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Greenhouse Market Mania

The USA: The Boldest Offensive

The United States, responsible for 25 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, is the stage for the most aggressive attempts to avoid binding reduction commitments. For years, the US government has fiercely opposed binding targets, effectively holding the intergovernmental negotiations hostage. This has enabled US-based industry groups to be far more aggressive in their lobbying strategies than their European counterparts.

ntil recently, US industry groups attacked climate science in an attempt to avoid or delay binding reductions as much as possible. Masters at the art of disinformation, US companies and their lobby groups poured millions of dollars into PR campaigns denying the existence of climate change, rejecting any 'discernible human influence' in its causes, and generally confusing public, scientific and political opinion. Moreover, they insisted that any binding reduction agreement should also include Southern countries, despite the fact that these nations emit only a fraction of total global greenhouse gases and that the historical responsibility for climate change rests firmly upon the industrialised countries. At the same time, corporate groupings also maintained double standards by lobbying Southern governments to reject environmental obligations, telling them that these would hinder their development and discourage foreign investment.

Since the 1997 Kyoto conference, US lobby groups have focused both on preventing the ratification of the Protocol and simultaneously fighting against any restriction or 'cap' in the use of the flexible mechanisms - seeking to secure a 'win-win' situation for industry no matter what happens. The most hard-line corporate groups, such as the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), the Business Roundtable (BRT) and the American Petroleum Institute (API) still openly deny the very existence of climate change and oppose the Kyoto Protocol up-front. These groups even oppose the common industry demand for the recognition of 'early action', which would grant companies emissions credits for the reductions achieved before the first commitment period (2008), as this would help to legitimise the Kyoto Protocol. Other groups have chosen a slightly less confrontational approach, and focus their efforts on taking advantage of the flexible mechanisms. All groups actively promote voluntary action by industry, in particular the development of new technologies, as the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

US industry has been very successful in blocking the Kyoto Protocol's ratification at home - thanks also to its close ties to US decision-makers. In 1998, the US Senate passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution by a vote of 95-0, which states that the United States should not be signatory to any protocol that excludes Southern countries from legally binding commitments or that causes serious harm to the US economy.

The GCC: Still Going Strong

The most outspoken and confrontational US-based lobby group battling the climate agreement and reduction commitments has been the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), created in 1989 by the infamous PR company Burson-Marsteller. Over the past several years, the GCC has waged an extensive, multi-million dollar disinformation campaign. Its questionable tactics have included fuelling public scepticism through the creation and promotion of scientifically dubious glossy reports featuring dire warnings about mass unemployment resulting from CO2 emissions reductions. Its members attend climate negotiations meetings en masse, and demand that Southern countries also commit to reductions.

The GCC also funds and promotes scientists and 'experts' who deny the very existence of climate change or its human induced causes. This is a common tactic used by US industry in the climate debate, and involves investing large sums in supporting 'scientists' sceptical of global warning to counter well-reviewed evidence put forward by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other legitimate experts. In addition to taking part in extensive speakers tours across the nation, GCC-funded sceptics have testified as 'experts' in state and federal legislatures. In 1998, a leaked document revealed that the GCC, together with other groups such as the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Business Roundtable (BRT), was planning to spend US$6 million in a two-year campaign to further undermine public confidence in climate science. Many of the more (in)famous climate sceptics had by then been exposed and confronted by environmental groups, so industry needed new faces. The plan included the recruitment and training of five scientists to engage in GCC PR campaigns attacking climate science. [114]

In the aftermath of Kyoto, which the GCC described as "unilateral economic disarmament" [115] for the United States, the coalition has focused on campaigning against US ratification of the Protocol. While still rejecting climate science, the GCC is also warning that ratification would lead to economic disaster. "Unrealistic targets and timetables, such as those called for under the Kyoto Protocol, are not achievable without severely harming the US economy and all American families, workers, seniors and children," the GCC warns. [116] The group has released four reports on the economic impacts of the agreement. Again though, industry double standards are at play. The GCC's hard-line stance has not prevented it from joining the corporate choir in supporting the unlimited use of the flexible mechanisms, and the promotion of voluntary action by industry as the best solution. This summer, the group presented its third annual inventory of voluntary actions taken by industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a conference co-organised with the US Chamber of Commerce.

