Global Climate Coalition: Climate Denial Legacy Follows Corporations

As corporations are increasingly being held accountable for deception of shareholders and the public on climate risk, as authors and journalists explore this history, and as lawmakers investigate it, Climate Investigations Center embarked on a year-long investigation of the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), arguably the most impactful industry group ever to campaign against climate change regulation and science.

The United States woke up to climate change in 1988 after extreme weather caused drought across half the country and newsworthy Senate hearings on the science stressed urgent action. In 1989, the Global Climate Coalition, the first industry organization to challenge government action on climate, was launched from the offices of the National Association of Manufacturers, with leadership dominated by coal-vested electric utility interests, fossil fuel companies (oil, coal) and their trade associations, and heavy manufacturing (i.e. steel, aluminum, railroads, and automobiles). The GCC was corporate America’s primary vehicle of climate change science denial and regulatory delay during its existence until 2002.

Now, nearly two decades after the group disbanded, the Climate Investigations Center has collected the most comprehensive collection of GCC documents, and made them publicly available in its archival portal, Climate Files.

Curated from research by advocates and journalists, and from private archives, litigation, FOIA requests, and IRS filings, this collection reveals the broad industry coalition that led, staffed, and coordinated the GCC’s efforts. The documents show GCC’s work to carefully pick apart established climate science, emphasize uncertainty, and advocate for regulatory inaction to the public, media, lawmakers, and government representatives.

Below you will find the top documents from the collection and key findings from the full summary of our analysis.

View and download the full report: Global Climate Coalition: Big Business Funds Climate Change Denial and Regulatory Delay.

View the full Global Climate Coalition Document Index. 

Top Documents

Key Findings

I. Oil, Utilities, and Coal at Helm of GCC and its Denial Committee, STAC

A.  From GCC’s founding until its dissolution, the industries with the most to lose in a carbon-constrained future were central components to the GCC’s strategy and output.

B.  From the outset, the corporate interests that controlled the central components of the GCC were fossil fuel producers, including coal mining interests and oil companies, and fossil fuel dependent industries, including coal-burning utilities, railroads who moved coal, automobiles, and chemical companies. When the GCC became a standalone non-profit organization in 1995, independent from the National Association of Manufacturers, the membership grew, adding at least 8 new utilities and 7 new oil and coal corporations as members. At the same time, the budget tripled, with tax documents showing three million dollars in corporate and trade association dues in tax years 1996 and 1997, compared to one million dollars in dues from the years 1994 and 1995.

C.  Revealed in seven years of data uncovered in our collection, the GCC was staffed primarily by utility, coal, and oil company employees – fifty-seven percent of the coalition’s membership. As shown below, coal, oil, and gas interests also dominated the GCC’s Board, the highest level of membership available within the GCC, and the GCC committee largely responsible for the creation of GCC’s climate science denial.

D.  In the late 1990s, the division between GCC’s corporate membership shows GCC’s hardline approach to climate change science resulted in losing member dues and social license.

II. GCC’s Priority: Co-opting Science Within the International Climate Negotiation Process

A.  Monitoring and analyzing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) negotiations was the GCC’s primary goal, with documents showing GCC’s “IPCC Tracker Budget” receiving an average of two-and-a-half times more annual funding than any other line-item in the budget, topping $78,000 in 1996. These funds were used for corporate scientists to attend IPCC meetings, GCC’s participation in the IPCC process, and to draft reports synthesizing IPCC findings.

B.  The GCC and its member companies sent large delegations to IPCC meetings, some registered with the UN as “Global Climate Coalition” representatives, while other corporate representatives would register with different business-friendly NGOs – forming one coordinated industry coalition bearing many different names. At the IPCC’s Second Conference of the Parties in 1996, only twenty-eight of the forty-five representatives with ties to the GCC disclosed that relationship. The number of representatives associated with the GCC present at COP-2 was more than two times the typical COP delegation from any one developing country (usually ranging from one to twenty members).

C.  The GCC engaged with the IPCC in bad faith; GCC corporate representatives registered with different organizations to attend the IPCC meeting but would report back to the GCC their efforts, emphasizing IPCC findings that validated the interests of their member corporations and omitting those that did not. Simultaneously, demonstrated in previously unreleased documents, the GCC coordinated an attack on the IPCC process – erroneously targeting scientist Ben Santer through direct communications and public-facing editorials.

