Download our newest report into the fossil fuel industry’s political influence:
How shadowy groups and privileged access enabled the fossil fuel industry to derail the windfall tax
Fossil fuels run thick and fast through Parliament. From donations to side-jobs, secretive meetings, and swanky receptions, the fossil fuel industry relentlessly pursues privileged access to our decision-makers in a bid to maintain political approval and influence.
However, the exact extent to which Parliament is “fossil fuelled” no one can say – a lack of transparency, particularly with regards to meetings with anyone other than ministers and the most senior civil servants, makes it impossible to know just how much access the fossil fuel industry has to our politics. But at Fossil Free Parliament, we are committed to exposing as much of the problem as we can – working with partner organisations and investigative researchers to bring to light the injustice and conflict of interest inherent in the fossil fuel industry’s involvement in our politics.
To develop our five asks, we conducted a broad investigation into the main channels of influence the fossil fuel industry has within our politics using publicly-available sources, such as the Register of Members’ Financial Interests; Transparency International’s Open Access UK database, which compiles Government transparency data; and the existing research published by investigative journalism platforms like DeSmog and openDemocracy. Below, we have shared our rationale for each demand, supported by key pieces of evidence.
Ultimately, our objective is to develop a living, user-friendly database of the relationships between Parliament and the fossil fuel industry. If this is something that you are interested in working on with us, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us via email@example.com.
Decision-makers are considered to be MPs, Peers, and parties.
The fossil fuel industry is defined as companies generating more than 10% of their revenue from the exploration, production, refining or processing of coal, oil and fossil gas.
Organisations representing fossil fuel industry interests may include lobbyists who are paid a fee to represent their interests or fossil fuel industry networks, pressure groups, or trade associations such as Offshore Energies UK (OEUK). We are working on drawing up a list of such organisations for ease of identification.
Our Asks: the details
Decision-makers must refuse donations, gifts and sponsorship deals, and any other benefits, from the fossil fuel industry and organisations representing fossil fuel industry interests.
Donations are one of the primary methods that organisations use to seek influence over our decision-makers. It creates a conflict of interest for decision-makers to accept donations from companies or individuals involved in the fossil fuel industry, or organisations representing the interests of the fossil fuel industry, such as sector agencies or affiliated think tanks or pressure groups. When they accept funds from the fossil fuel industry or its affiliates, they are both implicitly condoning the industry’s dangerous disregard for its role in accelerating the climate crisis and opening themselves up to further influence in favour of the industry’s interests.
In the year leading up to the publication of the government’s North Sea Transition Deal in March 2021, the Conservative Party received a total of £419,900 in donations from companies and individuals involved in the North Sea oil and gas industry. When published, the deal made no mention of an end-date for fossil fuel extraction in the North Sea, and included grounds for the approval of new drilling licences, contravening International Energy Agency advice. Ending this kind of donation is a necessary precondition for decision-makers to be able to make impartial decisions on phasing out the fossil fuel industry.
Decision-makers must reject invitations to host or attend events run by the fossil fuel industry or promoting the fossil fuel industry’s interests, and they must prevent fossil fuel industry events from taking place on parliamentary premises and at party conferences.
The continued dominance of the fossil fuel industry is dependent on public relations strategies to retain its social licence to operate. Fossil fuel industry events are one of the key ways in which the industry spreads misinformation that exaggerates its green credentials and underplays continued investment in developing new oil and gas. Decision makers’ hosting, speaking at or attending such events reinforces the social licence of the industry and perpetuates an inaccurate image of the industry as a necessary part of our long term future.
Fossil fuel companies are also able to use political connections to host events in parliament itself, which provides an opportunity to project a falsely positive image of their activities to politicians without public criticism. For example, in April 2022, two MPs hosted a BP event on parliamentary premises that promised a chance to hear about the company’s plans to ‘help the world get to Net Zero’*. The fossil fuel industry’s dominant position ensures that they are able to host such events while their opponents are not, creating an undemocratic imbalance in access to decision-makers. Fossil fuel companies should not have this kind of private and privileged access.
