Michael Bloomberg and the Dark Side of Climate Philanthropy

Michael Bloomberg, who in 2018 was appointed by Secretary-General Guterres as the UN Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions, has been at Glasgow calling for an end to coal. He is also both a huge donor to anti-coal organisations and, it would seem, a beneficiary of their campaigns. His direct influence extends even to the official scenarios of climate change, ensuring debate is framed in a way that furthers his objectives.

Bloomberg is an interesting character, who made his Billions in finance and through creation of the eponymous financial information/media platform, and who served three terms as Mayor of New York. He spent US$676 million of his own money unsuccessfully seeking the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2019-20 in the most expensive self-funded campaign in history.

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At Glasgow one can see the impact that money can have, particularly on developing countries whose limited resources are stretched by the multiplicity of forums, agreements, and meetings.

While much of the limelight at Glasgow on Friday and over the weekend was occupied by the goings-on of various celebrities, there were still negotiations taking place in informal meetings and in group like the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI). Glasgow is also the occasion for the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) and the Conference of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA).

Then there are many other elements of the constantly elaborating climate-industrial complex, such as: the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM), Nairobi Work Programme (NWP); Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture, Biennial Transparency Report (BTR), National Inventory Document (NID), Technical Expert Review Report (TERR), and Matters Relating to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

Participating in these many forums strains the intellectual and monetary resources of even large, affluent states and it is beyond the resource requirements of small developing states to participate in them all. This is important, because actors take advantage of the multiplicity of arenas to advance or block agendas in a strategy known as ‘forum shopping’. There is a need for eternal vigilance with forum shopping when ambitions to strive for 1.5°C in one venue can become portrayed as commitments in another.

As it happens, the costs of participation for developing countries are supported by a UN Trust Fund for Participation, to which voluntary contributions are made – especially generous contributions by those who wish strongly for a successful outcome from proceedings.

So far this year contributions to the trust fund have totalled US $973,332, of which US $654,830 has come from Germany, US$ 128,114 from Sweden, and US$ 127,229 from the European Union. That is the usual pattern, with almost all the contributions coming from the EU and its members and the UK.

There are also funds provided to the UN itself for climate change in the UNFCCC Supplementary Contributions fund, which as of December 31, 2019, stood at $US 36,255,941. The most recent contributors to this fund were Germany with $US 5,908,863 and Bloomberg Philanthropies with $US 5,500,000 (Bloomberg Philanthropies is, of course, the charitable vehicle of Michael Bloomberg).

Bloomberg promised $15m to the UNFCC by way of an apology for Trump withdrawing the US from the Paris Agreement, so it is unsurprising Guterres appointed him Special Envoy, but between 2010 and 2018 he also donated $164m to the ‘Beyond Coal’ campaign of the Sierra Club (the largest and most influential environmental campaign organisation in the USA). The $30 billion personal and philanthropic fortune of Bloomberg reported by Naomi Klein in 2015 has now increased to $59 billion, as at September 2021. His wealth is managed by investment group Willett Advisors, which Klein noted invests in a range of assets that includes oil and gas. Bloomberg has been a longstanding advocate for gas, and in 2017 announced he was taking his campaign to Europe with funding of $50m.

Bloomberg has not just profited from campaigning against coal, he has been active in creating the alarm over a ‘Climate Emergency’. Together with his fellow Democratic Party candidate Tom Steyer and Hank Paulson he created the think tank Risky Business, which lobbied successfully for the extreme emissions scenario RCP8.5 (which assumes per capita coal consumption will increase six-fold) to be included as a ‘business as usual’ scenario in both the US national document and eventually in the IPCCs Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate released in the run-up to the 2019 COP25.

RCP 8.5 assumed far greater emissions of CO2 over the twenty-first century than any of the projections of the International Energy Agency (IEA)and fuelled the claims of Climate Emergency by Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg, which in turn helped support the investments and policy preferences of Steyer and Bloomberg. And it retained a minor presence in IPCC AR6 released in August, just in time for COP-26, as SSP 8.5. (Judith Curry compares RCP8.5 with IEA projections, here)

While the report overall was less apocalyptic, the retention of this scenario allowed those who wished to preach catastrophe (like UN Secretary-General Guterres) to do so, with a little help from a Summary for Policy Makers that was ‘sexed up’ and included a new hockey stick graph that gave the impression that humans alone were responsible for recent warming. The graph was not in the body of the Report, and was quickly demolished by Steve McIntyre, conqueror of the original hockey stick [see also analysis of the hockey stick by IPA Senior Fellow, John Abbot, here].

The example of Bloomberg alerts us to the need to be sceptical of the claims of financiers, for whom it is difficult to distinguish between genuine concerns and their desire to make money from the policies they encourage.

The Asia Times recently identified a ‘green bubble’ and underinvestment in gas and coal assets as a result of pressure on the financial sector as lying behind the current global energy crisis [read here $]. In a similar vein, Michael Shellenberger wrote on how ‘shareholder divestment campaigns caused oil and gas shortages, a return to coal, and higher emissions’ [read here].The resulting short-term threat should focus the minds of both financiers and governments more than 2050.

There is, however, some positive news from the UK. The UK Government intends to extend its ratification of the Paris Agreement to the Bailiwick of Guernsey, the Isle of Man and the Bailiwick of Jersey, intending to finalise the treaty extension after COP26 and bring the Crown Dependencies into gamut of the UK’s Nationally Determined Contribution target to reduce emissions by at least 68% by 2030 on 1990 levels. It will surely be appreciated by the titans of the financial sector that their tax havens will now contribute towards Net Zero by 2050.

More disappointing was the news that the Duchess of Cornwall reported a prolonged episode of flatulence from President Biden in her presence, undercutting his newly concluded promise to reduce methane emissions.

Aynsley Kellow is Professor Emeritus of Government, University of Tasmania, and a Special Correspondent for the Institute of Public Affairs on COP26 and Net Zero. This is his contribution to the IPA’s daily COP26 Bulletin, to which you can subscribe here.