Why should we care that Exxon is lobbying the UK Government on electric vehicles?

We shouldn't ignore the oil giant lobbying to stop the electric car revolution in Britain.

Kyla Mandel
20 September 2016
Screen Shot 2016-09-20 at 11.34.19.png

An electric car charging in Detroit, 1919. Cress-Dale Photo Co., Seattle, public domain due to age.

Behind the scenes lobbying to slow the rise of electric vehicles is growing. And in the UK, ExxonMobil is leading the charge.

Newly released documents show the US oil giant repeatedly lobbying the British government against policies for greener transport.

“Switching transportation from petroleum to renewable or alternative fuels is not the most cost-effective way to reduce GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions” reads one slide of a presentation delivered to the Department for Transport (DfT).

Another reads: “In the near term other sectors are likely to provide more direct cost effective CO2 abatement solutions than the transport sector.”

This is the message that Exxon has delivered to the DfT in three separate presentations since the Paris climate deal was agreed last December, the documents obtained by DeSmog UK reveal.

And what’s more, Exxon appears to be the only major fossil fuel company currently heavily lobbying the British government against decarbonising our transport system.

So why is this such a big deal?

In the most basic terms, it goes something like this: governments should be acting in the public’s interest. Allowing corporate lobbying to influence a government’s policy making process threatens our democracy because it is effectively saying that the corporation’s interests are more important than the public’s. One year on, govt has done little about VW scandal, but found time to listen to Exxon lobbying against electric car.

1 yr on, govt has done little about VW scandal, but found time to listen to Exxon lobbying against electric cars

— Stefano Gelmini (@gelmo1981) September 12, 2016

And when it comes to issues related to tackling climate change – of which electric vehicles are one piece of a larger puzzle – it’s not just a question of what’s best for the public now but it’s about what’s best for our future and for future generations.

Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to a clean economy is what’s in the public’s best interest. In fact, it’s also in the interest of companies too, many are now arguing.

But that’s not how Exxon sees it. And it’s not what we’re seeing our government doing.

The document release comes as the government’s environmental audit committee warned the UK is “falling behind” on its electric vehicle targets. The committee criticised ministers for failing to implement the proper incentives and infrastructure needed to encourage the growth of the sector.

Increasing the number of electric vehicles, however, is critical if the UK is to tackle both climate change and harmful air pollution.

Next time someone says "we're all equally responsible for #climate change," send 'em here: @DeSmogUK @kylamandel

— Emma Gilchrist (@reporteremma) September 13, 2016

In order to meet the UK's 2050 climate change targets, 60 percent of new cars and vans need to be electric by 2030 according to analysis by the Committee on Climate Change.

But as parliament’s Energy and Climate Change Committee warned earlier this month, the UK is unlikely to meet its interim legally-binding target to have 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Why? Because efforts in heat and transport are falling way behind.

Exxon has long been working to undermine efforts to tackle climate change – the oil giant has denied the science on climate change and has funded groups which actively lobby against government efforts to address the issue.

This is despite the company having “no doubt” that CO2 was a harmful pollutant since the late 1970s.

And now, electric vehicles are in its crosshairs. While publicly Exxon has downplayed the threat electric vehicles pose to its business model, the documents obtained by DeSmog UK suggest otherwise.

And Exxon’s not the only one trying to undermine the transition to a clean transport system. In the United States, a Koch Industries-backed campaign to rebrand fossil fuels called Fueling U.S. Forward was recently launched to undermine clean energy innovations including electric vehicles.

And last month a report sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute was released claiming that biofuels are worse for the climate than gasoline.

Why is the oil industry so afraid? Because, as the Financial Times reported at the end of August, the total number of electric vehicles on the road around the world has grown a staggering amount in the past seven years – from fewer than 6,000 in 2009 to 1.2 million last year.

The total number of electric vehicles on the road around the world has grown a staggering amount in the past seven years – from fewer than 6,000 in 2009 to 1.2 million last year

Analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance expect that by 2040 electric vehicles may make up a quarter of the world’s car fleet. This would lead to a 14 percent drop in oil demand. They also expect electric vehicles to be cheaper than conventional cars by 2022, assuming the price of oil recovers to around $60.

As Michael Wojciechowski, a Houston-based oil analyst at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, told the FT: “Everybody is paying attention… This thing has the potential to really start to take off.”

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