See this post [post does not exist yet – also hoping to have it ready for EOD Monday] on our News page about a breakfast reception that Equinor hosted at the House of Lords on 22/06/2023.
*Source: private correspondence.
Decision-makers must end lobbying meetings with the industry and organisations representing fossil fuel industry interests, unless the meeting is to discuss fossil fuel phase out, and exclude fossil fuel industry presence from public bodies.
The extensive and private nature of fossil fuel industry lobbying is damaging to both our democracy and the climate and is disproportionate to the industry’s actual contribution to the economy. Given the fossil fuel industry’s vested interest in delaying efforts to phase out fossil fuels, regulation is required to prevent them lobbying for government policy to be watered down, just as tobacco firms are excluded from public health policy-making.
Between July 2019 and March 2021, UK government ministers met with fossil fuel companies nine times more often than with renewable energy firms or groups. Beyond these meetings, ministers also attended hundreds of larger group meetings on energy. Fossil fuel companies were present at these meetings five times as often as renewable energy producers. The private nature of these meetings means that the public are unaware of decisions being made and information being provided to decision makers.
In addition to personal meetings, public bodies such as All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) can offer lobbyists access to politicians. One APPG successfully lobbied the government to introduce a controversial ‘greener’ petrol called E10, after taking donations from one of the sector’s leading firms. The company helped to research and write the APPG’s influential report on the subject, which contained disputed claims about the benefits of E10. Curtailment of lobbying as well as greater transparency around meetings between decision-makers and the fossil fuel industry is required to ensure that the fossil fuel industry no longer has disproportionate influence over policy on climate change.
Decision-makers must phase out the Parliament Contributory Pension Fund’s investments in fossil fuel companies and exclude them from future investment. Re-invest this money in ethical alternatives.
When our decision makers’ pensions are invested in fossil fuel companies that are driving climate breakdown, it means that their own money is directly funding the causes of climate change while their private finances are entangled with the financial value of industries that they need to manage the phasing out of. The fact that the parliamentary pension fund does not explicitly exclude fossil fuel investments also sends out a regressive message that fossil fuel investments are still morally right and financially wise.
There are strong financial reasons to divest from fossil fuels. The Pension Fund Trustees admit that ‘climate change represents a material financial risk to the Fund with the potential to disrupt economic, financial and social systems’. Research has shown that the cost of renewable energy has fallen exponentially and it is now much cheaper than gas. Investing in green energy of the future, such as energy storage, wind, and solar, represents a more secure long-term option to protect pensions and the planet. Around the world, over 1550 institutions have already committed to divest $40.5 trillion, including the Welsh Parliament and one of the world’s biggest pension funds, the ABP, which is selling its 15 billion Euros’ worth of holdings in fossil fuels. Ending this personal link between decision-maker finances and fossil fuels is an important step towards parliament’s independence from the industry.
Decision-makers must not take on paid work for the fossil fuel industry during their time in Parliament, and they must put in place measures to restrict movement between jobs in parliament and in the fossil fuel industry.
Jobs in the fossil fuel industry present a conflict of interest for decision-makers who need to institute climate change policies that will necessarily involve the phasing out of the fossil fuel industry. If decision-makers are paid by the fossil fuel industry, it affects their ability to make these decisions and distorts their judgement. Work for these industries also adds unhelpful social licence and respectability for companies that are engaging in climate change delay and denial.
There are currently a number of sitting MPs earning substantial incomes from paid work for the fossil fuel industry on top of their parliamentary salary. These jobs are poorly regulated and often involve a substantial income for only a few hours work, acting as an effective bribe. This kind of work means that MPs also become representatives of the fossil fuel industry themselves, acting as lobbyists from within.
Senior figures, including ex-prime minister Liz Truss, Amber Rudd and William Hague, have worked for the fossil fuel industry prior to or following on from their parliamentary career. Although ministers must seek permission when taking on jobs after leaving parliament, the committee that oversees this process has okayed numerous fossil fuel industry jobs and only has the power to refuse appointments for up to two years after someone has finished their job in parliament. This creates significant scope for a revolving door, where individuals are able to bring their personal contacts and political influence with them when taking on work that advances the interests of the fossil fuel industry.