By Karen Savage
March 21, 2019
Exxon’s history of publicly sowing doubt about climate science despite internally acknowledging the impacts of its products on climate change was the subject of a public hearing on climate denial held Thursday in the European Parliament in Brussels.
Thought to be the first-ever hearing by a major government body into Exxon’s climate deception, a panel of experts was convened to explore climate denial communication used by Exxon and other fossil fuel companies. Experts also examined how that deception has influenced European climate policy.
The group could ban Exxon from lobbying European lawmakers on climate and energy issues, especially because the company declined to attend the hearing, which was dominated by evidence that Exxon has worked for decades to deceive the public.
“The more public ExxonMobil’s climate change communications are, the more they communicate doubt,” said panelist Geoffrey Supran, a Harvard University researcher who has published a study comparing Exxon’s internal corporate memos with the company’s public communication.
“They contributed quietly to the science, yet loudly to raising doubts about it,” said Supran, who was invited to testify by committee members.
The hearing was convened by the parliament’s committees on the environment, public health and food safety and petitions. Exxon was invited to attend but declined, sending a letter to the committee chairs that said it was “constrained from participating because of ongoing climate litigation in the United States.”
The effort to hold Exxon accountable for its allegedly deceptive communication was organized after a petition was brought in 2016 by Frida Kieninger and the non-profit Food and Water Europe. Brought in the wake of investigative reporting in the U.S., the petition was signed by hundreds of E.U. citizens who say Exxon’s campaign of climate denial has harmed the environment, public health, agriculture, water sources, tourism, energy and transportation.
The petition calls for parliament to revoke Exxon’s lobbying access badge, as was done with Monsanto when it refused to appear before a parliamentary hearing on the herbicide glyphosate. Other companies, including McDonald’s, Amazon and Fiat have been threatened with similar action, but later appeared before the lawmakers.
“Exxon pays millions and millions to consultancies and lobbyists to influence EU decision-makers, a sum amounted to over 35 million Euros during the last 9 years alone, to water down climate laws and spread false solutions,” Kieninger said, adding that Exxon still funds groups that spread doubt about climate change despite claiming it no longer does.
Nikolaas Baeckelmans, Exxon’s vice president for European Union affairs who authored the letter to the committee chairs, said public commentary could prejudice pending legal proceedings in the U.S..
Baeckelman went on to write that the allegations are “distortions of ExxonMobil’s nearly 40-year history of climate research.” He highlighted the company’s participation in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, its support for the 2015 Paris Agreement and questioned the accuracy of anticipated testimony by Supran.
Baeckelman also said Exxon would contact the committee heads for further discussion.
The petitioners want to curb Exxon’s easy access to European lawmakers, the extent of which is detailed in a new report by Corporate Europe Observatory.