

Shell and BP begin funding scientific research in Britain this decade to examine climate impacts from greenhouse gases.

(January 1, 1977) 

A recently filed lawsuit claims Exxon scientists told management in 1977 there was an “overwhelming” consensus that fossil fuels were responsible for atmospheric carbon dioxide increases.

(January 1, 1981) 

An internal Exxon memo warns “it is distinctly possible” that CO2 emissions from the company’s 50-year plan “will later produce effects which will indeed be catastrophic (at least for a substantial fraction of the Earth’s population)”.

(January 1, 1988) 

The Nasa scientist James Hansen testifies to the US Senate that “the greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now”. In the US presidential campaign, George Bush Sr says: “Those who think we are powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect forget about the White House effect … As president, I intend to do something about it.”

(January 2, 1988) 

confidential report prepared for Shell’s environmental conservation committee finds CO2 could raise temperatures by 1C to 2C over the next 40 years with changes that may be “the greatest in recorded history”. It urges rapid action by the energy industry. “By the time the global warming becomes detectable it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even stabilise the situation,” it states.

(January 1, 1989) 

Exxon, Shell, BP and other fossil fuel companies establish the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), a lobbying group that challenges the science on global warming and delays action to reduce emissions.

(January 1, 1990) 

Exxon funds two researchers, Dr Fred Seitz and Dr Fred Singer, who dispute the mainstream consensus on climate science. Seitz and Singer were previously paid by the tobacco industry and questioned the hazards of smoking. Singer, who has denied being on the payroll of the tobacco or energy industry, has said his financial relationships do not influence his research.

(January 1, 1991) 

Shell’s public information film Climate of Concern acknowledges there is a “possibility of change faster than at any time since the end of the ice age, change too fast, perhaps, for life to adapt without severe dislocation”.

(January 1, 1992) 

At the Rio Earth summit, countries sign up to the world’s first international agreement to stabilise greenhouse gases and prevent dangerous manmade interference with the climate system. This establishes the UN framework convention on climate change. Bush Sr says: “The US fully intends to be the pre-eminent world leader in protecting the global environment.”

(January 1, 1997) 

Two month’s before the Kyoto climate conference, Mobil (later merged with Exxon) takes out an ad in The New York Times titled Reset the Alarm, which says: “Let’s face it: the science of climate change is too uncertain to mandate a plan of action that could plunge economies into turmoil.”

(January 1, 1998) 

The US refuses to ratify the Kyoto protocol after intense opposition from oil companies and the GCC.

(January 1, 2009) 

The US senator Jim Inhofe, whose main donors are in the oil and gas industry, leads the “Climategate” misinformation attack on scientists on the opening day of the crucial UN climate conference in Copenhagen, which ends in disarray.

(January 1, 2013) 

A study by Richard Heede, published in the journal Climatic Change, reveals 90 companies are responsible for producing two-thirds of the carbon that has entered the atmosphere since the start of the industrial age in the mid-18th century.

(January 1, 2016) 

The API removes a claim on its website that the human contribution to climate change is “uncertain”, after an outcry.

(January 1, 2017) 

Exxon, Chevron and BP each donate at least $500,000 for the inauguration of Donald Trump as president.

(January 1, 2019) 

Mohammed Barkindo, secretary general of Opec, which represents Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria, Iran and several other oil states, says climate campaigners are the biggest threat to the industry and claims they are misleading the public with unscientific warnings about global warming.

Jonathan Watts

Sebastian Mang, climate policy adviser for Greenpeace Europe, said: “Big oil and gas are causing death and destruction in exchange for eye-watering profits. But millions of people are calling them out, as they face trial for their role in fuelling the climate emergency … It’s time our governments hold them to account.”

A spokesperson for Chevron said: “We lobby ethically, constructively and in a nonpartisan manner. We lobby in accordance with all laws. Chevron brings expertise on many issues that can be valuable to elected public officials and their staffs. Our goal is to contribute to economic prosperity through sound policy.”

Shell said: “We firmly reject the premise of this report. We are crystal clear about our support for the Paris agreement, the European commission’s vision to achieve EU climate neutrality by 2050 and the steps we are taking to help meet society’s need for more and cleaner energy.

ExxonMobil said: “ExxonMobil, like many companies, non-governmental organisations and other entities, engages with the European institutions. We have a responsibility to our customers, employees, communities and shareholders to engage in a public policy dialogue that impacts our business.” The company said it complied with the requirements of the EU transparency register.

Total said national and international trade groups had an important role in discussions on how the Paris climate agreement goals could be met – for example through carbon pricing, which Total supported.

BP did not respond to a request for comment.


Sandra Laville

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
'Greenwashing': fossil fuel execs to hold invite-only forum at UN climate summit
BP, Shell and Chevron representatives will be at event on sidelines of UN climate summit

Sandra Laville

18, Sep, 2019 @6:01 AM

Article image
How cities and states could finally hold fossil fuel companies accountable
These lawsuits may force fossil fuel companies to reveal what they lied about

Chris McGrealand Alvin Chang

30, Jun, 2021 @7:01 AM

Article image
Fossil fuel firms owe climate reparations of $209bn a year, says study
Groundbreaking analysis by One Earth is first to quantify economic burden caused by individual companies

Nina Lakhani Climate justice reporter

19, May, 2023 @3:00 PM

Article image
Revealed: big oil's profits since 1990 total nearly $2tn
BP, Shell, Chevron and Exxon accused of making huge profits while ‘passing the buck’ on climate change

Matthew Taylor and Jillian Ambrose

12, Feb, 2020 @12:17 PM

Article image
Oil firm bosses’ pay ‘incentivises them to undermine climate action’
Lucrative pay and share options linked to continued extraction of fossil fuels by ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and BP

Jonathan Watts

15, Apr, 2021 @4:00 AM

Article image
Oil company bosses' bonuses linked to $1tn spending on extracting fossil fuels
ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, Total and BP pour funding into projects to unlock oil reserves – despite scientists warning they will lead to climate change disaster

Simon Bowers and Harry Davies

25, May, 2015 @9:00 PM

Article image
The fossil fuel industry's invisible colonization of academia | Benjamin Franta and Geoffrey Supran
Benjamin Franta and Geoffrey Supran: Corporate capture of academic research by the fossil fuel industry is an elephant in the room and a threat to tackling climate change.

Benjamin Franta and Geoffrey Supran

13, Mar, 2017 @10:00 AM

Article image
Oil and gas firms’ green investments fail to match promise of publicity – study
BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and TotalEnergies spend $750m a year burnishing climate credentials but only 12% of capital on low-carbon development

Damien Gayle

08, Sep, 2022 @5:01 AM

Article image
Oil giants must cut output by a third to meet climate target – study
Seven largest companies must make 35% cut by 2040 to limit climate crisis and meet 1.5C goal, says thinktank

Jillian Ambrose

01, Nov, 2019 @1:02 PM

Article image
‘Cataclysmic day’ for oil companies sparks climate hope
Court and investor defeats over carbon emissions a historic turning point, say campaigners and lawyers

Damian Carrington Environment editor

27, May, 2021 @1:38 PM