The GCC's influential role, its hard-line stance, and its questionable tactics have made it the target of environmental campaigns over the past few years. Initially, campaigns focused on individual corporate members, particularly on European oil companies, resulting in some prominent corporations (and notably those that are the most sensitive about their image) leaving the coalition - BP Amoco in 1996 and Shell in 1998. In December 1999, Ford dropped out and was soon followed by Daimler-Chrysler, Southern Company, Texaco and General Motors, all of which left in the first three months of 2000. In an attempt to explain the cause of this exodus, the GCC announced that it no longer admitted individual companies as members in order to "bring the focus of the climate debate back to the real issues." Current GCC members include the American Petroleum Institute, the US Chamber of Commerce, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, the National Mining Association and the National Association of Manufacturers. Many of the corporations that left the GCC continue to be active members in these groups, and as a result are de facto still members of the GCC.

The American Petroleum Institute

The American Petroleum Institute (API) makes extensive use of very questionable methods to deny climate science. Its membership includes major oil corporations such as BP Amoco, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, TotalFinaElf, Texaco, and Chevron. API has also jumped on the bandwagon of promoting industry voluntary action as the way to reduce greenhouse gases emissions. "The debate is not over action or inaction, but over what kind of action is justified by our state of knowledge." [117] While always stressing scientific uncertainty around climate change, the API claims huge negative impacts will hit the US economy as a result of the Kyoto Protocol. API warns of rising prices on gasoline and electricity, over 2.4 million jobs lost and an average income decrease of US$2,700 per US household.

The Institute also cynically argues against taking action against climate change since "our actions in the next 10 or 15 years will have little impact on the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere in the year 2050 or 2100." [118] "We should be patient," sums up API's do-nothing approach. Representatives from the Institute regularly meet policy makers, attend UN negotiations, and organise conferences and media campaigns in which the oil and gas industry is portrayed as highly responsible and eager to take action to reduce greenhouse gases through voluntary action.

Another example of the API's cynical exploitation of any available argument to prevent binding CO2 reduction commitments is its double standards with regards to Southern countries. In its efforts to obstruct the UN negotiations as well as in its attempts to block ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, the API demands that Southern governments commit to reduction targets as well. The alternative, the API claims, is massive job losses in the US as industry is 'forced' to relocate to countries with more business-friendly climate policies - an argument that has won the ear of many a US member of Congress and which led to the overwhelming support for the Byrd-Hagel resolution. [119] At the same time, the API has lobbied Southern governments to reject binding reduction commitments. At the October 1997 World Petroleum Congress in Beijing, the API's Lee Raymond and Chair of US oil giant Exxon encouraged Asian governments to continue to fight emissions regulations for at least the next two decades. Raymond warned that Southern countries would lose foreign investment if binding targets were adopted at the upcoming Kyoto conference.

The Business Roundtable

The US-based Business Roundtable (BRT), comprised of the CEOs of more than 200 large corporations including BP Amoco, Chevron, DaimlerChrysler, ExxonMobil, Ford, General Motors, Royal Dutch Shell and Texaco, has pursued multiple strategies in the climate debate. The BRT, a well-established actor in the US political arena that enjoys privileged access to US policy makers, is not a single-issue group working on climate issues. Its focus is rather the promotion of deregulated trade and investment regimes and policies that benefit US corporations domestically and abroad. It is for this reason that the BRT joined the GCC and the API in the climate battle. In June 1997, the BRT launched a million-dollar advertising campaign on climate change that urged the US administration not to rush into restrictive policy commitments. In October 1998, it sponsored the 'Conference on Global Climate Science', which concluded that it will take much longer before the full facts about climate change can be understood. The BRT also published a report in 1998, 'The Kyoto Protocol - A Gap Analysis', which besides harping on the uncertainty of existing science, focused on developing countries having to make commitments and demanded an unlimited use of the flexible mechanisms and carbon sinks. In June 1999, the BRT published the report 'Trade and Industry Impacts of the Kyoto Protocol', which claimed that unless developing countries take on similar reduction commitments, US trade and competitiveness will be severely harmed, and predicted GDP losses of over US$60 billion per year from 2010.

The Roundtable has made large donations to the Democratic Party (more than US$11 million in 1996) and a total disbursement of US$57 million to members of Congress during the past two elections. [120] It has successfully pushed for the removal of various regulatory, trade and tax measures that it claims hinder technological innovation. [121] The US Senate has recently passed two bills that remove such barriers in order to encourage voluntary action by industry as the solution to climate change. [122] Not surprisingly, the main forces behind the new legislation are the very same Senators who call for non-ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.

