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Department of Finance Initiative in Sustainable Finance

Corporate Climate Lobbying

Initiative in Sustainable Finance: New study reveals the strategies of biggest climate lobbyists

Researchers from the Department of Finance present a new study on the deeply rooted problem of climate lobbying in the United States.

A recent paper titledCorporate Climate Lobbying by Prof. Markus Leippold, Prof. Zacharias Sautner, and Dr. Tingyu Yu offers a unique deep dive into the corporate climate lobbying architecture in the United States and new insights into the determinants and consequences of climate lobby expenditures.

The study is based on a vast sample of quarterly lobbying reports filed by US-listed companies between Q1 2001 and Q1 2023. The data was obtained from OpenSecrets, a non-profit organization specializing in publishing lobbying and campaign finance data.

What is climate lobbying?

Lobbying activities aim to influence politicians and policymakers. Pro-climate lobbying advocates for policies that mitigate climate change, such as renewable energy incentives and emission regulations. Anti-climate lobbying opposes such measures, by undermining, delaying, or avoiding regulations and policies related to climate action. Climate lobbying covers roughly 10% of all lobbying expenses in the US.

Key findings

  • Firms with higher carbon emissions spend more on anti-climate lobbying
    Firms with higher carbon emissions spend more on climate-related lobbying. When they do so, they seek to prevent stricter climate regulation, such as carbon taxation or policies to regulate emissions allowances.
  • Utility firms are leading in pro- and anti-climate lobby spending
    The biggest climate lobbyists operate in the utility sector. Electricity generators that rely on coal and gas typically engage in anti-climate lobbying, while nuclear energy generators focus more on pro-climate lobbying. Interestingly, the researchers note that renewable energy producers do not spend more on pro-climate lobby spending than other energy producers.
  • Anti-climate lobbying is associated with a risk premium
    Anti-climate lobbying exposes companies to reputational and transition risks. In turn, stocks of anti-climate lobbyists earn higher returns and compensate investors for the risks associated with lobbying.
  • Camouflaged lobbying is increasingly common
    Lobbyists increasingly hide their anti-climate lobbying by avoiding being explicit on climate-related issues in lobbying reports. Before 2010, over 80% of lobbying reports openly included climate-related keywords such as “climate change,” “global warming,” and “carbon emission.” At the end of 2022, this proportion is down to 35%. Instead of referring to climate-related keywords, firms camouflage their lobbying activities by mentioning only abstract codes of the bills they lobby on.

The top climate lobbyists

Figure 1: The top five anti-climate and pro-climate lobbyists in the US (expenditures from 2001 to 2023)

Southern Company is the top anti-climate lobbyist in the US. This gas and electric utility company has an aggregate anti-climate lobby spending of $US 88 million between 2001 and 2023. Overall, anti-climate lobby spending is much higher, compared with pro-climate spending. The top five anti-climate lobbyists spend nearly double (in total, US $265 million) than their top five pro-climate lobbying competitors (in total, US $135 million) (figure 1).

Climate lobbying and politics

Figure 2: Pro- and anti-climate lobbying, 2001-2023

Lobbying is heavily related to legislation

Highlighting the connectedness between lobbying efforts and politics, lobby expenses are shifting depending on the presidents in power. During the Trump presidency, climate-related lobbying was at its lowest level since 2006. In contrast, 2020 marks the year when pro-climate lobbying exceeds anti-climate lobbying expenses for the first time – possibly as a backlash to the neglect of climate policy during the Trump years. One peak is reached in 2022 when President Biden supported the Inflation Reduction Act and other legislation that create the most stringent climate regulations to date (figure 2).

Summary: Climate lobbying has accelerated massively since 2006

In the past decades, climate lobby expenditures rose quickly from nearly zero in 2001 to US $178 million in 2009. While activity remained limited until 2006, climate lobbying picked up rapidly once climate change-related legislation became a topic in American public and policy circles. In 2006, corporate lobby expenditures jumped to US $20 million, up from previously US $1 million. While peaking in 2009 when the American Clean Energy and Security Act is realized, activity slowed down afterward (figure 2).

Learn more

Leippold, Markus and Sautner, Zacharias and Yu, Tingyu, Corporate Climate Lobbying (May 30, 2024). Swiss Finance Institute Research Paper No. 24-14, European Corporate Governance Institute – Finance Working Paper No. 960/2024, Available at SSRN: or


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