Leading Australian companies are “talking the talk” on climate but failing to follow through on green commitments, posing a threat to national climate targets, researchers say.
Data on corporate and peak body lobbying on climate policy found most misrepresent their corporate agenda with “pro-climate PR”, according to independent think tank InfluenceMap.
In a report released on Monday, researchers analysed the climate policy engagement of the 70 largest companies active in Australia and the 25 most influential industry associations.
“Most of Corporate Australia has perfected the art of double-speak on climate,” lead author Jack Herring said.
Companies and industry bodies appear to be trying to avoid scrutiny for their real agenda on climate policy by making positive high-level statements.
“But our research shows many of these statements are not followed through with tangible support for climate policy,” he said.
Federal Labor’s plans remain misaligned with Paris Agreement climate goals, according to the Corporate Climate Policy Engagement in Australia report.
The international treaty on climate change requires signatories including Australia to make an effort to limit temperature increase to 1.5C and – by 2025 – to update the nation’s contribution to global 2035 target.
Already, Australia’s 2030 emissions target is inconsistent with that carbon speed limit, according to the independent science-based Climate Action Tracker, with global temperature rises projected to reach up to 3C were all countries to follow Australia’s approach.
Further, researchers found corporate influence seems to be a major reason for a lack of climate ambition from the latest federal government.
“The loudest corporates are those advocating for a continued role for fossil fuels that does not reflect scientific guidance,” Mr Herring said.
“Such advocacy represents a significant threat to Australia’s ability to achieve its climate targets,” he said.
The research also pointed to evidence of an emerging trend of “net-zero greenwash”, a term coined by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in 2022, amid fears progress was being undermined by false claims and ambiguity.
Independent senator David Pocock said companies such as Santos and Woodside say they’re aiming for net-zero emissions while continuing to progress new fossil fuel developments.
“These two things can’t be true. We also know this extends to their lobbying behind the scenes,” he said.
Senator Pocock cited “evidence” that Santos influenced the government’s decision to introduce a “sea dumping” bill.
The law passed in November with the support of the coalition will allow the export and transportation of carbon across national borders, which Labor said was crucial to helping unlock $30 billion worth of investment.
Gas companies including Woodside, Inpex and Santos needed the legislation passed to meet climate targets, as they plan to pump emissions into a sub-seabed rock formations or depleted wells for long-term storage.
Energy hungry South Korea and Japan also want to invest in carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects here and in the Timor Sea.
Santos is backing future carbon management services to the Asia Pacific region and working with the Timor-Leste and Australian governments to make it happen.
A carbon storage hub under the Timor Sea for customers in Australia and Asia is a “safe, proven technology that is absolutely critical to achieving the world’s climate goals”, according to Santos.
Senator Pocock said this will allow exports of emissions “under the guise of carbon capture and storage” so gas companies can continue to expand their operations.
The research from InfluenceMap helps shine a light on which companies are serious about emissions reductions and which ones are just “talking the talk while actively lobbying against climate action”, he said.
“These companies are putting the future of the people and places we love at risk,” the ACT senator said.
The study analysed 179 public consultation responses to 10 climate and energy-related policies during the Albanese government’s first year in office.
Of the “unsupportive responses”, 81 per cent were from the energy or mining sector, including Origin Energy opposition to mandatory national energy efficiency targets and the Minerals Council opposing a climate trigger in environmental laws.
Also called out in the report over possible “pro-fossil fuel advocacy”, were gas giant Woodside Energy, Australia’s biggest emitter AGL Energy, multinationals BP and Shell, and mining heavyweights BHP, Rio Tinto and Whitehaven Coal.
The investor-led Carbon Market Institute and rebadged Australian Energy Producers – formerly known as the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, or APPEA – were top of the list amongst industry bodies.
These “vested interests” in the fossil fuel sector were also much more active in lobbying government than other industries, InfluenceMap said
During the same period, federal Labor gave the green light to Santos’ coal seam gas expansion in Queensland’s Surat Basin, offshore oil and gas exploration across almost 47,000 square kilometres of Australian waters, and an Isaac River metallurgical coal mine.
Only 35 per cent of companies and industry associations coupled corporate messaging on climate action with actual support for federal climate policy in business activities.
More recently, Woodside has been a key voice in the development of the federal government’s Future Gas Strategy as the industry pushes for a “transition” role for the fossil fuel amid global decarbonisation.
Australia has the natural resources to support “renewable and non-renewable energy developments” that Woodside says will be needed as populations increase and energy consumption rises.
“But we must get the policy settings right to embrace the opportunities presented by a strong Australian gas industry,” Woodside said in its submission released in January.
Persephone Fraser, senior analyst at Australian Ethical Investment, said the dominance of the fossil fuel voice in climate policy was a critical concern of responsible investors.
Many other businesses, investors and the community want to benefit from effective climate policy that limits global warming consistent with the Paris Agreement, she said.
“We need science-based climate policy, and we need to hear voices from across the economy talking to government about what they stand to lose if we don’t limit warming,” Ms Fraser said.
(Australian Associated Press)