Net Zero and the Need for New Leadership in Corporate Climate Advocacy

March 2023


Addressing decades of climate policy obstruction by the fossil fuel sector is emerging as one of the most pressing climate issues.

Understanding the corporate climate policy engagement landscape is important for:

  • Corporations that are repositioning their business and capital investment in response to the climate crisis, which require science-based policy to deliver this transition.

  • Investors for whom corporate climate policy engagement as an indicator of management readiness for the energy transition. Initiatives like the Climate Action 100+ process are demanding governance reforms to ensure companies and their industry associations are aligned with science-based guidance on delivering the Paris Agreement's goals.

  • Voters, of which a significant majority (71%) globally believe companies should support and push governments to act decisively on climate change, as shown in major analysis by polling company GlobeScan in January 2023.

About InfluenceMap

InfluenceMap is a non-profit think tank providing objective and evidence-based analysis of how companies and financial institutions are impacting the climate and biodiversity crises. Our company profiles and other content are used extensively by a range of actors including investors, the media, NGOs, policymakers, and the corporate sector. InfluenceMap does not advocate or take positions on government policy. All our assessments are made against accepted benchmarks, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Our content is open source and free to view and use (

Climate policy advocacy is becoming a mainstream sustainability and governance issue and is being codified by initiatives such as the The Global Standard on Responsible Climate Lobbying. However, given its relatively nascent stage, a true set of corporate leaders in this space is yet to properly emerge.

Using InfluenceMap's world-leading database for tracking and assessing corporate climate policy engagement, and extensive interactions with corporations and investors on the issue, this article proposes five steps that companies can take to shift to true leadership in climate policy advocacy.

InfluenceMap's upcoming 2023 A-list report, due for release early Q2 2023, will identify the most active and progressive companies in their climate policy engagement globally. In advance of this, this briefing identifies five key areas of best practice captured across InfluenceMap's LobbyMap database.


In 2022, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for "zero tolerance for net-zero greenwashing." His warning anticipated a growing tide of concern for weak corporate climate commitments from shareholders, civil society, regulators, and the public.

Many companies and financial institutions are now arriving at a crossroads. Some are searching for pretexts to step back from their climate commitments, a phenomenon dubbed “green-hushing.” Others are internalizing and acting on what it will mean to achieve their net-zero targets in the real world.

The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body responsible for representing the global scientific consensus on climate change, has made it clear for years that what is needed to achieve net-zero by 2050 is far-reaching, ambitious policy intervention on behalf of the world's governments. By now, companies should understand that their climate commitments will remain immaterial without such policy frameworks in place.

The IPCC's April 2022 Mitigation of Climate Change report identified “opposition from status quo interests” and “incumbent” fossil fuel interests exerting political influence as a key barrier to progress on global climate goals. The issue of corporate influence has also been flagged by international organizations such as the OECD in its 2021 report “Lobbying in the 21st Century”, and by political leaders including President Barack Obama, former Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres, and the current UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Corporate interests holding back climate progress represent only a fraction of the overall economy. While many companies have made high-level commitments supporting climate policy, most of the corporate sector has been slow to exert its political and economic clout in favor of robust government intervention on climate. Well-meaning sign-on letters are rarely accompanied by strategic engagement on detailed policy and regulation.

InfluenceMap’s policy trackers inAustralia, Europe, Japan, South Korea, and the US all show that the majority of engagement on key climate policies is still undertaken by a minority of vested, oppositional corporate interests from the fossil fuel value chain. Even worse, some of these companies seem to use their net-zero commitment as a PR cover while they lobby to block or delay the necessary policy pathways.

To tip the scales and ensure viable pathsways toward net-zero, companies representing a range of sectors will need to step forward with positive, active advocacy programs in support of IPCC-aligned climate policy.

Five Steps to Corporate Climate Policy Leadership

InfluenceMap recommends the following five steps toward true corporate climate policy leadership. These steps are drawn from and reinforce various standards and recommendations that have been formalized on this issue, such as the Global Standard on Responsible Climate Lobbying instigated by a wide coalition of investors in 2022.

Step One: Ensure climate policy engagement plans have C-suite buy-in

All companies know how to lobby when the issue at hand is business critical. However, companies generally only prioritize a small number of regulatory areas. To effectively advocate on climate policy, climate needs to be one of these.

Climate change is often the responsibility of corporate sustainability teams. However, it is the regulatory and government affairs departments that have expertise with policy and regulations. Strategic corporate engagement on climate change policy requires these teams to be in lockstep. It also means allocating the appropriate resources to ensure climate policy is a top company priority. None of this will happen without C-suite direction, sign off, and, ideally, active participation.

