Pressure to reverse the winds of change

Europe is the target for powerful US lobbyists out to undermine the EU's support for Kyoto, reports Frank McDonald in Montreal…

Europe is the target for powerful US lobbyists out to undermine the EU's support for Kyoto, reports Frank McDonald in Montreal

Of the 8,000-plus participants at the UN climate change summit in Montreal's Palais des Congrès, at least half are lobbyists with an interest in setting the agenda, or at least influencing it. Many of them are from environmental groups such as Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, but some are more shadowy, even sinister figures.

The most notorious lobbyist in the business was Don Pearlman, a Washington lawyer who read every document on climate change generated by the UN since the talks first got under way in 1990. Nicknamed "Deputy Dawg" because of his resemblance to the cartoon character, he specialised in throwing spanners in the works.

Pearlman worked closely with the misleadingly-named Global Climate Coalition (GCC), representing big oil companies such as ExxonMobil, big motor companies such as Ford and others with an interest in making sure that all this talk about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions didn't lead to cuts in our dependence on fossil fuels.


ExxonMobil is the world's biggest oil company and a relentless opponent of international action on climate change. It has been the focus in Ireland of the "Stop Esso" campaign because of its efforts to undermine scientific evidence about global warming - though the company itself claims it has taken "significant actions" to cut emissions.

The chain-smoking Pearlman - his brand was Dunhill 100s - was so successful in watering down earlier scientific assessments of climate change, and slowing down efforts to deal with it, that Der Spiegel dubbed him "high priest of the carbon club" during the Berlin summit in 1995. He died earlier this year from lung cancer.

Chris Horner, the Washington lawyer who looks set to become Pearlman's successor, says that he "never heard of him", or of the GCC for that matter. At a US delegation press conference in Montreal on Wednesday, Horner identified himself as a columnist with the Washington Times and denied he was a lobbyist. However, he said that he was the author of an elaborate plan to set up a "European Sound Climate Policy Coalition", based in Brussels, which would draw together major companies, politicians, academics, think-tanks, commentators and lobbyists in a powerful grouping to counter the EU's pro-Kyoto "climate agenda".

Horner works for the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a right-wing think-tank and lobbying organisation based in Washington. He has been busy forging links with the similarly-minded European Enterprise Institute (EEI) in Brussels; he says it "reached out to me to help with energy and the environment".

In an e-mail, which was discovered along with an outline of his game plan by Greenpeace, Horner noted that the EEI's board includes MEPs and former European Commission president Jacques Santer. "We also count former Marxist, now staunchly pro-competition, pro-US EU president [ José Manuel] Barrosso among our allies," he wrote.

Horner's e-mail went on to say that he had "expanded into the economics area as they are hungry for US advice and interaction", even delivering a keynote speech to the European Chamber of Commerce earlier this year. He has also given four presentations to MEPs and two "relevant speeches" within the past 12 months.

"Given our pedigree, we have access to the [ Parliament] building and the members," he wrote. "US-based MNCs [ multi-national companies] like Boeing are spending a fortune in Brussels for horrible PA [ public affairs] work . . . US companies need someone they can trust, and it's just a den of thieves over there."

HORNER HAS ALSO been making his pitch to European companies such as Lufthansa, German utility giant RWE, Nordic electricity company Vattenfall and Ford Europe. Exxon's European division has expressed an interest; his institute in Washington has received $1.5 million (€1.27 million) from its parent company ExxonMobil.

The European Sound Climate Policy Coalition would churn out anti-Kyoto position papers and provide expert spokesmen, detailed advice and networking to any politician or company who wanted to question the wisdom of proceeding with Kyoto and the much deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions likely to be required in future.

Horner's game plan goes on: "In the US, an informal coalition has helped successfully to avert adoption of a Kyoto-style program by maintaining a rational voice for civil society in the debate over climate economics, science and policies. This model should be emulated, as appropriate, to guide similar efforts in Europe."

It notes that the French and Dutch referendums on the Nice Treaty had weakened the EU, shifting the focus from "backroom bargaining" over constitutional issues, and suggests that these developments "open a prime window of opportunity to challenge the EU's unavoidable if unsuccessful pursuit of the Kyoto Protocol agenda".

Claiming the EU had no chance of meeting its Kyoto target, it says: "Instead of pretending these realities do not exist, Brussels must openly acknowledge and address them, willingly or through 3rd parties . . . Individual companies must step forward . . . and demand sanity and realism in this debate."

ALTHOUGH THERE IS obviously nothing illegal about lobbying, Horner's nest of documents - apparently "saved" from his rubbish bin by Greenpeace and seen by The Irish Times - offers "a rare insight into the well-funded efforts within the US to influence opinion at senior levels of European corporations", according to the London Independent, which ran the story.

Kert Davies, climate campaign co-ordinator for Greenpeace, told that paper: "These are the hitmen for the Bush administration and for the likes of Exxon. They are behind the scenes doing the dirty work. Evidently they are now extending their efforts to Europe where they are trying to undermine the momentum to solve global warming."

Earlier this year, leading scientists warned that Tony Blair's high profile on climate change had led groups funded by the US oil industry to try and sway opinion in Britain. Sir Robert May, then president of the Royal Society, said that "a lobby of professional sceptics who opposed action to tackle climate change" was behind this.

Horner defended his own lobbying effort by saying that he was simply promoting a point of view, as did Greenpeace. "I don't begrudge them what they do [ but] they begrudge me what I do." Asked if he thought it was appropriate for a US oil company to be funding a lobby targeting European companies, he replied: "Everybody else does." He was surprised, however, that his efforts to influence European opinion had been relatively unsuccessful so far. Though both Ford and RWE confirmed to the Independent that they and others had met Horner last February to discuss his plan, they did not take it up. "What is surprising to me is why it's not working," he said.

Perhaps this is related to the fact that Europe's position on climate change is quite steadfast - and, contrary to Horner's claim, the EU as a whole (whatever about Ireland) is now likely to meet and even beat its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8 per cent (based on 1990 baseline levels) by 2012, when Kyoto runs out.

What's more, EU leaders have committed themselves to take steps to cut emissions still further, by 30 per cent between now and 2020, in an effort to ensure that the rise in average global temperatures does not exceed 2 degrees Celsius by 2050; anything higher is regarded in Europe, and throughout much of the world, as too dangerous.

Last month, the European Parliament passed a resolution by 450 votes to 66 endorsing even more radical plans. What this suggests is that Chris Horner and those who think like him - including the present US government - are increasingly out of step with the rest of the world.

Things are moving on, and they now risk becoming fossils.