Big Tech Quiet on Climate Policy

January 28 2021

Big Tech Quiet on Climate Policy

Digital giants’ limited lobbying outgunned by Big Oil’s strategic opposition to meaningful action to support Paris-aligned policy globally

The five Big Tech companies are deploying only a fraction of their lobbying effort to support global climate action despite their growing market power and top-line statements in support of urgent action to address the climate crisis, reveals a report from InfluenceMap released today.

The Big Tech and Climate Policy report shows that just 4% of the 2019-20 reported lobbying activities of Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft were focused on climate-related policy at a US federal level. In Europe, where Big Tech is growing its lobbying capacity, it is largely silent on the EU's ambitious climate policy agenda. This is based on publicly available evidence.

The five companies all have ambitious net-zero emissions plans but their limited policy lobbying is "outgunned" by Big Oil's strategic opposition to meaningful climate policy: in 2019-20 ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, and ConocoPhillips focused 38% of their reported federal lobbying in the US on climate.

Big Tech companies' support for climate action is further undermined by their membership of powerful cross-sector industry groups which continue to lobby against binding measures necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, including the US Chamber of Commerce, BusinessEurope and the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren).

Sheldon Whitehouse, United States Senator for Rhode Island, said: "Big Tech companies are some of the most powerful businesses in the world. They make things happen – when they want things to happen. This report shows how Big Tech has refused to lift a finger to push comprehensive climate action in Congress. That may soon change, and the best place to start is ensuring that Big Tech’s trade associations are powerful advocates for ambitious climate action."

Big Tech now represents roughly 25% of the value of the S&P500 (and 20% of its latest aggregate profits), while the entire energy sector including oil and gas companies represents just 2.3%. Amazon hired close to half a million workers during 2020. This economic clout gives the digital giants huge potential to influence government policy.

The five companies have extensive climate programs - in terms of minimizing the emissions of their operations, supply chains, and products - and they have made many top-line statements on climate, supporting net-zero targets and economy-wide action in line with the Paris Agreement.

But the report finds that this is not matched by strategic advocacy for climate policies, according to available lobbying disclosures. Their limited engagement tends to focus on technical rules to enable corporate renewable energy procurement that are directly associated with their operations/commitments, and overlooks issues such as renewable targets, emissions trading, and regulation to promote other low-carbon technologies and phase down high-carbon activities.

This contrasts with the strategic engagement of climate leaders like Unilever, which advocates on a range of policies globally with a clear goal of shifting governments to act more ambitiously towards the Paris goal of 1.5oC. IKEA, Iberdrola and ENEL are other climate policy leaders.

"Stronger engagement on climate policy from Big Tech and other large corporations could help clear the pathway for policy makers to take stronger action on the climate crisis."

InfluenceMap's research shows:

The five Big Tech companies devoted an average of 4% of their reported legislative lobbying efforts to climate-related policy at the US federal level in 2019-20. Within this group, Facebook deployed 6%, Microsoft 5%, Amazon 5%, Alphabet 3%, and Apple 2%. This contrasts with Big Oil which focused more than one-third (38%) of its lobbying activities on climate-related policies, based on public data.

In California, where Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, and oil giant Chevron are headquartered, the three tech companies dedicated an average of 4% of their reported lobbying to climate issues, compared with 51% for Chevron.

Big Tech’s headquarter buildings, data centers, and regional offices are spread across a total of 22 states, yet the companies engaged with climate policy in fewer than half of those 22 states. That engagement largely focused on electric grid rules such as regulations to facilitate corporate power purchase agreements.

In Europe, evidence of lobbying by Big Tech appears similarly scant. Beyond high-level support for the EU Green Deal, InfluenceMap's global climate lobbying tracking system has not detected significant direct, deep climate policy engagement in the EU by Big Tech.

Full report, graphics and quote available here

For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Simon Cullen, Communications Manager, InfluenceMap (London)

simon.cullen( @ )