III. The Voice of Industry: GCC Doesn’t Concede Full Truth on Science

A.  The GCC’s rhetoric evolved over time, its early years producing some of its most strident public climate change denial. During this time, examples of the coalition denying anthropogenic climate change and highlighting fringe contrarian theories were commonplace. Despite internal discussions about what they could and couldn’t factually assert, along with small adjustments to the GCC’s talking points, the group continued to proffer doubt and uncertainty around climate science and refer to the same, small group of climate deniers until the group disbanded.

B.  GCC’s Science and Technology Assessment Committee (STAC) was one of many Committee’s within the GCC and the place where science was discussed most intensively. The STAC also shaped the GCC’s carefully worded, strategic denial – shaping the group’s climate positions, emphasizing natural climate variability, questioning the reliability of climate modeling, and diminishing humanity’s role in greenhouse gas emissions.

C.  Despite internal documents and drafts showing the GCC internally acknowledging the legitimacy of anthropogenic climate change while debunking prevailing “contrarian theories” in 1995, the GCC never publicly disclosed their full understanding of climate change science. Instead, it would continue to publicly emphasize factors other than human greenhouse gas emissions, touting the same “contrarian theories” they had internally debated and debunked, as late as 1999.

IV. U.S. Policymakers Want Input: GCC Sends Talking Points, Wish Lists, and Aggressive Critiques of the Kyoto Protocol

A.  The GCC influenced international negotiations through engagement with the United States government delegation involved in the negotiations themselves. From just 1996 to 1997, documents show the GCC met with high-ranking government officials on at least ten occasions, supplying the State Department with talking points and GCC-written reports that perpetuated denial and regulatory delay. In those meetings, “[t]he GCC position was one of no need for rushing into any controls [of greenhouse gases].”

B.  The GCC continued to voice its opinion to government officials until at least 2001, when a State Department briefing scripts an Undersecretary to tell the GCC that, “POTUS rejected Kyoto, in part, based on input from you.”

V. GCC Astroturfing: Kochs, ExxonMobil, and Others Support Kyoto Opposition

A.  In 1996, the GCC wanted to expand its reach, announcing a new State and Local Committee to engage in climate change dialogue on the ground across the United States.

B.  Documents show this plan was to be implemented with the help of organizations in the now infamous Koch network, front groups and organizations created or supported by GCC industry-members like ExxonMobil, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and CSX Corporation.

VI. GCC Denial of Climate Impacts on Human Health

A.  As early as 1994, the GCC questioned if modeling was able to “quantify the cost of climate change with respect to … health” in an “Issues and Options: Potential Global Climate Change” report. In a 1995 GCC bulletin, the Coalition countered Harvard School of Public Health’s Dr. Paul Epstein, who contended that more tropical weather from global warming would lead to an increase of tropical disease. Then, in a 1996 strategy memo to the GCC Board of Directors, the GCC flagged that, “[f]or the first time, the Administration is likely to play the health card – an unfounded argument that climate change will cause an increase in diseases and will otherwise affect the health of US citizens.”

B.  GCC’s STAC received internal briefings from Exxon in 1996 outlining a strategy to foster debate and question findings that linked human health impacts to climate change. The GCC followed Exxon’s advice, releasing its own statements marking computer modeling as insufficient to show a causal connection between adverse impacts on human health and climate change.

C.  In 1997, the GCC quietly funded an American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) report on human health and climate. The final ACSH report was never circulated among the STAC committee from the documents we have here. However, in 1997, ACSH did publish a report on the subject titled “Global Climate Change and Human Health” and despite sharing the same subject as the STAC grant, the report disclosed no funding or support from the GCC or any other corporate entities. The report held that sustained fossil fuel consumption was “fundamental to the well-being of the human population,” thus, ACSH argued, the use of these fuels should not be curtailed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Full Collection Summary Report

  1. Oil, Utilities, and Coal at Helm of GCC and its Denial Committee, STAC
  2. GCC’s Priority: Co-opting Science Within the International Climate Negotiation Process
  3. The Voice of Industry: GCC Doesn’t Concede Full Truth on Science
  4. U.S. Policymakers Want Input: GCC Sends Talking Points, Wish Lists, and Aggressive Critiques of the Kyoto Protocol
  5. GCC Astroturfing: Kochs, ExxonMobil, and Others Support Kyoto Opposition
  6. GCC Denial of Climate Impacts on Human Health

View and download the full report: Global Climate Coalition: Big Business Funds Climate Change Denial and Regulatory Delay.

View the full Global Climate Coalition Document Index. 

Posted by Climate Investigations Center