International gas lobby trying to sell the climate-heating fuel as ‘green’

Strategy documents from one of the world’s largest fossil gas lobby reveal the industry’s campaigns to lock in fossil gas and stall progression to net zero worldwide.

Analysis of the documents, published by the think tank InfluenceMap, shows the International Gas Union (IGU) has sought to redefine the role of gas in the face of growing concerns about climate change. 

The documents acknowledge that the climate policy debate poses a “potentially existential” situation for the industry. But rather than ignoring it, the IGU needs to “find a positive message to defend and enhance the role of gas” including the “greening of gas”. Moreover, the IGU has tailored its communications playbook based on the level of “environmental consciousness” in each market.

The IGU describes itself as “the spokesperson for the gas industry worldwide”. It has more than 150 members, including Shell, TotalEnergies, Sempra Energy, and ExxonMobil, claiming to represent over 90 per cent of the global gas market.

The documents analysed for this report were available on IGU’s website between September 2021 and April 2022, but have since been removed, say InfluenceMap.

Stalling vital global climate progress

The IGU documents state that “the golden age of natural gas has been replaced with a more delicate view of the role of natural gas in the future energy mix”. It continues that the “role of gas needs to be examined and strategic solutions to return to an overall positive image of gas shall be developed.”

The IPCC is clear in its warning that limiting global warming requires a significant reduction in the use of fossil fuels, including fossil gas. It has also identified “incumbent fossil fuel interests” as preventing decarbonisation and being a limiting factor in the global climate policy ambition.

The IGU’s advocacy documents therefore offer an explanation for why global climate forums, such as the COP process, have struggled to make more ambitious progress in responding to the climate crisis.

In February, InfluenceMap also published a report detailing how climate policy lobbying from industry in South Africa specifically is blocking ambitious climate action in the country. As a result, both the Climate Change Bill – the country’s landmark climate legislation – and the South African Carbon Tax have been watered down or delayed, it found.

InfluenceMap Program Manager, Faye Holder, said the IGU documents “reveal the industry’s rebranding strategy to promote gas as ‘green’ despite the increasingly urgent warnings from climate scientists.” The strategy is “undermining climate action in major economies around the globe”, she added. 

The IGU playbook targets Africa

The documents detail the organisation’s regionally specific communication strategies to promote the use of gas. For Africa, the IGU documents focus on promoting fossil gas to displace coal and reduce energy and monetary poverty. Fossil gas could have “dramatic and immediate benefits in reducing GHGs and cleaning the environment”, the IGU states.

According to the documents, the IGU believes it should focus on the benefits of gas to developing countries. In the context of Africa, it says these countries “should not be denied the benefits of such supply [fossil gas] that has benefited developed economies for many years.”

For South Africa, independent analysis says this is not the case. Investing in gas in South Africa would be a “costly mistake“, according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), while fuelling the country’s climate and energy crisis and harmful air pollution. 

Inside the international gas lobby strategy

The analysis of the IGU documents shows that the organisation’s “advocacy” strategy included targeting key global institutions such as the UN, the G20, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

It also sought to develop relationships with key partners in the media, environmental organisations and think tanks. The aim was to “raise IGU’s credibility and leadership amongst influential organisations to help shape energy dialogues and debates”, while its use of the media was to “promote positive sentiment toward, and broader definition of, gas”, the documents reveal. 

Ben Franta, Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Climate Litigation Lab at the University of Oxford, said: “The fossil gas industry is knowingly pushing the world to disaster through continued long-term promotion of its dangerous products. Equally disturbing, these documents show how the industry has established partnerships with news companies, environmental organisations, and even universities in order to normalise the continued production and use of fossil fuels.

“After decades of delay, denial, and obfuscation from the fossil gas industry, it is time for accountability”, he said.