Airlines, automakers and fossil fuel firms blasted as ‘coronavirus climate profiteers’

A new report has blasted the lobbying efforts of the airline, automaker, fossil fuel and logging industries, claiming that organisations are attempting to benefit from billion-pound bailouts in response to the coronavirus that enables them to carry on with climate-wrecking business practices.

Airlines, automakers and fossil fuel firms blasted as ‘coronavirus climate profiteers’

Mighty Earth does note that some Governments and businesses are continuing to prioritise climate action as part of a stimulus response to the coronavirus

Global environmental campaign organisation Mighty Earth released a new report shaming five industries as “coronavirus climate profiteers”. The report lists the efforts of meat and biofuels industries, carmakers, airlines, illegal loggers in Indonesia, and the fossil fuel industry to siphon bailout packages that have been prepared in response to the economic crash caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The report warns that Governments in the US, Europe and Indonesia are being pressured by lobbyists to package billion-pound bailouts to industries and companies that have largely contributed to the climate crisis.

“A lot of people are understandably furious about small-time coronavirus grifters, like the guy hoarding Purell in his garage,” Mighty Earth’s chief executive Glenn Hurowitz said. “Sure, that’s bad, but it’s nothing compared to the cynicism and public health hazards created by leading coronavirus profiteers and their enablers.

“These bad actors are hoping the world won’t notice what they’re up to. They’re counting on the shadow of the coronavirus to cloak their misdeeds. We thought a bit of sunlight was in order.”

In infamous five

Mighty Earth lists that agricultural firms had received $30bn in subsidies in the last two years, including $67m for JBS, the largest cattle company in the world. JBS has also been heavily linked to deforestation in Brazil and has been listed as one of the worst polluters of US waterways.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association lobbied heavily for the inclusion of $23.5bn in funds that don’t list safeguards to ensure companies don’t ramp up production to the detriment of the environment.

The auto industry was also listed as a “profiteer”, namely GM, Toyota, and Daimler, with Mighty Earth claiming that the firms have used their industry lobbyists to provide relief, despite the polluting vehicles worsening air pollution. In fact, Detroit automakers are planning to ramp up production of polluting SUVs. As a result, Mighty Earth notes that by 2026 the Detroit automakers combined will produce fewer electric vehicles (EVs) than Tesla alone did last year. 

The lobbying follows efforts from US carmakers to lower environmental industry standards that the carmakers had originally agreed to as a condition of being bailed out by US taxpayers in 2009, the report adds.

The report also noted that airlines lobbied for a received $29bn in loans and giveaways as part of the coronavirus bailout. In the UK, EasyJet received a £600m bailout from Government that isn’t linked to an improvement in environmental standards, despite green groups calling for any funds to be linked to climate performances. Of the sectors listed in the report, airlines is the only one that isn’t projected to cut emissions globally in alignment with net-zero by 2050. However, the UK aviation sector has set out its own net-zero roadmap.

Fossil fuels were again linked to lobbying efforts. The American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying arm of oil industry majors like Exxon Mobil and Shell, asked President Trump last month to suspend environmental regulations because of the coronavirus. The Trump administration approved that request.

The plastics industry, largely a spin-off of the fossil fuel industry, has also been pushing for delays and suspensions on bans on single-use plastics.

UK-based thinktank InfluenceMap has begun assessing corporate lobbying that is responding to the Covid-19 crisis by calling for a rollback of climate policies. The group claims that lobbyists have been “highly active” in this chaos, namely those in carbon-intensive sectors. It found that the oil and gas sector is the “most active” by lobbying for both financial report and deregulation of environmental policies. A new briefing paper claims that US-based think tanks with ties to fossil fuel lobbyists including the Koch brothers are opposing green energy programmes in response to coronavirus.

Finally, the report criticises the decision of Indonesia’s Trade Ministry to revoke requirements for certified sources of timber in response to lobbying from the furniture and logging industries. Despite the nation clamping down on illegal logging – partially due to trade requirements but also to protect the carbon-capturing forests and peat stores – the logging industries have been lobbying for standards to be relaxed for years.

Mighty Earth does note that some Governments and businesses are continuing to prioritise climate action as part of a stimulus response to the coronavirus. Mighty Earth welcomed the Green New Deal being championed by the European Commission.

Auto companies Volkswagen and BMW have also reiterated their support for 2020 climate standards, while some palm oil traders have been quick to suspend operators contributing to deforestation.

Matt Mace

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