Without such coordination, corporate climate policy engagement is typically limited to high-level sign-on letters, a tactic that does not stand in the face of highly strategic, well-resourced, and persistent campaigns from sectors with a vested interest in blocking climate progress.

Step Two: Use Science-based Benchmarks

Net-zero is facing a credibility crisis. While the concept has seen a tidal wave of corporate support, meaningful follow through has remained both challenging and rare. Companies can, however, make sincere efforts to deliver a net-zero future by ensuring their advocacy is underpinned by science-based benchmarks.

IPCC research provides a strong basis to understand the necessary technology shifts and potential policy pathways to limiting warming in line with Paris. The IEA’s Net Zero by 2050 Roadmap likewise provides detailed lists of policy steps needed to meet this goal. These resources can be used by companies to plan science-based approaches to advocacy on key climate policy issues.

While decarbonization is complex, the IPCC and IEA findings present common themes. Policy levers such as electrification, the rapid scale-up of renewable energy, green hydrogen, fossil fuel subsidy removal, and regulations to reduce fossil fuel use are most likely to facilitate the transition.

For example, to limit warming to 1.5C, the use of coal, oil, and gas in 2050 is projected to decline 95%, 60% and 45% respectively. Without carbon capture, these projections for fossil fuel phaseout are even higher. Committing to advocate in line with science-based guidance means supporting policies toward this aim, such as bans on fossil gas use in new residential buildings, methane regulations, and the integration of fossil fuel phasedown into infrastructure policy, such as energy permitting reform.

Critically, the science says that a range of policy measures need to be implemented in tandem to be most effective: one action alone will not deliver emissions reductions at the speed and scale required. In other words, companies don’t get credit for cherry-picking certain solutions over others.

Step Three: Review and Disclose

Companies are now facing growing scrutiny over their climate change policy engagement. Some of this pressure comes from investor processes like Climate Action 100+ (CA100+), a voluntary initiative of 700 investors responsible for over $68 trillion in assets under management, working to ensure the world's largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters take necessary action on climate change. Through CA100+ as well as various other investor initiatives, shareholders have been requesting enhanced disclosures from companies on the topic of climate policy engagement and industry association membership.

In 2022, 26 shareholder resolutions were filed on climate policy engagement. Most of these resolutions ask companies to review and disclose their engagement activities, including their own positions on climate policy, how they currently approach climate advocacy, as well as their links to industry associations that lobby on their behalf.

Given the critical role for government policy, corporate policy engagement is increasingly seen by investors as an important indication of management thinking on the climate crises. Negative or inconsistent approaches to corporate advocacy signal either that a company isn’t ready for the transition or does not yet have the adequate governance mechanisms in place to manage it.

On the contrary, strategic, coordinated, and highly supportive policy engagement is a clear indication of a company at the forefront of addressing the transition in its industry.

Comprehensive reporting by companies can lay the groundwork for meaningful action on climate policy engagement. Such reviews can help companies identify the best opportunities for policy impact, and guard against risks of being linked to misaligned third-party lobbyists.

Step Four: Address the critical issue of powerful trade associations

While many companies don't actively engage on climate, most have links to entities that do. InfluenceMap research shows that many powerful cross-sector industry associations like the US Chamber of Commerce, BusinessEurope, and Japanese Federation of Business (Keidanren) remain actively opposed to Paris-Aligned climate policy.

While companies might be positive in their own advocacy, their industry associations wield more power over policy, touting huge sectors of the economy among their membership. Given the relative power of these organizations, any dues-paying company lending credibility to an obstructive industry group is running a huge deficit on climate policy influence. In other words, even the most positive companies can be “net-obstructive,” with their own advocacy easily outweighed by the activity of the groups acting in their name.

Companies can take any number of steps to address the issue, from engaging within the group to reform its positions to ceasing membership. In response to investor pressure, nearly 60 companies have published enhanced disclosures on the topic. To have meaningful impact, however, these disclosures need to be followed by a robust program to address any misalignment between a company and its industry associations, including steps the company will take to evolve the group’s positions.

Step Five: Deploy the full definition of policy engagement

Corporate climate policy leadership means utilizing the whole range of tactics to support robust and ambitious climate policy – from PR campaigns to drive political support for policy action, to detailed technical input to ensure an ambitious and effective end result.

The UN’s 2013 Guide on Responsible Climate Policy Engagement provides a sound overview of tactics companies might deploy in favor of climate policy. None of these alone are sufficient, but instead must be leveraged as part of consistent campaigns that provide policymakers with ample evidence of business buy-in for ambitious climate policy outcomes. Below are some examples of tactics that might be utilized to help drive climate policy.

