THE BLOG
01/28/2014 02:58 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2014

Tricks of the Trade That Block Climate Change Progress

I recently attended the 2014 Investor Summit on Climate Risk at the United Nations, along with more than 500 other financial leaders, most of them members of the Investor Network on Climate Risk. At that meeting, Ceres, the Summit's organizer, released the Clean Trillion report calling on investors to scale-up clean energy investment to at least $1 trillion by 2030. This is the level of investment that the International Energy Agency estimates will be needed to keep additional global warming below the 2-degree Celsius threshold, beyond which the impact of climate change is judged catastrophic. While the goal is achievable, it will be challenging.

One of the things that makes the Clean Trillion more challenging is the amount of money that goes from corporate coffers into politics, aimed at blocking any constructive action on climate and energy policy. Much of this is so-called dark money, spending that is difficult or impossible to trace to an ultimate corporate sponsor. Last week the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a new report, "Tricks of the Trade: How companies anonymously influence climate policy through their business and trade associations." The UCS report examined company responses to the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) to see whether companies were replying accurately to the question on whether they were members of groups that might "directly or indirectly influence climate policy." UCS looked for disclosure of memberships in four groups that actively oppose limits on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other constructive action on climate policy: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Petroleum Institute and the Edison Electric Institute. Less than half of the companies that were members of the boards of these four organizations disclosed those memberships. UCS reports that, even though CDP sent its annual questionnaire to 44 of the companies that are board members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, only one company (UPS) disclosed that board membership. It is no excuse that the person who filled out the CDP questionnaire didn't know whether any of their company's memberships were in groups that opposed policy action on climate change. The CDP questionnaire specifically linked to a previous UCS report giving straightforward guidance on how to ascertain this information.

Interestingly, several of the companies that did disclose their board memberships in the four organizations opposing constructive climate policy noted that they disagreed with the groups' positions on climate change. UCS frames this disconnect brilliantly, stating, "If companies claim they don't agree with their trade groups' climate position, who are these trade groups representing when they fight against policy action to address climate change?"

Yet fight they do. In 2010, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce even went to the courts to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency's finding that GHG emissions endanger human health and welfare.

The Clean Trillion will have a much better chance of succeeding if it isn't swimming upstream against the flow of public policy on climate change. Congratulations to UCS on this timely and compelling report.