‘Both sides of the ball’: Firms road-blocking climate reforms despite net-zero pledges

New analysis shows corporate Australia isn't walking the talk on climate.

New analysis shows corporate Australia isn't walking the talk on climate. Photo: TND

Some of Australia’s largest corporations have been accused of “playing both sides of the ball” on climate change, with new analysis revealing a huge gap between their rhetoric and actions.

A report published on Monday by think tank InfluenceMap found that while 87 per cent of the biggest firms and industry groups in Australia say they support climate action, only 35 per cent actually supported progressive climate policy in recent government consultations.

Fossil fuel giants like Woodside and Santos, as well as electricity retailers such as Energy Australia and Origin, are all at risk of “net-zero greenwashing” practices, the report found.

InfluenceMap’s Australian lead Jack Herring said despite delivering a pro-climate message to investors and customers, many large companies are still actively preventing government action.

That includes efforts from the Albanese government to reform the safeguard mechanism and the implementation of a national electric vehicle strategy – two key planks of Labor’s climate agenda.

“It’s one thing to come out in support of the Paris Agreement or net zero by 2050,” Herring said.

“But there’s inconsistency and hypocrisy for there not to be additional support for climate policies that are needed to achieve these targets.

“They’re able to play both sides of the ball.”

No companies aligned with Paris

The analysis pored over public consultations on climate policy to examine how companies are seeking to influence government decision making, revealing cases where firms oppose or seek to water down reforms – all while telling the public that they support climate action.

It found the energy and mining sectors are by far the most involved on climate policy, which Herring said was concerning because these companies have a financial interest in fossil fuels continuing to be part of the economy, despite Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warnings.

Analysis of 179 responses from 68 companies showed 43 per cent were unsupportive of climate-related reforms and promoted positions against government targets or IPCC advice.

And despite all having made net-zero pledges, not a single company included in the analysis was found to be engaging with policy in a way that’s aligned to delivering Paris Agreement targets.

Woodside and Santos, for example, are among the most engaged in climate policy consultation but achieved among the worst scores for their alignment with scientific consensus on the crisis.

“Companies and industry associations are free to say what they will in regards to their climate commitments,” Herring said.

Greenwashing risk widespread

Many companies are at risk of falling foul of a new United Nations standard for “net-zero greenwashing”, according to the report, which scored firms on a scale between A and F.

A total 10 of the 15 most engaged companies on climate policy in Australia over Labor’s first year in federal office were rated as “at risk” of falling foul of the standard by InfluenceMap.

Fossil fuel giants such as Santos (D-) and Whitehaven Coal (E+) scored particularly poorly and were rated at “significant risk” of engaging in net-zero greenwashing.

These companies were either unsupportive of key areas of climate policy or totally misaligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement, despite each having made pledges about net zero.

Other companies such as Energy Australia (C-) and Origin Energy (C-)  performed slightly better but were still rated at risk, the InfluenceMap analysis found.

These ratings indicate that these companies are supportive in some areas of climate policy, while being opposed in others.

In terms of industry associations, which advocate for many companies that do not appear by name in the report, Australian Energy Producers (E+) and the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (D+) were standouts as poor performers.

Need for pro-climate voices

Herring said that tougher regulations are needed around what companies are allowed to say about their green credentials, which is particularly important because public consultation is where the rubber hits the road on key government plans like electric vehicles and grid changes.

But the analysis also makes the point that corporations and industries aligned with climate goals must play a larger role in policy consultations to drive a more balanced debate in government.

“InfluenceMap’s research of corporate climate policy engagement during the Labor government’s first year in office finds evidence of much higher engagement from vested fossil fuel interests compared to other sectors,” the report said.

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