Citation: Sharon Beder, 'The decline of the Global Climate Coalition', Engineers Australia, Nov 2000, p. 41.

This is a final version submitted for publication. Minor editorial changes may have subsequently been made.

Sharon Beder's Other Publications

The Global Climate Coalition (GCC) is an example of the type of corporate folly and selfishness that is beginning to activate protesters. The GCC was a coalition of 50 oil, gas, coal, automobile and chemical corporations and trade associations put together with the help of PR giant Burson-Marsteller in 1989. Its purpose was to caste doubt on the theory of global warming and to oppose government policies which sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Today its membership is depleted and its credibility in tatters.

The GCC describes itself as "the voice of U.S. businesses and industries that have a stake in the outcome of the global climate change debate". It says it is concerned about the impacts of the Kyoto Protocol "that will negatively affect our ability to conduct business". The GCC spent millions of dollars in its public relations campaign to persuade the US public that global warming is not a real threat and gave over $US60 million in political contributions during the 1990s in its efforts to get politicians on side.

In the lead-up to the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 the GCC and other industry interests successfully lobbied the US government to avoid mandatory emissions controls and ensure the Framework Climate Convention was watered down. The enfeebled agreement that emerged required industrialised countries to pledge to stabilise their emissions at 1990 levels, but this goal was not binding. As a result emissions steadily increased in many countries, including Australia and the US.

GCC's tactics have included the distribution of a video to hundreds of journalists which claims that increased levels of carbon dioxide will increase crop production and help to feed the hungry people of the world. Whilst criticising the 'scare tactics' of environmental groups it has done its best to confuse and scare the American people about the consequences of the Kyoto Protocol, for example, by suggesting that petrol costs will go up 50c per gallon. In the lead up to the Kyoto conference in 1997 the GCC argued that emission reduction targets would destroy jobs, even though its members had already shed 84,000 jobs between 1992 and 1996 to cut costs and increase profits.

GCC's activities began receiving unwanted publicity in 1997 and corporations began leaving it because of the adverse impact on their own reputations. First to leave was Dupont, then in 1997 BP, which argued that it was time to act to prevent greenhouse warming rather than continue to debate whether it would occur or not. Royal Dutch/Shell soon followed in 1998, then others including Ford in 1999, Daimler-Chrysler, Texaco and The Southern Company in 2000.

General Motors left in March 2000, three days after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a report showing that the US had experienced the warmest winter since records had been kept — 105 years. As time goes by the evidence of global warming becomes more compelling. On every continent ice is melting; in the Arctic Ocean the ice cap has shrunk by over 40% in 35 years.

By March 2000, so many companies had left the GCC because of its poor reputation and the increasing evidence of global warming that the GCC had to restructure itself to be a coalition of trade associations that individual companies can't join. The GCC has also softened its own public stance, arguing for voluntary measures to reduce emissions rather than disputing the need for measures.

The Worldwatch Institute has likened the exodus from the GCC to the demise of the Tobacco Institute, set up by the tobacco industry to undermine the certainty of the science that linked smoking with lung cancer and other disease. The Tobacco Institute closed shop in January 1999.

It is surprising in these circumstances to find a new group of Australian business people intent on continuing the program of greenhouse disinformation. The Lavoisier Group is led by former Finance Minister Peter Walsh and seeks to oppose the scientific consensus on global warming. It held its inaugural conference in May this year with an opening speech from WMC CEO Hugh Morgan. The business leaders who are associating the names of their companies with the Lavoisier Group seem to be unable to learn from the experience of former members of the GCC.