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

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Global Climate Coalition logo and 1997 strategy document cover image

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.

George W. Bush speaking about climate change in 2008.
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.”

The GCC also publicly questioned the validity of the IPCC’s peer-review process and launched public attacks on its scientists, while simultaneously using the IPCC’s status as a respected scientific body to promote the credentials of its own climate science denial research.

The GCC went beyond targeting climate science. In 1995, Exxon gave a presentation to the GCC on how to counter the evidence linking climate change to human health impacts.

In 1997, the GCC wanted to expand its reach with a network of state and local committees that would educate the public about their views on climate change and serve as liaisons to other business and public interest groups with similar views. This plan was implemented, the documents show, with the help of Koch Industries, the U.S.’s largest private energy company, which is an infamous funder of climate science denial across the globe.

The Collapse of the GCC

By the mid-1990s, however, the GCC’s aggressive tactics and continuing effort to cast doubt on accepted climate science had started to become a problem for some of its members. Nine corporations left the GCC from 1996 to 2000: two automakers, one chemical manufacturer, one utility, and five oil companies.

BP was the first major oil company to leave in 1997, stating that “the time to consider the policy dimensions of climate change is not when the link between greenhouse gases and climate change is conclusively proven, but when the possibility cannot be discounted and is taken seriously by the society of which we are part. We in BP have reached that point.”

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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