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Global carmakers are among the leading opponents of action on the climate crisis, according to exclusive analysis of the way major corporations frustrate or undermine initiatives to cut greenhouse gases.
The research for the Guardian reveals that while the automotive industry releases public statements that support climate initiatives, such as increased electrification, it has been pouring millions of dollars through industry bodies into lobbying efforts to challenge attempts to tackle global heating in the past four years.
This is despite repeated warnings that the planet is in the grip of a global climate emergency.
The evidence was gathered by assessing each company’s size and lobbying activities. Researchers assessed tens of thousands of statements, policy announcements and lobbying campaigns by the 250 biggest investor-owned industrial corporations and trade associations.
The research revealed that since 2015, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Daimler, BMW, Toyota and General Motors have been among the strongest opponents of regulations to help countries meet the 1.5C warming limit in the Paris agreement.
In the four years since then, lobbying from the car industry in the US and Europe has attempted to block, delay and frustrate initiatives to regulate and reduce emissions from the transport sector – which is responsible for 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions – and slow the move to electric vehicles, the report says.
Edward Collins, author of The Carbon Policy Footprint, said: “Corporations have a profound impact on the climate change agenda not only through physical emissions but through influencing of the climate change policy agendas being introduced by governments around the world.
“The sector has dug in hard to dampen rising vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards. Through their lobbying, auto companies have delayed the transition of a sector that sucks up a huge proportion of oil demand globally.”
The Guardian contacted all the named car companies and their responses are set out here. Most said they were committed to reducing emissions and moving their fleets to lower-emission models but the transition had to take into account other factors including market realities, customer preference, and infrastructure development.
Ford denied it was pushing for a rollback of emissions standards in the US. It pointed to its recent agreement with California to increase gas mileage standards and reduce emissions.
InfluenceMap identified 33 corporations as the strongest opponents of action to reduce climate change. Six of them were car companies, and the rest primarily oil and gas companies as well as energy firms.
The lobbying efforts are revealed as countries increasingly set targets to phase out new sales of cars with internal combustion engines – the Netherlands and Norway by 2025, Germany, India and China by 2030, and France and the UK by 2040.
The influence exerted by the car companies is fronted and aided by industry groups including the US-based Automotive Alliance, as well as Europe’s ACEA (European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association) and the VDA (German Association of the Automotive Industry). These groups all have senior figures from the big car companies on their boards of directors.
Fiat Chrysler was ranked most oppositional to climate change regulations and initiatives, Collins said. The company is a “key player” in the industry’s efforts to weaken US clean car standards, known as CAFE standards, set by Barack Obama, which would almost double the fuel economy of vehicles to an average of 54 miles per gallon by 2025.
Fiat Chrysler has supported a review of the CAFE standards being considered by the president, Donald Trump. Its late CEO, Sergio Marchionne, said last year he was “fully supportive” of the administration’s efforts to revise the standards.
General Motors and Ford have also been key lobbyists through the industry group pushing back against the CAFE standards, while putting out the message in public that they are signed up to the transport transformation required, the report says.
The report acknowledges that Ford recently softened its stance and agreed a compromise in California, but that change of position – after a significant stretch of oppositional lobbying – only marginally impacted on its ranking, which involved analysis since the Paris agreement in 2015.
The California agreement, Collins said, still constituted “a diluted set of standards”.
A spokesperson for Ford said: “We have said multiple times that Ford does not support a rollback of federal emission standards. Additionally, Ford supports CO2 reductions consistent with the Paris climate accord, as we have shared publicly.”
The weakening of the CAFE standards would increase US CO2 emissions by up to 931m metric tonnes between 2022 and 2035 – a sharp rise in global heating that amounts to the annual emissions of 82% of the countries in the world in 2019, according to recent research.
In Europe, the car industry, through the ACEA and the VDA, has continually pushed against new CO2 emissions standards for new vehicles by 2021, and from 2021 to 2030, under the EU clean mobility package.
Average emissions of cars produced by manufacturers must be 95g/km by 2021, with penalties of €95 per g/km, per car, for companies not meeting those targets.
But data from the EU environment watchdog the EEA shows that the car industry is far off the target. CO2 emissions of new cars increased in 2018 by 1.6% to 120.4g/km.
Car industry lobbying in Europe through ACEA successfully shelved a proposed EU mandate on sales of electric cars by 2025 similar to those that operate in California and China.
Julia Poliscanova, the clean vehicles director for the Transport & Environment NGO, said the automotive industry was seeking to eke out the last profits of the traditional engine by frustrating emissions reduction targets and questioning every aspect of electric technology, from expressing apparent concerns about the affordability for consumers to querying if the infrastructure will be in place in time.
“The car industry has always maximised its profits from its existing models and products for as long as is possible to make their money and delay and work around the regulations,” she said.
“They have known for years – since 2013 – the standards coming in on emissions in 2021. They have had years to prepare but they didn’t. Instead they pushed their SUV market, maximised its sales reach to make profits from these high-polluting, high-margin vehicles for as long as possible and now they are scrambling to comply, claiming how difficult it is to meet the targets, but they only have themselves to blame.”
Unilever is ranked the most influential positive company, while Apple and Amazon are also deemed to be among the top positive corporate influencers.
Collins said the majority of the world’s most influential companies remained on the fence about the policies needed to address the climate crisis.
While making PR-friendly comments on climate they do not engage in any way with the regulations being introduced by global governments to meet the Paris agreement, the report says.