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Corporate Lobbying Threatens to Undermine Biodiversity

A new report shows the extent to which powerful corporations and fossil fuel interests exert their influence to delay or roll back legislation to protect the environment

A wildflower meadow in Europe. Photo: Pearl Bucknall RF/Alamy

Corporate Lobbying Threatens to Undermine Biodiversity

A new report shows the extent to which powerful corporations and fossil fuel interests exert their influence to delay or roll back legislation to protect the environment

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Biodiversity loss is occurring globally at unprecedented rates, as increasing numbers of species find themselves at risk of extinction. According to the IUCN Red List, a database tracking the global extinction status of animals and plants, one in four species are at risk of extinction in Britain alone.

There has been a 70% decline in the populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians since 1970. Of 7,615 species in England assessed using the IUCN regional red list, 13% are classified as near-extinct. 

New research has shown that we are far from addressing this problem. In fact, some of the world’s most influential corporations and industry associations are lobbying to delay and roll back key legislation aimed at preventing biodiversity loss and conserving the natural environment.

A new report released by think tank  InfluenceMap has concluded that “these industry associations are opposed to almost all major biodiversity-relevant policies and regulations,” as “89% of the policy engagement analysed found to be aimed at blocking progress on addressing biodiversity loss”.

InfluenceMap’s study, which has covered associations based in the US and EU including powerful corporations and banks such as JP Morgan Chase, Saudi Aramco and ExxonMobil, has arrived at a critical moment. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified “opposition from status quo interests,” and “incumbent fossil fuel interests exerting political influence” as among the primary factors preventing countries from reaching their internationally-determined climate contributions.

Low Levels of Positive Engagement

The research identified land use, pollution, the influx of invasive species and overexploitation as the primary drivers of biodiversity loss, and discovered a contradiction between rhetoric and reality. Companies with high levels of positive engagement on biodiversity loss were found to have lobbied against specific policies designed to avert it.

COPA-COGECA, a coalition of two major European lobby groups representing farmers, was given a high score of 30% for its positive engagement with biodiversity policy. The firm, however, has opposed the EU’s 2020 plan to set aside 10% of its area for agricultural protection, stating that it would incur “severe socioeconomic and environmental consequences”.

COPA-COGECA has also opposed EU policies intended to reduce pesticide usage by 50% by 2030, stating in a press release back in June that “focusing on stricter rules will not solve the underlying problems for plant protection,” and that “banning different products without having sufficient effective alternatives is not an efficient approach”. The organisation claimed that pesticide reduction “could be very detrimental for the continuity of farming activities in the EU”.

Both COPA-COGECA and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) have notable histories of opposing statutory protections for endangered species. In its 2022 policy book, AFBF advocated for delisting several endangered species from the ESA (Endangered Species Act). Moreover, during the Trump administration, the AFBF supported measures to delist grey wolves and Yellowstone bears from the ESA, a decision which, according to InfluenceMap, culminated in a third of Wisconsin’s wolves being killed in hunts.


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Sustainable Land Use

Corporations and industry associations have also lobbied against measures intended to address pollution and to incentivise the sustainable use of land.

The International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP), despite having nominally supported the Convention on Biological Diversity, a treaty intended to develop national strategies to enhance sustainability, has opposed efforts by the European Commission to protect soil quality. In a 2021 public consultation it stated that “there is no justification for introducing EU-wide soil legislation, which would create administrative burdens for both industry and the authorities on various levels with no additional environmental benefits”.

EuraCoal, an umbrella organisation representing the European coal industry, has said that the mining sector contributes positively to efforts to reduce pollution. Responding to the EU’s 2021 zero-pollution action plan, which set targets such as a 55% reduction in premature deaths from air pollution, EuraCoal argued that mining “very much helps pollution” when asked to evaluate its environmental consequences. 

Indeed, InfluenceMap’s research found that associations representing mining, oil and gas were vociferously opposed to efforts to protect biodiversity, prolifically advocating for such policies to be weakened or abandoned. The American Petroleum Institute (API), which has also actively opposed biodiversity metrics and reportedly lobbied against the protection of more endangered species than any firm since 2017, has been influential in attempting to open up federal lands for new oil drilling.

In 2021, the API filed a joint lawsuit alongside the IOGP which challenged the US Department of the Interior’s indefinite pause on oil and natural gas leasing. The lawsuit contended that the Biden administration’s January 2021 executive order prohibiting new drilling “failed to satisfy procedural requirements and ignored congressional mandates for holding lease sales”.

Government Investing in Carbon Polluters Funded By Major Conservative Donor

Diogo Augusto

Corporate Opportunism

InfluenceMap’s research examined several case studies documenting industry associations’ coordinated attempts to use current events to roll back biodiversity policies. It stated that “numerous industry associations have advocated for rollbacks on biodiversity-related policy in response to the war in Ukraine, citing either food or energy security as a justification for delaying or weakening environmental policy,” adding: “in many cases, this lobbying appears opportunistic given that industry associations are often advocating for long-standing policy asks and using the war as justification”.

In a March 2022 press release, COPA-COGECA used the war to advocate against the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy, a set of policies intended to reduce the ecological impact of agriculture while ensuring fair returns for farmers. Claiming that “it is urgent to unleash the potential of European agriculture to mitigate the effects of this war,” the press release stated: “Copa and Cogeca are asking to be able to cultivate all available land in 2022 to compensate for the blockage of Russian and Ukrainian production,” adding: “everything must be done to prevent disruptions in supply chains, which will inevitably lead to shortages in certain parts of the world”.

The American Petroleum Institute has pressured the Biden administration to permit further domestic oil and gas drilling, claiming that this will increase energy security following international blockades of Russian gas. In a letter addressed to US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm following the outbreak of the war, the API argued that “now more than ever, the administration should speak clearly and without equivocation that the United States will be a reliable producer and supplier of oil and natural gas to our allies around the world both now and in the future”.

The report also examined the support given by industry lobbyists to decisions made under the Trump administration to roll back over 100 environmental rules encompassing air and water pollution, drilling and extraction and the safeguarding of endangered species. It found that the API, the AFBF and the US Chamber of Commerce had attacked the Endangered Species Act and the Waters of the United States Rule (WOTUS), a piece of legislation intended to protect federal waters including streams and wetlands, advocating for permitting practices such as draining and filling wetlands. 

InfluenceMap’s report has shown that despite the dangers posed by biodiversity loss, which threatens to undermine our ability to address the climate crisis, some of the world’s most influential lobbyists and industry associations remain committed to stymying efforts to protect the natural environment. Sustained, coordinated opposition to policies intended to address pollution, exploitation and changes in land use may culminate in the abandonment of important measures needed to address the consequences of ecological breakdown. 

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