It’s an increasingly common occurrence in Brussels. You receive an invite to an important political debate about climate change, hosted by a renowned media organisation, with some top political speakers. And then you scroll down to see Shell or another big polluter has sponsored the content, and is given a guest speaking spot.
Increasingly, it seems that political discussion in the EU is framed and sponsored by big business.
Here’s why this is a problem.
We are facing a climate emergency. Communities and people are already feeling the impacts of climate chaos, with record storms, droughts, and fires – hitting the global South hardest. The gas, oil and coal industry’s core business is still, despite the glossy publicity, heating the planet and destroying communities.
Fossil fuel lobbyists have worked relentlessly for decades to deny science, delay, weaken, and sabotage climate action, and to protect their profits - tactics that have been and continue to be devastatingly effective. Climate action is falling far short of what’s needed.
For the fossil fuel industry, image is everything. Being seen as a legitimate partner and part of the solution to the climate crisis is key. That’s why you see the fossil fuel industry spending hundreds of millions on their advertising, and claiming to support climate goals.
Unfortunately, their actions and investments speak differently. They plan to continue exploiting and selling fossil fuels for decades to come, delaying real climate action by using the flawed net-zero emissions goal to sell their list of “false solutions”, like fossil gas or carbon capture and storage, which just allows them to keep drilling more oil and gas.
One very influential lobby tactic from the fossil fuel industry is to organise and/or sponsor high profile events on climate and energy topics, in order to gain credibility and influence, and to look like part of the solution.
Some of these events are organised in partnership with media outlets, and feature high level decision-makers - lending them even more credibility, while giving them guaranteed access to political decision-makers in Brussels and beyond.
If you’re sponsoring the event, helping set the question, and speaking on the high-level panel, you are buying the ability to frame the bounds of acceptable climate debate in Brussels and to avoid having your legitimacy come into question.
Decision-makers have the heavy responsibility of resolutely tackling the climate emergency in the interest of people and the environment - not listening to the fossil fuel industry.
On Wednesday 5 May, POLITICO is hosting a public debate, “Energy Visions: Fit for 55 - How will the EU move towards climate neutrality ?” This is one of several energy and climate debates sponsored by Shell.
According to the organisers, the 5 May Energy Visions event provides Shell with “a unique opportunity to tell their story to POLITICO’s influential and diverse audience,” including three high-profile European climate policy-makers who appear on the panel. Shell’s opening remarks will be delivered without space for contradictory debate on the company’s positions. The whole debate will take place under the aegis of Shell and its ubiquitous logo.
Shell is Europe’s leading fossil fuel company and a significant author of today’s climate destruction. Despite its greenwashing discourse, we know that Shell was planning to develop more than 35 new oil and gas projects by 2025. Shell also has a disastrous human rights record in Nigeria and is involved in court cases. The company spends a tremendous amount of money to influence EU legislation. It spent nearly 5 million euros in lobbying in 2020 alone and, together with its lobby groups, has on average more than two meetings a week with high level commission officials. They also lobbied the EU during the Covid crisis in order to profit from recovery money. Sponsoring media outlets to organise seemingly public debates (at high cost) is part of its strategy of winning influence in Brussels.
This event is a prime example of the fossil fuel industry buying influence in Brussels. It is inappropriate for policy makers committed to tackling the climate emergency to agree to share a platform with Shell (or any other fossil fuel company). The Fossil Free Politics coalition have asked the speakers, MEPs and Mr. Samson, to decline to participate, without success.
NGOs are starting to widely refuse to participate in such events - to avoid legitimising the fossil fuel voice in climate and energy policies. But so far, we see few politicians questioning their own presence.
Responses from politicians to our letters asking them to withdraw state the importance of the participation of all stakeholders. The reality is that the fossil fuel industry already has disproportionate access to decision makers and consultation bodies. The democratic process suffers when the fossil fuel industry captures debate and decision making on energy and our climate.
It’s time decision makers listen more to citizens and organisations defending the public interest, and stop dealing with the world’s biggest polluters.
The Fossil Free Politics coalition is open to any organisation that is striving for EU and national level decision-making free from undue influence by the fossil fuel lobby. Sign on to our civil society statement here, or get in touch with us directly.
We demand a firewall between policy makers and the fossil fuel lobby - and that officials do not participate in events with or sponsored by the fossil fuel industry.
We can no longer afford to let the fossil fuel industry undermine our democracy and worsen climate chaos.
We need fossil free politics now.