Australia’s peak oil and gas industry lobby group spent almost $4 million last year trying to “obstruct” more ambitious climate change policy, according to British research group InfluenceMap.
It was part of an overall $150 million spent globally in 2015 by five major oil companies and lobby groups.
The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) represents the domestic oil and gas industry and counts among its 70 members giant companies such as Woodside, Shell Australia and Chevron Australia.
According to the analysis, InfluenceMap estimated that APPEA spent about $5.5 million on climate-related advocacy in 2015 though expenditure on staff, public campaigns, advertising and other external public relations.
InfluenceMap then made an assessment of the position, tone and transparency of this work. They determined about $3.9 million of it went towards what they described as “obstructive spending”.
InfluenceMap took its definition of advocacy from a 2013 United Nations report that included activities beyond direct approaches to government, such as advertising, public relations, political contributions and industry group memberships.
The report cited APPEA’s support for less-stringent emissions targets, lobbying to remove Australia’s renewable energy target and its argument that the Turnbull government’s greenhouse gas “safeguard mechanism” should apply only to emissions above business as usual levels, as examples of its opposition to climate policies.
The report also points to consultation, messaging and two publicity campaigns by APPEA “to put pressure on policy makers to support unrestricted conventional & unconventional oil and gas production”.
APPEA’s chief executive Malcolm Roberts rejected the study, saying its claims were incorrect and the organisation had not been approached to give input during its preparation.
“The report reflects an extremist view that supporting a role for natural gas in the future energy mix is obstructionism. This is plainly ridiculous,” Dr Roberts said.
“Gas remains integral to a low-carbon economy and increasing its use can deliver immediate and substantial carbon savings.”
He added that APPEA accepted the goals contained in last year’s Paris climate agreement, as reflected in its climate change policy principles. Under the Paris Accord countries have agreed to keep global temperatures below an average two degrees, and lower if possible.
“APPEA supports climate change policies that deliver emissions reductions at least cost and facilitate broad-based investment decisions consistent with there being an international price on carbon,” Dr Roberts said.
The negative climate advocacy by APPEA calculated by InfluenceMap is a tiny fraction of the estimates it has produced for other major oil players that are assessed in the report.
It says ExxonMobil may have spent $35 million in 2015, while Shell may have spent $29 million.
Alongside APPEA, the report also looked at the spending of two United States industry bodies, the American Petroleum Institute and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), finding negative climate advocacy spending of $85 million and $8 million respectively.
Charlotte Wood, campaigns director of anti-fossil fuels group 350.org Australia, said: “It is astounding that in the 21st century, when we know the scientific consequences of burning fossil fuels, that Australian oil and gas companies have still spent almost $4 million dollars to undermine consensus on climate change.”
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