The world’s biggest tech companies are coming out with bold commitments to tackle their climate impact but when it comes to using their corporate muscle to advocate for stronger climate policies, their engagement is almost nonexistent, according to a new report.
Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Facebook and Microsoft poured around $65m into lobbying in 2020, but an average of only 6% of their lobbying activity between July 2020 and June 2021 was related to climate policy, according to an analysis from the thinktank InfluenceMap, which tracked companies’ self-reported lobbying on federal legislation.
The report also sought to capture tech companies’ overall engagement with climate policy by analyzing activities including their top-level communications as well as lobbying on specific legislation. It found that climate-related engagement levels of three of the five companies – Amazon, Alphabet and Microsoft – had declined compared to the previous year.
Tech companies, which are among the most financially secure in corporate America, have been racing for ambitious climate pledges. Amazon has set a goal to become net zero by 2040, and to power its operations using 100% renewable energy by 2025. Facebook has set a goal to achieve net zero emissions throughout its supply chain by 2030.
Microsoft committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030, and to eliminate all carbon emissions by 2050. Apple has committed to becoming carbon neutral throughout its entire supply chain by 2030.
Google has committed to supplying 100% of its energy with carbon-free energy by 2030. It will not use renewable certificates to offset any fossil-generated electricity. “The science is clear, we have until 2030 to chart a sustainable course for our planet or face the worst consequences of climate change,” Sundar Pichai (Google and Alphabet CEO) spoke in a video to announce the policy.
The report shows that this pro-climate rhetoric does not translate into policy action. “These gigantic companies that completely dominate the stock market are not really deploying that political capital at all,” said InfluenceMap executive director Dylan Tanner.
Tech companies are not silent. Apple, for example, has expressed support for the Biden administration’s proposed clean energy standard, which aims for all US-generated electricity to be renewable by 2035.
These efforts are outweighed by the lobbying efforts of big oil and natural gas companies, who have increased their climate lobbying in the same timeframe. “Most of their political advocacy is devoted to climate change and it’s negative,” Tanner said.
A lack of engagement is especially disappointing considering the new momentum surrounding climate action under Biden’s administration, said Bill Weihl. He is a former Facebook sustainability executive and now executive Director of Climate Voice, which mobilizes technology workers to lobby their companies about climate action. “The dominant business voice on these issues is advocating against the kind of policies that we need,” He stated that.
Joe Biden’s $3.5tn budget reconciliation bill, which includes large investments for climate action, is facing fierce opposition from some industry groups. The US Chamber of Commerce, the country’s most powerful business lobbying group, has said it will “do everything we can to prevent this tax raising, job killing reconciliation bill from becoming law”. The Chamber includes all tech companies except Apple.
“Our best chance to lead the planet to safety in the race against climate change is through this reconciliation bill, yet InfluenceMap has shown that big tech is still MIA on climate in Congress,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, is a long-standing advocate of climate legislation.
Microsoft and Apple declined comment and Alphabet didn’t respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Amazon said the company engages at local, state and international levels to “actively advocate for policies that promote clean energy, increase access to renewable electricity, and decarbonize the transportation system”.
A Facebook spokesperson said “we’re committed to fighting climate change and are taking substantive steps without waiting for any legislative action”, adding that the company supports the Paris climate agreement goals and helped found the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance.
Tanner said that these actions are insufficient considering the severity of the crisis. The UN warned in a report published on Friday that even if current climate emissions targets are met, the world is still on a “catastrophic pathway” for 2.7C of heating by the end of the century. “We’re running out of time,” Tanner said. “physically on climate but also on a public policy level.”