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Part 3: Fossil fuel lobbyists driving climate delay

The 5 biggest oil companies spend US$115 million delaying climate policy, annually.

Following the United Nations Climate Summit (COP26) in November, the environmental campaign group Global Witness reported that 500 lobbyists had been sent to the event by over 100 fossil fuel companies – more than any single country at the summit, including those worst affected by climate change.

Multinational corporations often have the financial means and connections to influence policies and those creating them. For the top carbon dioxide emitting industry, however, doing so can have serious consequences for the environment and the communities in which they operate.

Over the years, the fossil fuel industry has been accused of bribery and lobbying efforts intended to ensure its longevity and prosperity.

As climate change becomes an increasingly pressing issue, activists, scientists, and politicians alike have brought forward concerns of the role the industry may be playing in politics today.


In 2010, an investigation by the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act revealed that Panalpina Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of a global freight forwarding company, paid millions in bribes to foreign government officials on behalf of six major oil companies and their subsidiaries.

These bribes were paid to officials in at least ten countries including Mexico, Nigeria, Angola, Brazil and India, allowing them to bypass local rules and importing regulations, obtain lower tax estimates, and extend drilling contracts.

Five of the companies pled guilty or paid settlements totaling US$236 million. In 2021, these same companies reported roughly US$20B in annual earnings.

Bribery is often found to be a clear-cut form of corruption when the transaction of giving an unearned reward and receiving a benefit is evident.

Lobbyists have been accused of blurring these lines, however. The practice is intended to mobilise communities and help direct politicians to make decisions that are in the best interest of the public, but this also opens up opportunities for special interest groups and powerful members of the private sector to sway policy.

Lobbyists and climate change

In 2021 fossil fuel companies spent over US$115M lobbying for oil and gas, according to Impact Lab, an independent think tank with a focus on the climate crisis.

Lobbying, however, also includes making connections with government officials in addition to these campaign contributions and donations.

In an interview with Greenpeace UK in June 2021, Keith McCoy, now an ex-executive of Exxon Mobil, explained the process by which the oil and gas company goes about forming these:

“[…] You can go to the chief and say […] we need congressman so and so to introduce this bill, we need him to make a floor statement, we need him to send a letter, you name it. We’ve asked for everything.” He went on to list 11 US senators as being “crucial” to Exxon Mobil.

The incentive for engaging in lobbying, according to McCoy, is the need to look out for the company’s interests (e.g., profits) as well as those of its shareholders.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, however, a just energy transition towards a less carbon intensive society is critical to solving climate change. Climate action therefore involves moving away from fossil fuels for the highest greenhouse gas emitting countries.

With this in mind, climate activists are working to bring greater attention to the fossil fuel industry’s attempts to divert legislation away from impactful climate action.