Climate advocacy group 350.org has demanded Malcolm Turnbull divest from ExxonMobil, which is under investigation for a climate change cover-up. Thom Mitchell reports.
A leading environmental group has called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to ditch his investments in ExxonMobil, a company that’s under investigation by the New York Attorney General for allegedly covering up the truth about climate change for decades.
On Friday it emerged that Exxon had received a subpoena requesting documents relating to internal studies from the late 1970s on, which allegedly revealed the extent of the damage done to Earth’s atmosphere by products like those the oil giant peddles.
Climate advocacy group 350.org was the first to realise Turnbull is a beneficiary of the alleged cover-up, which internationally renowned environmentalist Bill McKibbon has branded an “unparalleled evil”.
The Prime Minister’s pecuniary interests register reveals that Turnbull invests in the SPDR S&P 500 fund which, in turn, lists ExxonMobil as its second largest holding.
Exxon’s annual report for 2014 claims the company has paid out $128 billion to shareholders over the past five years, but it’s not clear how much of that money has made it into Malcolm Turnbull’s pocket.
On Friday the Australian Campaigns Director at 350.org, Charlie Wood, called on Turnbull to put his money where his mouth is ahead of key United Nations negotiations to be held in December.
“In a few weeks, world leaders will meet in Paris to come up with a plan to tackle the devastating climate impacts that Exxon has fuelled,” Wood said. “Australia won’t be taken seriously in Paris if our Prime Minister turns up with investments in a company that has worked for decades to make meetings like Paris fail.”
The Prime Minister’s office has not responded to requests for comment from Friday morning, but given his outspoken stance over a number of years on the need for climate action and “the importance of [accurate]science,” the multi-millionaire is likely to face questions from other quarters too.
On Thursday Deputy Greens leader Larissa Waters joined Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, frontrunner candidates in the US Presidential race, in calling for an investigation into what ExxonMobile knew about climate change, when, and whether it engaged in a campaign of deception to skewer the emerging debate.
In a letter to New York Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Waters expressed her concern at “allegations that ExxonMobil concealed its own research about the impact of burning fossil fuels on climate change and subsequently conducted a misinformation campaign to delay action”.
“Information revealed in investigations by the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News strongly suggests that as early as the 1980s ExxonMobil’s internal research supported the view that climate change is driven largely by the burning [of]fossil fuels,” the Queensland Senator wrote.
“Subsequently, ExxonMobil continued to fund climate denialist groups and systematically mislead the public for decades”.
But Waters is not the only Australian politician to decry climate denialism. Turnbull himself, in fact, ran a very similar line in his 2011 Virginia Chadwick Memorial Lecture. Perhaps ironically, he emphasised the urgent need to “get real about supporting and responsibly accepting the science”.
“It is undoubtedly correct that there has been a very effective campaign against the science of climate change by those opposed to taking action to cut emissions, many because it is not in their own financial interests,” Turnbull said at the time.
Turnbull said that not taking climate science seriously was tantamount to “ignoring the advice of your doctor to give up smoking and lose 10 kilos on the basis that somebody down the pub told you their uncle Ernie ate three pies a day, smoked a packet of cigarettes, and lived to 95”.
It’s an interesting choice of metaphor, considering the Prime Minister also invests indirectly in Phillip Morris International via another fund which owns 6.7 per cent of the tobacco giant.
And it’s characteristic of the growing list of areas where Turnbull’s public statements appear to be starkly at odds with not only his personal actions, but the policies he’s spruiking.
The Coalition’s ‘Direct Action’ climate policy, which involves using taxpayer dollars to pay a small number of companies to abate some of their greenhouse gas emissions, sits at the top of that list. Back in 2009, shortly after he lost his leadership of the Liberal party for refusing to back it, Turnbull called the policy “bullshit”.
“Many Liberals are rightly dismayed that on this vital issue of climate change we are not simply without a policy, without any prospect of having a credible policy, but we are now without integrity,” he said. “We have given our opponents the irrefutable, undeniable evidence that we cannot be trusted.”
When he heads to the Paris climate talks in December, Turnbull will be defending that exact policy. Unless he divests, he will be forced to defend his personal financial interest in ExxonMobil, too.