Global Climate Coalition: Documents Reveal How Secretive Fossil Fuel Lobby Group Manipulated UN Climate Programs

By Matt Hope, editor of DeSmog UK, and Karen Savage. Originally published at DeSmog Blog

A fossil fuel–backed industry group was able to influence the process behind the United Nations climate assessments for decades, using lobbyists and industry-funded scientists to manipulate international negotiations, a cache of recently discovered documents reveals.

The documents include hundreds of briefings, meeting minutes, notes, and correspondence from the Global Climate Coalition (GCC). They were released Thursday by the Climate Investigations Center in collaboration with DeSmog and Climate Liability News. The documents date from 1989 and continue through 2002, when the lobbying group disbanded as its fossil fuel industry backers succumbed to public pressure to disavow its tactics.

The documents show how the GCC influenced international negotiations, manipulated the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) process, and undertook a disinformation campaign designed to cast doubt on mainstream climate science.

President George W. Bush speaks on climate change during remarks from the Rose Garden April 16, 2008. Credit: White House photo by Noah Rabinowitz, public domain.

What Was the Global Climate Coalition?

The GCC was initially part of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), before becoming its own entity in 1995. NAM has a long history of defending portions of its membership, including tobacco companies that were facing an onslaught of liability litigation, with aggressive tactics that include discrediting science, attacking scientists, and misleading the public.

Founding members of the GCC were mainly fossil fuel producers and utilities, including oil majors Shell, Texaco (now a part of Chevron), and Amoco (now part of BP); oil refiner and retailers ARCO (now a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum) and Phillips Petroleum; coal miners BHP-Utah International and Peabody; and utilities American Electric Power and Pacific Gas and Electric.

Other companies, including Exxon, joined later — and the international oil giant would go on to be a key player in the group.

Revealed in the documents is a decades-long campaign that continued until 2002, intended to protect its members’ interests by denying and casting doubt on climate science. Internally, the group acknowledged the dangers of climate change and the scientific consensus that it is overwhelmingly driven by the burning of fossil fuels as early as 1995.

The campaign reached the highest levels of U.S. government, with the State Department giving the GCC credit for leading President George W. Bush to reject the landmark Kyoto Protocol in 2001. An internal State Department briefing, prepared for a meeting with the GCC later that year and included in the documents published Thursday, shows officials were instructed to tell coalition representatives that Bush’s decision was “in part, based on input from you.”

The Kyoto Protocol, agreed upon in 1997, was the first large-scale international agreement to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. was one of only three UN members that did not ratify the treaty (Canada later withdrew).


Influencing the UN’s Panel of Climate Scientists

The GCC took a particular interest in the operations of the UN’s official scientific advisory body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which produces the international climate assessments that form the basis for global climate policy and negotiations.

GCC representatives regularly met with IPCC scientists to lobby the panel to accept industry language in its reports, the documents show. Tax returns show hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on an “IPCC Tracker Fund” to monitor and lobby the IPCC’s meetings.

In one instance detailed in the documents, the GCC boasted its suggested language was “accepted almost in its entirety” after intensive lobbying by its representatives and after “assistance from several countries.”

Influencing the UN’s Panel of Climate Scientists

The GCC took a particular interest in the operations of the UN’s official scientific advisory body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which produces the international climate assessments that form the basis for global climate policy and negotiations.

GCC representatives regularly met with IPCC scientists to lobby the panel to accept industry language in its reports, the documents show. Tax returns show hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on an “IPCC Tracker Fund” to monitor and lobby the IPCC’s meetings.

In one instance detailed in the documents, the GCC boasted its suggested language was “accepted almost in its entirety” after intensive lobbying by its representatives and after “assistance from several countries.”

Additional Takeaways: Infiltrating UN Climate Negotiations, Embracing Climate Deniers Publicly But Not Privately

The documents published Thursday on the Climate Investigation Center’s Climate Files archive, also show:

The GCC stacked UN meetings with its members. Some attended meetings transparently, registering as GCC members, while others registered with other NGOs. Often GCC members outnumbered delegates from developing nations at the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings.

The GCC coordinated to monitor IPCC meetings. After IPCC meetings, GCC notes reveal attendees met to discuss strategies for exploiting scientific uncertainties in IPCC climate models and amplifying scientific differences of opinion. On at least one occasion, a contractor for the Electric Power Research Institute planned to keep tabs on IPCC proceedings.

