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New evidence that Big Tech is 'MIA' on climate policy

New evidence that Big Tech is 'MIA' on climate policy
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The Biden administration is matching actions to words on climate — assembling the most impressive team of pro-climate experts, strategists and policy leaders ever, making the goal of a just climate policy a top priority of the 2021 legislative agenda in Congress. 

But leading companies in the tech sector are failing to match their own pro-climate commitments with lobbying action, according to a new report from InfluenceMap. (Note: the author is a member of the Advisory Board of InfluenceMap.) The report finds that Big Tech, the most powerful business voice for climate, is mostly missing in action on Capitol Hill just as this urgent issue nears a policy showdown.

The new data shows that Big Tech’s track record of engagement on climate policy has thus far been negligible: across the board, InfluenceMap finds that “only 4 percent of Big Tech’s disclosed lobbying activity was devoted to climate-related policies. This compares with an average of 38 percent for Big Oil companies.” Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseWhitehouse says family won't resign from beach club Beach club linked to Sheldon Whitehouse denies reports that it's all-white Progressive groups ramp up pressure on Feinstein MORE (D-R.I.), the point person on climate policy in the Senate, puts it bluntly, “Big Tech has refused to lift a finger to push comprehensive climate action in Congress.”

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Big Tech’s failure to show up matters; we’re going to need all hands on deck for this climate fight. While Congress’ sweeping pandemic relief bill contained some climate provisions that won bipartisan support, no one is expecting all future pro-climate proposals to get a kumbaya welcome. Even with a narrowly Democratic House and Senate, passing pro-climate legislation won’t be easy — whether it’s under special reconciliation rules or traditional ones. It will require mustering business support to bring swing Senators of both parties behind it — and that’s where the challenge will lie. 

Big Oil will be girded for battle in 2021. They heard the warning shot last fall in then-candidate Biden’s debate statement about making a “transition from the oil industry.” Despite President TrumpDonald TrumpIran claims U.S. to lift all oil sanctions but State Department says 'nothing is agreed' Ivanka Trump, Kushner distance themselves from Trump claims on election: CNN Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum MORE’s all-out efforts to make this clear statement into a gaffe, candidate Biden didn’t pay a real political price for calling for oil’s demise. Yes, the fossil fuel industry’s new public relations strategy is to change its tune on the climate narrative. But Big Oil still has the powerful Chamber of Commerce (doing its own deft repositioning on climate to shift slowly away from outright climate denial) to back them up when deals are cut.

What business sector is powerful and influential enough to counter Big Oil? The obvious answer is Big Tech. With an historic showdown on climate coming, we need full throttle engagement from the strongest, most vibrant business proponent of saving the planet — the tech sector. To their credit, Big Tech firms have made great progress advancing sustainability in operations and taking vocal stands on the issue. It’s now time for them to walk the walk on climate policy.

But whether or not they will is an open question. Obviously, the public affairs teams of the leading tech firms have more narrow concerns on their mind in 2021’s Washington — like Facebook’s big antitrust problems. As a former Big Tech executive, I know climate policy too often slips down the priority list. It is zero hour on climate policy — we have run out of time for inaction. The failure to pass significant climate legislation in 2021 would be devastating to the future of the planet — not just our businesses, but our families and our very survival. We are now in a very narrow window — of time when our actions can still keep global warming below the 1.5 degree threshold recommended by science to prevent the most severe outcomes. This is the moment for bold policy and for the whole team to join the fight.

With the fate of the climate hanging in the balance, if Big Tech stays out of this struggle, they will lose credibility not just with the Biden administration, but with their own pro-climate employees. As they try to recruit idealistic students, they will find that these bright, savvy young tech workers expect them to stand tall on climate policy and environmental justice — and that they are increasingly outspoken. Time is running short for Big Tech to step up, honor their pro-climate pledges and make their workforce proud. Let’s hope they do.

Bill Weihl is a former sustainability executive at Google and Facebook. He is the founder and executive director of ClimateVoice, a non-profit initiative.