BIG greenhouse polluting companies around the world, employing thousands of lobbyists, are exerting heavy pressure on governments to weaken climate change laws at home and slow progress on an international climate agreement in Copenhagen, a global investigation reveals.
In Australia, 20 companies who have already won the most concessions from the Rudd Government's emissions trading scheme employ 28 lobbying firms with well over 100 staff, many of them former politicians, political advisers or government officials.
In the US there are more than 2800 climate lobbyists, five for every member of Congress, an increase of more than 400 per cent over the past six years. From Washington to Canberra and New Delhi to Brussels, companies and their lobbyists are often raising the same widespread fears about jobs, power blackouts and economic losses unless governments weaken commitments to combat climate change.
The report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists examined the climate lobby in eight countries including the US, Canada, Australia, India, Japan, China, Belgium and Brazil. It relied on more than 200 interviews, lobbying registers and political donation records. The Heraldcollaborated in the investigation for Australia.
The findings come as hopes are fading that a binding climate change agreement will be reached at Copenhagen next month.
This week African nations staged a day-long boycott of UN climate talks in the lead-up to the summit, demanding that rich countries make more ambitious pledges to cut emissions. And the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, bluntly told reporters: ''We are not going to have a full-fledged binding treaty - Kyoto type - by Copenhagen''. Instead, a political agreement is being flagged with a treaty not being concluded until at least next year.
The consortium's investigation found big greenhouse-polluting industries in all countries, developed and developing, are pushing back against ambitious targets to cut national emissions.
In China, the Government's plans to boost renewable energy has not been embraced by many of the nation's power companies which rely on coal. Only one of the top power companies, all state-owned, will meet the Government's goal to get 3 per cent of their power from renewable energy by 2010.
In the US, chief executives of coal and power companies have hosted a public campaign against climate legislation which is being blocked in the Senate. The millionaire coal chief Don Blankenship appeared at a ''Friends of America'' rally with country music stars and prominent Fox TV host Sean Hannity. The rally was designed to warn Americans ''how environmental extremists and corporate America are both trying to destroy your jobs".
In Europe, ambitious targets to cut greenhouse emissions were significantly reduced after lobbying by heavy industries protesting they would face unfair competition from the developing world.
Industry lobby groups have also carved out a permanent role at the UN talks as representatives of the so-called BINGOS - Business and Industry Non-Government Organisations.
While lobbyists for the renewable energy industry, the carbon traders and environmental groups are also becoming more prominent, the report finds that their voices ''can barely be heard above the clamour of the older, well-capitalised and deeply entrenched industries that have been lobbying on climate change for more than 20 years''.