Exxon Won’t Sponsor AGU, a Win of Sorts for Oil Giant’s Opponents

Scientists had urged the science organization to reject funding because of Exxon’s climate denial history, but Exxon pulled out on its own.

The American Geophysical Union came under fire for accepting sponsorship money from Exxon
The American Geophysical Union has come under fire for accepting sponsorship money from Exxon for its annual conference, seen here. Credit: American Geophysical Union/flickr

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Energy giant ExxonMobil won’t be a sponsor of the largest earth and space science conference for the first time since at least 2001.

It was Exxon’s decision not to provide any funding for the annual conference, which will be held next week in San Francisco, according to a blog post last week from the conference organizers, the American Geophysical Union.

This news follows a nearly year-long campaign, in which more than 60,000 scientists, activists and others urged AGU to not accept Exxon’s money because they say the company has contributed to the spread of misinformation about climate change. They argued that’s inconsistent with AGU’s mission, position statement on climate change and funding policies.

AGU’s board considered this issue twice this year, voting in April and again in September to keep Exxon as a sponsor.

Although those protesting Exxon’s sponsorship celebrated the absence of Exxon’s money, they also expressed disappointment that the decision didn’t come from AGU.

“We welcome news that Exxon won’t be funding the AGU conference this year, and encourage AGU to stand up for science by cutting financial ties with all fossil fuel companies,” wrote Brant Olson, director of ClimateTruth.org, in a statement. ClimateTruth.org is one of the science advocacy groups that’s pressed AGU on the issue.

Exxon provided $35,000 for a student breakfast at last year’s meeting. The company has sponsored this event for at least the last 15 years, and has funded travel grants for students to attend meetings in the past. Two AGU members who are current and former Exxon employees have also previously bundled donations on behalf of the energy company. In total, about $620,000 in donations from 2001-15 have been tied to Exxon. This amounts to 0.1 percent of AGU’s total revenue during that period.

Exxon did not respond to repeated requests by InsideClimate News about whether the scientists’ public campaign influenced its decision. AGU also declined to comment on Exxon’s motivation.

“It’s not AGU’s role to explain our sponsors’ decisions,” AGU spokeswoman Joan Buhrman wrote in an email.

Multiple state attorneys general are investigating whether Exxon failed to inform investors and the public about the risks posed to its business by climate change.

Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), told InsideClimate News that AGU’s sponsorship problems don’t end with Exxon. He pointed out that Chevron is one of this year’s conference sponsors. Both Chevron and ExxonMobil are failing to effectively confront climate change, according to a UCS study published this fall.