What do you want companies to do to support the energy transition?
We want climate policy to evolve according to the Paris Agreement. Scientists have identified the goals, and broadly there is consensus about that. We believe that the path is being blocked, sometimes deliberately, sometimes inadvertently, by the lobbying of the corporate sector that is enormously powerful.
But we’re not promoting any particular solution or telling companies what to do. We want them to take ownership of the conclusions. We’re saying to investors, you should push companies to be clear and detailed on what they’re doing—and we’ll come in behind to check that. We have no idea what energy companies should do. There are loads of people, smart people, thinking that through. Our views on that would not be adding value.
Companies sometimes say they may not agree with policies of their trade bodies but they need to retain membership for other reasons. And they say, to help push things forward, it’s better to be in than out. What do you make of that?
Climate is not just another business-as-usual topic, where you can pass the buck to somebody else. The trade association is connected to the company; they’re funding it. It’s not something you can disassociate from. These are powerful companies funding these groups, adopting positions on climate, a universal issue that affects all of us. So, it remains a problem and the problem is associated with those company members. And investors now have a set of expectations that are changing for climate as well.
What makes a gold standard company on this question?
I’m hesitant to answer that because I would say we don’t have a gold standard yet. We might have a bronze standard and a lot of companies that are just inactive. So, we really need to raise the bar. You know, they’ve moved on Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 from where they were 10 years ago, and now we need to get everyone to move on lobbying. Companies are realizing that they don’t want to be associated with negative lobbying positions.
This is really about large companies who need to move the needle. It’s the big companies that people listen to and they pay more fees in these trade bodies. But they need to understand it is not just about their own company.
In the past few years, we’ve seen a rise in citizen activism on climate change—Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and many others. You seem to be the other side of the coin, using activism to target investors and boardrooms directly. Is that how you see it?
We like working with investment institutions because they have access at a higher level than the campaign groups. And the investors have greater appetite for the data. The media is interested as well now.
So where next? Has COVID slowed progress?
No, it’s not slower. In the past year, I think the whole world has realized that the COVID crisis and the climate crisis are similar in being external threats that cannot be tackled by political speak; it has to be data-driven, evidence-based action, and it relies on global, or at least, regional cooperation. So, with these massive government interventions on COVID, we hope those learnings will transfer to climate when it reoccupies the central agenda of governments.
We have our original work program that looks at lobbying by companies, and we also have a more emerging program that looks at how the financial sector is performing on climate. Our platform, Recovery Map, calls out both sides. On the financial side, we’re also looking at the central banks, which have been notoriously opaque—and in many cases are now going to be propping up companies in the real economy, including the fossil fuel sector. It’s important to encourage greater disclosure here because this may end up essentially with using taxpayers’ money on assets that present climate risks or may not be suitable for governments to own in the light of carbon commitments.
All our programs have a map as the platform. It’s a neutral way of using our databases to drive more disclosure on how business and finance are really acting on climate policy.
Lucy Parker leads Brunswick’s Business & Society offer and is the co-author of Everybody’s Business: The Unlikely Story of How Big Business Can Fix the World.
Simon Maine is a former Brunswick Partner and now Director of Corporate Affairs for energy technology company OVO.
Illustration: Lincoln Agnew
Charts: Peter Hoey