PR and media can be used to craft narratives and help win broad public support for the importance of climate policy, as well as important climate solutions;

Corporate coalitions, particularly cross-sector coalitions, can drive the case for bold climate policy decisions by demonstrating broad business buy-in;

CEO Advocacy demonstrates that climate is a priority issue for a company. It can open the highest-level access to the policy process and, when well timed, can be instrumental in securing robust policy outcomes;

Direct engagement with policymakers, including individual meetings, are a necessity for making a constructive and detailed case around policies;

Technical input leverages the technical expertise held by the private sector in favor of robust and science-based policy outcomes.

The A-List of Corporate Climate Policy Engagement

Since 2015, InfluenceMap’s leading platform for tracking and analyzing corporate climate policy engagement has captured the best and worst examples of corporate climate policy influence around the world.

Utilizing the core metrics and assessments that underpin this platform, in 2021 InfluenceMap released its A-List of Climate Policy Engagement report, identifying the top leaders in climate policy engagement globally. The results show a small concentration of companies engaging in true corporate climate policy advocacy.

The A-List of Climate Policy Engagement 2021

October, 2021

To qualify, a company must exhibit sufficient support for ambitious climate policy, strategic levels of engagement with climate policy, and leadership in its sector. Links to industry associations egregiously opposing climate policy can disqualify a company from the list.

To achieve A-List status, a company must have demonstrated that it has aligned all its direct policy engagement with science-based policy guidance on achieving the Paris Agreement’s goals, is proactive and strategic in its policy engagement, and is actively seeking to address misalignment with any of its industry associations that differ from its own positions on climate policy.

The A-List companies of 2021 met all of the above qualifications. European entities – like Unilever, Enel, and Nestle, among others – were far more represented on the list than companies from any other region, indicating that the EU corporate sector has come further than regions like the US in accepting the need for ambitious policy.

Many companies narrowly missed A-List status in 2021 by falling short of just one qualification. Some showed advocacy that was not sufficiently positive, while others clearly advocate positively but without the active, strategic commitment of A-List leaders. Many companies achieved both of these criteria but maintained links to obstructive industry groups without disclosing misalignment and related attempts to address the issue. In Q2 2023, InfluenceMap will update its A-list analysis in order to identify the new (and continued) corporate leaders in this space.

The table below provides recent examples illustrating how each of the '5 steps to corporate climate policy leadership' are being practiced by companies globally. A company meaningfully implementing all 5 steps is more likely to exhibit positive scores on InfluenceMap's platform for assessing corporate climate policy engagement. These core metrics are the basis for InfluenceMap's assessment of whether a company is deemed 'an "A-list' corporation.

Recent Examples of Corporate Climate Policy Leadership

StepCategoryBest Examples
C-suite buy-inThe CEOs of Sony, Ricoh and Kao met with Taro Kono, Japan's minister of administrative reform in 2020 to strongly advocate for increased ambition on renewable energy, requesting a 40% renewable energy target by 2030. Sony’s CEO Kenichiro Yoshida reportedly stressed that their customers Apple and Facebook were demanding decarbonization of their supply chains, and if Japan is unable to meet their targets, they will have to shift their factories outside of Japan.
Use science-based benchmarksEdison International subsidiary Southern California Edison advocated to eliminate all gas infrastructure incentives and promote all-electric building construction through California’s rulemaking on building decarbonization. The IPCC has emphasized the importance of electrification in 1.5C pathways. The company was also one of the first to use the term “fossil gas” in its comments.
Review and discloseWhile no company has yet to fully meet investor expectations in its lobbying review, good practice is emerging. Fortum’s 2021 ‘Climate Lobbying Review’ disclosed a range of positions on climate policies and assessed its alignment with 15 industry associations. However, the company did not set out escalation steps or deadlines for the 9 cases of potential misalignment identified.
Address the industry association issueWhere industry associations show no interest in reforming, some companies have decided that leaving is the only way to reduce their carbon policy footprint, and ensure their climate interests are represented. In 2022, Maersk withdrew its board membership from the International Chamber of Shipping following its review of industry association alignment on climate change.
Deploy the full range of policy engagement tacticsIn 2022, Iberdrola’s CEO Ignacio Galan urged world leaders including President Biden to increase policy ambition, for example pledging that the company would match “green energy” ambition in a meeting with the UK chancellor. Iberdrola adopted the vice-chairman position of leading cross-sector association the Corporate Leaders Group to “strengthen the institutional representation,” while sustaining detailed direct technical input on a range of policies in the EU and US. Iberdrola supported these efforts through ads placed in the Financial Times.