How the US auto industry is dismantling the world's most successful climate policy
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The US automotive industry, led by Ford, GM, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota, has spent millions of dollars in the last few years in an effort to dismantle a decade of policy progress on US vehicle efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade association funded by these companies, has lobbied extensively to significantly weaken the standards. The Alliance also counts German automakers VW, BMW, and Daimler as core members.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to grant the auto sector's request when it announces new rules in the coming months. The Environmental Protection Agency, the other federal agency involved, is expected to deliver a decision as to whether current standards are too stringent, likely before April 1st, 2018.
The transport sector is now the largest contributor to US GHG emissions and passenger cars made up the largest portion (42%) of these emissions in 2016. US Senator Ed Markey, an early proponent of CAFE vehicle efficiency and greenhouse regulations describes the program as the world's most successful climate change policy in terms of emissions covered and reduced.
This research has tracked a two-year, strategic plan to undermine these regulations, led by the Alliance. Initiated prior to the inauguration of Donald Trump it peaked early this year with the calculated use of climate change disinformation methods to make the case for more lenient standards. The auto sector spent at least $49 million lobbying in 2017 alone, the most since 2008.
This activity contradicts consumer-facing statements from many of these member companies on climate. For example, Toyota’s recently published video ("...here at Toyota we are renewing our commitment to hybrid, electric and hydrogen vehicles to keep our winters, winter..."), contrasts sharply with its US trade associations’ activities.
Statements from Ford and GM on their climate, electric vehicle and sustainability goals similarly contradict their lobbying actions. Ford's Chairman stated in January 2018 “We’re all in on this and we’re taking our mainstream vehicles, our most iconic vehicles, and we’re electrifying them.” GM's CEO similarly noted in March 2018 that the company "believes in an all-electric future. We’re working towards a goal with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion."
Investors globally are increasingly concerned when the trade associations funded by major companies act in a manner counter to the companies’ top line and investor focused messaging on climate change. The use of climate disinformation from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers will likely constitute a red line for investors. Shareholder resolutions in 2017/18 at mining giants BHP and Rio Tinto are having a major impact on how companies respond to the trade association-misalignment issue on climate. (See Trade associations and climate: shareholders make themselves heard, InfluenceMap, February 2018).
The historic fuel economy emissions standards save consumers money at the pump, protect our national security by reducing our reliance on foreign oil, and are the single greatest action the United States has taken to fight climate change. Under these standards, the U.S. auto industry has created hundreds of thousands of jobs. Efforts to weaken these standards should be put in the headlights. By making a U-turn on the strong standards that were reaffirmed just last year, and which are economically feasible and technologically achievable, the Trump administration will slam the breaks on all the benefits for consumers, our country, and our planet.
We are a universal owner of the worlds' listed companies and in it for the long term. As such sustainability issues are at the core of our investment strategy. We regard climate change as a fundamental challenge to our portfolio, the interests of our citizen-beneficiary's interests and the world. We have in the recent past, blacklisted companies we feel are acting in a manner counter to the Paris Agreement, including on the basis of their activities holding back policy aimed at its implementation and will continue to monitor such activities by companies in our portfolio closely.
The contrast between the public statements of auto companies and the actions of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Global Automakers, their US lobby groups, is stark. To lobby against pre-agreed standards which would raise industry performance appears to make no business sense, especially for electric vehicle and efficiency leaders like Nissan, Honda, and Toyota.
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