A UK-based climate think tank has named the Minerals Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the NSW Minerals Council as the three organisations most responsible for undermining climate policy in Australia.
- A new report finds the Minerals Council of Australia is the “single largest negative influence on Australian climate-related policy”
- The Business Council of Australia, two state-based minerals councils and the main oil and gas lobby group are also fingered in the report
- InfluenceMap, which wrote the report, has previously found Australia’s climate policies are consistent with a 3-4 degrees Celsius temperature rise
Mining giants BHP, Santos, Rio Tinto and Glencore were found to have the most concentrated network of links to industry associations that “continue to work against Paris-aligned policy for Australia”.
The new report was written by InfluenceMap, which was launched shortly before the Paris Agreement in 2015 and provides data and analysis to major shareholders and investors on how businesses are affecting climate policy around the world.
It is a think tank funded by environmentally focused charities and organisations, including the IKEA Foundation and the European Union.
The report into Australia’s industry associations and their climate policy footprint finds three-quarters of Australia’s most influential industry associations are having an overwhelmingly negative impact on climate policy, taking positions against climate regulations and promoting a pro-fossil-fuels agenda.
The report also argues there has been limited public scrutiny of these activities.
Minerals Council ‘single largest negative influence’
InfluenceMap looked at 20 industry associations — including the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), the Business Council of Australia (BCA), the NSW and Queensland minerals councils, and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) — based on their active involvement in climate and energy policy.
The report cites the MCA’s recent advocacy for reduced taxes and faster project approval for mining, its opposition to strong international climate commitments, and its calls to water down clean-energy targets as some of the evidence against it.
It highlights the BCA’s push for the Government to support gas as part of the energy transition, that it has opposed renewable-energy policies in favour of “technology-neutral” policies and lobbied against state-based renewables targets.
The report notes the Minerals Council of Australia is the “single largest negative influence on Australian climate-related policy”, while the BCA was named as the fourth biggest drag.
This is perhaps surprising given the BCA states publicly: “We support the need for a market-based carbon price to drive the transition and incentivise investment in low and no-emissions technology.”
It also says it supports the science of climate change, the Paris Agreement, and investment in technology to get Australia to a net-zero-emissions future.
But the InfluenceMap report finds, despite the positive public statements it has made, the group’s actions show it “continues to oppose Paris-aligned climate policy”.
Shareholder pressure ramping up
The report comes as activists and shareholder groups increase their pressure on companies, demanding boards take a more active approach to reducing emissions and review the lobby groups they belong to.
As a result of shareholder pressure, BHP has reviewed its membership of organisations such as the BCA and MCA every year since 2017.
Just last month, BHP announced new global climate policy standards, including national emissions reduction targets consistent with the Paris Agreement, and further scrutiny of its lobby group membership.
It faces a vote at its annual general meeting on a recommendation the mining giant suspends memberships of industry associations that have advocated for COVID-19 economic stimulus measures inconsistent with the Paris Agreement’s goals.
BHP’s board has not endorsed the item, stating: “It does not take account of recent changes to BHP’s approach to industry associations.” The mining giant is aiming to make changes from within the tent.
In August it adopted policy positions, including net-zero emissions by 2050, and indicated it expected its positions to be reflected by associations it was a member of.
However, “the Big Australian” fares poorly in InfluenceMap’s analysis.
“BHP has done a lot on the transparency front recently and I’m sure investors will see that as a positive step, but this assessment is really looking at them and their impact,” report author Edward Collins told ABC’s The Business.
“So that ranking for BHP is really coming from the fact that they have the largest network of links to industry associations that we judge to be the most negatively influential in Australia and, although we factor in the fact that they have distanced themselves from some of those positions, they’ve still come out as the worst in our analysis due to the strength and number of those links.”
As with BHP, Rio Tinto is also facing shareholder pressure, as is Woodside Energy, which is Australia’s largest oil and gas producer.
COVID-19 response highlights transparency problems
The analysis does not include the policy response to the pandemic and, in particular, the “gas-led recovery” pushed by energy sector veterans Nev Power and Andrew Liveris, who sit on the Federal Government’s hand-picked economic advisory panel.
Mr Collins said the Government’s urgent response to the need for stimulus out of COVID-19, and the potential for influential lobby groups to direct policy, only increased the need for transparency.
“One thing we are quite keen on is more meaningful transparency measures so external parties can understand the relationships between companies and government policy institutions and how these influences are taking place,” he said.
“It would hopefully make our job redundant in the future.”
InfluenceMap’s 2019 report found Australian representative groups featured disproportionately among the world’s most damaging lobbyists on climate.
According to a consortium of science institutes behind the Climate Action Tracker, Australia is headed for an 8 per cent increase in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, which would be aligned with global a temperature increase between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius if replicated globally.