The GCC internally refuted climate deniers, yet continued to publicly cite their work: Exxon scientist Lenny Bernstein, who co-chaired the GCC’s committee on science and technology assessment, called the work of climate deniers Richard Lindzen and Patrick Michaels “not convincing” in a draft document in 1995. The final copy of that document included no mention of Bernstein’s comments and the GCC continued to cite the two — as well as other known deniers — through at least 1998.

The GCC aggressively attempted to control media coverage of climate change: Press releases were sent to reporters praising media coverage featuring climate deniers and correcting those that did not. One document encouraged reporters to contact the GCC for “balance in the global climate change debate.”

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26 comments

  1. jef

    It is important to understand that these people are not just evil. They did what they did because they were paid well to do it. Very few if any have the luxury of saying no to money and more and more people are in a situation where they simply can’t say no.

    Reply
    1. taunger

      I am not a fan of that perspective. Apologies for disinformation that actively harms BILLIONS based on love of money is hardly an apology at all. The sagas of many cultures lift up individuals that undergo far greater tribulations than our 10% would ever face (and this is the 10% and higher group we are talking about). Perhaps shame is no better, but condemnation is different and valuable as well.

      Reply
      1. jef

        It is not love of money. Pay attention. It is the absolute need of money. Even people with lots of it need more, in fact they need it even more as they are more committed.

        Reply
    2. Janie

      The pay was great, so that justifies a long-lasting crime against humanity? Am I reading this comment correctly? Does hunger justify stealing food, in our court system, culture or value system? How about robbery to buy insulin?

      Reply
      1. jef

        There is no justification going on. I would bet that nearly all the bad behavior or what most point at as evil is done in the pursuit of money. Money defines life such as it is, in our “civilization”.

        Without money life for you and your loved ones becomes very ugly, with money life can be a wonderland. This is not an opinion, just the facts governing all of us. So when ever you see bad behavior don’t just point and condemn, understand this simple fact.

        Reply
        1. witters

          “Don’t point at and condemn bad behaviour! Remember, they do it for the money that will give their ‘loved ones’ ‘wonderland!'”

          Dude.

          Reply
          1. jef

            What is your problem, take my words, mix them up to make some ridiculous point?

            What happens to you if you don’t have money? same thing that happens to the other 90% of the population…things get ugly.

            Reply
            1. Duck1

              It is cash flow that makes the 9.9% crazy. If you are not living on the interest of the interest, might as well pack up camp.

              Reply
        2. none

          Money is like food. Life without food is impossible, and with a bare substinence diet it’s difficult and unpleasant. Once you’ve got a reasonably nourishing and varied diet you can start to pursue other goals than acquiring more food. What do you do with a 500 pound hamburger once you get it, anyway?

          One can see money as a means to an end (providing life’s necessities plus a few luxuries as needed to make things nice), or as an end in itself (in which case it becomes a bottomless appetite that can never be filled). Treating it as an end in itself is another way to describe the root of all evil. Need a decent car? Fine. Need a fleet of Rolls Royces? Probably not.

          Reply
    3. Ignacio

      Yeah it is important to understand that there will always be someone available to do the dirty job no matter how harmful it is. Borrowing a christian character too many Judas.

      Reply
    4. Jeremy Grimm

      And Adolf Eichmann was just doing his job,

      But don’t we all just do some job … don’t look too far under-the-hood.

      Reply
        1. Jeremy Grimm

          Everything he did was legal? If you say so. He hanged all the same.

          Great Evil can be assembled from the small actions of many hands. If a process can be divided up into small enough pieces — if responsibilities can be divided up into small enough pieces — and if one voice says I take all responsibility for the consequences of all your small actions — are all the many small actors absolved of their part in Great Evil?

          Reply
  2. shinola

    My first thought on reading this article was something to the effect of “Oh well, bidness as usual” rather than shock or outrage.

    A rather sad state of affairs…

    Reply
  3. nycTerrierist

    “The GCC was initially part of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), before becoming its own entity in 1995. NAM has a long history of defending portions of its membership, including tobacco companies that were facing an onslaught of liability litigation, with aggressive tactics that include discrediting science, attacking scientists, and misleading the public.”

    would there be any legal recourse against this misinformation campaign? as there was against the tobacco companies?

    Reply
  4. Chuck T

    In a sane world this would lead to massive fines and lengthy jail terms for executives, and even that would be getting off lightly. If the punishment were to fit the crime, I don’t think a death penalty would be unreasonable.