The BRT has by no means neglected the international climate negotiations. It holds regular sessions with US negotiators and keeps in touch in between. Since COP-4 in Buenos Aires in 1998, the BRT has promoted the general industry demand of unlimited restrictions on the use of the flexible mechanisms to meet domestic targets. One letter, addressed to top US negotiator Stuart Eizenstat and spelling out the Roundtable's demands for the Buenos Aires climate summit was leaked to Friends of the Earth. Among other things, the message bluntly instructs the US delegation not to accept limits on emissions trading, suggesting that 80 per cent or more of the national commitment could be met in this way. The BRT also demanded full commitment by Southern countries, particularly China and India which currently emit only 1/20th of the amount of carbon released by the United States. The letter openly admits that, "participation in full global trading actually puts Southern countries at a competitive disadvantage." [123] The letter also warns of the danger of loss of competitiveness with the EU if the use of the Kyoto market-based `solutions' is limited. "The more restrictions on trading, the more Europe improves its competitive position, which is probably not a surprise to you and your delegation who are veterans in dealing with the EEC." [124]


The US Council for International Business (USCIB) is the US branch of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). Just like the BRT, climate change is not the USCIB's main field of work, but it has been remarkably active on the issue. Its membership includes the Global Climate Coalition and the American Petroleum Institute, as well as other trade associations with vested interests in the maintenance of a fossil-fuel based economy such as the American Plastics Council, the National Mining Association, the Aluminium Association and the Chemical Manufacturers Association. Individual companies such as BP Amoco, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Ford, General Motors, 3M, Monsanto, Royal Dutch Shell and Texaco are also active members of the Council.

The link with the more internationally focused ICC has forced the USCIB to use a more diplomatic approach than other US groups, but it still maintains a tougher stand than the ICC's official position. The group's self-stated goals in the climate debate are, of course, to promote industry self-regulation and the flexible mechanisms and to "call upon the Clinton Administration to reserve ratification of the Kyoto Protocol until developing countries accept greenhouse gas reduction commitments, economic harm to the US is minimised and economic flexibility issues are satisfactorily resolved." [125] The USCIB's demands for COP-6 mirror other industry goals for unlimited application of the flexible mechanisms. It pays special attention to the climate debate in the international arena, supporting ICC delegations and liasing with US government delegations. It also co-chairs the Business and Industry Advisory Council (BIAC) Working Group on Climate Change, which advises the influential Organisation for Economic and Development Cooperation (OECD) - a club of 29 of the most industrialised countries.

A Shift in Strategy

The introduction of the market-based mechanisms in the Kyoto Protocol reflects the increasing dominance of free-market ideology in global political, economic and environmental discourse. As such, some of the US corporate groups and initiatives around climate issues have undergone a gradual shift in strategy. Some of the traditional trenches for the fossil-fuel industry are either disintegrating, such as the Global Climate Coalition, or disappearing entirely, such as the Global Climate Information Project (GCIP) and the Information Council for the Environment (ICE).

The GCIP was formerly an enormous industry coalition run by PR firm Shandwick, and consisting of groups such as the American Petroleum Institute, the American Plastics Council, and mining and trade unions, including the United Mine Workers of America and the AFL-CIO. In September of 1997, the GCIP launched a US$13 million dollar advertising campaign designed to spread misinformation about climate change. One series of ads portrayed the GCIP as global environmentalists concerned about growing CO2 emissions in the South and stressing the unfairness of exempting these countries from binding commitments.

The ICE, created in 1991 by a coalition including the National Coal Association, the Western Fuel Association and the Edison Electrical Institute, is managed by PR firm Bracy Williams. The ICE invested US$500,000 in an advertising blitz that sought to, "reposition global warming as theory (not fact)." [126] One if its members, coal company Western Fuel Association, produced its own US$250,000 video, 'The Greening of Planet Earth', which argues that one of the benefits of climate change would be an extended growing season.

Some US companies have ascertained for themselves that some kind of emissions reduction controls are unavoidable. These same companies also anticipate that major profits can be made from carbon trading and the resulting carbon economy. This recognition has resulted in the emergence of new alliances that embrace these so-called 'win-win' solutions and cultivate an image of willingness to cooperate with governments in the fight against climate change. However, most companies have chosen to belong to all kind of groups, resulting in intricate and sometimes contradictory web of corporate membership to lobby groups.

The Pew Center: the next generation

Examples of the new generation of corporate groupings include the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and the 'Safe Climate, Sound Business' initiative. The Pew Center was created in April 1998 by former US climate negotiator Eileen Claussen. Claussen summed up the main benefits of joining the new club: "Joining Pew gives companies credibility, and credibility means political access and influence." [127] Mainstream environmental organisations have helped some companies to gain legitimacy in the climate debate, for instance through 'Safe Climate, Sound Business'. Created in October 1998, this coalition brings together a large NGO, the World Resources Institute, and corporations such as BP Amoco, Monsanto and General Motors. Together they promote industry voluntary action as the way forward in the climate crisis.

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