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Analysis of industry association engagement with EU climate policy suggests a significant disconnect between industry lobbying and science-based policy pathways towards net-zero emissions, as articulated by bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Groups representing transport and heavy industry sectors are found to be particularly negative and are pushing back on key parts of the European Commission’s “Fit for 55" package – a broad set of policy reforms to be tabled in July 2021 to bring Europe’s current climate framework in line with the bloc’s 55% GHG target for 2030. Both the IPCC's 2018 report on 1.5°C warming and the International Energy Agency’s 2021 analysis on hitting 1.5°C clearly highlight the importance of short-term targets and policies to deliver net-zero by the middle of the century.
These groups are funded by some of Europe’s largest corporations including Volkswagen Group, LafargeHolcim, TotalEnergies, Repsol, and ArcelorMittal, all of whom are now touting net-zero targets for climate, as well as supporting climate science and the UNFCCC process in the run-up to COP26. This disconnect between top-line corporate rhetoric and the lobbying actions of industry groups puts the EU's efforts to align its climate policy agenda with the Paris Agreement’s goals at risk.
The research includes a survey of 216 industry associations which shows that, despite almost universal support for raising the bloc’s long term climate ambitions to net-zero by 2050, a large proportion of industry disagreed on the need for an accompanying acceleration in short-term action to implement this goal, subsequently upped from 40% to 55% emission reductions by 2030.
Deeper research covering a group of 20 key industry associations’ recent engagement with the EU Commission’s Fit for 55 package shows that the power sector has evolved into a leading advocate of an ambitious European climate agenda, with Eurelectric, the utility sector’s primary representative at the EU level, supported by highly progressive, renewables-focused groups such as WindEurope.
At the other end of the spectrum, industry associations representing transportation sectors are found to be most misaligned with the EU Commission’s attempts to implement the Paris Agreement’s goals. Airlines For Europe and the European Community Shipowners' Associations (ECSA) have been actively lobbying to delay or weaken efforts to include their sectors in EU- level regulations on climate. Other industrial sector representatives including automotive (ACEA), cement (CEMBUREAU), chemicals (Cefic), refining (FuelsEurope) and steel (Eurofer) have warmed to additional government support to roll out zero and low carbon technologies, but continue to represent powerful blockages to tougher regulatory approaches proposed by the Commission to accelerate sluggish sectoral emission reductions.
The research finds that opposition to near term regulatory ambition on climate from European industry associations is commonly communicated in conjunction with claims that accelerated, unilateral climate action threatens European business competitiveness. Such claims appear to contradict the Commission's stated intention to deliver “modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy” via the green deal, whilst achieving climate neutrality in line with the bloc’s Paris Commitments. This misalignment is likely to be a cause for concern among companies, represented by these associations, that support the Commission's new growth strategy.
Such concerns are likely to be particularly focused towards cross-sector industry associations including BusinessEurope, along with powerful national level groups in France (MEDEF), Germany (BDI), Spain (CEOE) and Italy (Confindustria) which were also found to be largely unsupportive of the EU Commission’s attempts to tighten European climate regulations to help deliver the bloc’s 2030 emission targets. These associations have members from a wider range of sectors, but appear to adopt the ‘lowest common denominator’ positions of industrial interests most at risk from accelerated climate policy action. They represent a significant obstacle to delivering Europe’s 2030 climate goals due to their ability to represent these positions on behalf of industry at large.
Far greater pressure from investors, governments and companies to encourage European industry to align their lobbying strategies with science-based pathways for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 is now likely. Industry association lobbying alignment is already a key climate concern for investors. Shareholder resolutions filed on this issue have become the most popular among the climate-relevant resolution universe monitored by InfluenceMap, and it is a key element of the Climate Action 100+ program.
Further action may also be considered by regulators. A recent report from the OECD, Lobbying in the 21st Century: Transparency, Integrity, and Access, recognized the ‘lowest common denominator' trend and warned that it “runs the risk of distorting policy development, as it presents policymakers with a position that appears to represent the full membership of an industry association, but only represents a small minority of interests.” The report then states that "it may be necessary to go further and introduce disclosure requirements, so that industry associations make policymakers aware of positions that represent only some of their members."