    In this world however, it won’t even make the evening news and not a damn thing will happen to them, other than continuing to make obscene amounts of money by destroying our planet for profit.

    Reply
    1. colinc

      If you could choose to be the only sane person in a population of utterly insane people OR the only insane person in a sane population…
      A. Which would you choose?
      B. What reasoning led you to that choice?
      C. How could/would you be able to ascertain the difference?

      The movie Idiocracy is NOT a pseudo-cautionary, fictional tale of some insanely improbable future, it’s a GD documentary about NOW! There is only one way this “story” is going to end and it will be long before 2100!

      Reply
  5. cm

    Related – a story about a proposed methanol plant lying about the proposed use of the methanol. Will Washington State governor Jay Inslee, Presidential candidate, stand up to them?

    Reply
  6. Jeremy Grimm

    The disinformation campaign by fossil fuel producers and utilities, is old news. But news that the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) “…manipulated the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) process” comes as a shock. The IPCC findings are often treated like some kind of gold-standard when discussing climate ‘change’. If you follow the link in the post to ClimateInvestigations there is further detail on the ways the GCC tampered with the IPCC: “GCC’s Priority: Co-opting Science Within the International Climate Negotiation Process”, [https://climateinvestigations.org/global-climate-coalition-international-negotiations/].

    I suppose it might be enlightening to investigate how much the findings of the IPCC were used to guide such limited Climate Chaos mitigation strategies as have been funded. And for a start — NYC might want to check again for how high the seas will rise and how fast — especially if the IPCC reports were used much as a guide.

    What other organizations and climate reports did the GCC ‘help’?

    There are 145 documents in the full set of documents collected in the Global Climate Coalition Document Index. Dates are associated with most of the documents, and the most recent date I saw was 2003. [Dates for the last eleven documents weren’t indicated and I didn’t chase down each document there to find its date.] What kind of mischief has the GCC helped to make in more recent times? Maybe it’s time for someone to obtain some subpoenas.

    Reply
  7. jef

    The FF industries represents the biggest business activity in the global economy. Just one oil company made more money/profit than any other company in the world. FFs underpin 99% of all economic activity in the world. FF revenues can make or break whole countries, big countries.

    Any talk of transitioning that doesn’t take into consideration these facts and the effect it will have on the global economy are pipe dreams, and not the good kind of pipes.

    SO what do we do …LESS! not more.

    Reply
  8. John Wright

    Recently a London Review of Books link arrived in my inbox.

    It highlighted a John Lancaster review from 2007.

    In it was some text about George W. Bush.

    Apparently GWB, privately, is skeptical of the oil and gas industry, but willingly did its bidding.

    https://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n06/john-lanchester/warmer-warmer

    “What makes this so bizarre are Bush’s private views on energy and oil, as reflected in the various ecologically friendly decisions he has made at his own ranch in Crawford (it uses geothermal heat pumps, and has a 25,000 gallon underground cistern to collect rainwater), and in this passage from his speechwriter David Frum’s book The Right Man:”

    “I once made the mistake of suggesting to Bush that he use the phrase cheap energy to describe the aims of his energy policy. He gave me a sharp, squinting look, as if he were trying to decide whether I was the stupidest person he’d heard from all day or only one of the top five. Cheap energy, he answered, was how we had got into this mess. Every year from the early 1970s to the mid 1990s, American cars burned less and less oil per mile travelled. Then in about 1995 that progress stopped. Why? He answered his own question: because of the gas-guzzling SUV. And what had made the SUV possible? This time I answered. ‘Um, cheap energy?’ He nodded at me. Dismissed.”

    “More or less the only conclusion one can draw from that under-reported passage is that W. is well aware of the realities but has been knowingly acting as a stooge for the oil industry.”

    Much of the USA political class may be following the George W. Bush playbook, aware that much of the current economic growth and USA energy consumption is damaging the climate, but will look for reasons to do nothing substantive (remember Obama and HRC promoting fracking?) .

    I believed that George W. Bush did much harm because he was truly unaware, now I suspect his behavior should be judged even more harshly, he was aware and promoted harmful policies anyway.

    Reply
  9. Andrew Thomas

    The IPCC’s public statements have consistently underestimated the speed that climate change would proceed. Did some other cabal take over the sordid
    project of this particular group, or was the IPCC so beat up by then that it kept understating the case on its own?

    Reply

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