BASF

Background

German company BASF SE is one of the world’s largest chemical companies. BASF Agricultural Solutions is a division of BASF, representing around 13 percent of the parent company’s $67 billion in overall sales in 2019. [1]

During the coronavirus pandemic, BASF was the largest beneficiary of the Bank of England’s emergency loan scheme, borrowing £1bn. [2]

BASF AG is the third largest of the big five firms. BASF AG’s sales are heavily concentrated in North America, followed by Europe, South America/Africa/Middle East, and Asia Pacific. [3]

Stance on Climate Change

On its website, BASF claims that it works “continuously to further reduce emissions from our production”. It has a goal of maintaining “total greenhouse gas emissions from our production sites (excluding emissions from sale of energy to third parties) and our energy purchases at the 2018 level (21.9 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents) while increasing production”. [4]

The company also supports the Paris Agreement and, according to its web pages on sustainability, has been a member of the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, which “calls for more corporate engagement to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement”. [5]

BASF lists examples of its products for “climate protection”. Under agriculture, the company says it uses a nitrification inhibitor which “ensures that the ammonium contained in fertilizers is metabolized more slowly by bacteria in the soil, thus resulting in a reduction in nitrous oxide”. BASF also claims to support wind power. [6]

Reacting to the Paris Agreement in 2015, Brigitta Huckestein, BASF’s senior manager of energy and climate policy, said: “We support the United Nations’ goals for achieving a global, long-term, and reliable agreement to reduce emissions – preferably with an internationally binding price for CO2”. [7]

In a 2019 Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) disclosure, BASF described itself as a company that creates “chemistry for a sustainable future” and writes, “we combine economic success with environmental protection and social responsibility.” The company went on to disclose that from 2019 onwards it will pursue a new goal: “CO2-neutral growth until 2030”. CDP recognised BASF as a “global leader in corporate climate action and water security,” awarding the company an A rating in the 2018 Climate Change List. [8], [9]

In February 2020, BASF became the first Carbon Literate Organisation in the UK chemical sector, after working with the Carbon Literacy Project and developing an “accredited, company-specific course which allows participants to be certified as ‘Carbon Literate’.” [10]

US based nonprofit the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in 2019 described BASF as one of “a number of leading companies” that has reversed the trend of American businesses staying silent on climate policy, using its “influence to build momentum for Congressional action on climate change.” [11]

But a 2017 report by Influence Map tracked 50 large corporations most influential in shaping climate policy globally and found that of the 50, 35 were actively lobbying against climate policy. BASF was listed as the sixth worst, in terms of “increasing opposition to Paris Aligned Climate Policy”. The company sat alongside other environmentally destructive and anti-climate policy corporations including Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and Dow Chemical. [12]

A 2011 Greenpeace report titled “Who’s holding us back? How carbon-intensive industry is preventing effective climate legislation,” likewise revealed how “major polluting corporations” like BASF, Shell, Eksom, and Koch Industries were “influencing governments and the political process on climate legislation.” The report also noted how during the 2010 US Senate race “BASF strategically donated $61,500 US dollars to ‘Senatorial candidates who have been outspoken in their opposition to comprehensive climate policy in the US, and candidates who actively deny the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is caused by people.’” [13]

In 2007, then BASF CEO Jurgen Hambrecht said in an interview for Der Spiegel that he had “a problem with the term “climate change”,” adding that it was “laden with fear” and that the climate “has always changed”. [14]

Digital and precision agriculture

BASF promotes precision agriculture strategies, which proponents say will allow farms to use high-tech gear to be resilient against the impacts of a changing climate. On its website, BASF describes some of the activities involved in precision agriculture and compares its technical complexity to drilling for oil. [15]

Speaking at a forum on climate change and agriculture, Luke Bozeman, Director of North American Crop Protection for BASF said that agriculture will need to change as the climate changes, referring to precision agriculture and digitization. He said, “what we’re going to see is a lot more collaborations to share the costs and the risks of investing in some innovations for future potential changes.” [16]

In early 2020, BASF announced an increased sales projection for its agricultural innovation products to more than €7.5 billion, declaring that by 2029, it would launch over 30 key projects in line with its agricultural strategy. [17]

In September 2020, BASF sponsored an article in Crop Production Magazine that promoted the transition towards regenerative agriculture as a way that “can take us to net zero without any loss in productivity.” [18]

On a webpage titled “The future farm” BASF wrote that “water stress, rocketing energy and production costs will drive innovation solutions,” claiming that farming in the future will “demand better soil” and “more advanced crop protection solutions.” [19]

Geoff Mackey, BASF’s Corporate Affairs and Sustainability Director, spoke on an Innovation Forum podcast in 2019 about the importance of precision agriculture now and in the future. He said, “we need to look at the benefits of having technology and bringing innovation,” adding “I think drone technology is a very interesting and developing area”. When asked about the future of precision agriculture, Mackey said, “perhaps I could talk about the use of drone technology applying products, planting, harvest without the use of human feat. Perhaps we set technology loose and actually control it from a different view.” [20]

In a Friends of the Earth report which looked at whether digital farming can address the causes of agriculture’s impact on the environment, BASF was mentioned as among the “Big Four” agrochemical giants that want to “maintain their market share”. The report referenced a separate report by the Konkurrenz Group that wrote that the agricultural race “will be to increase the farmers’ dependence on the Big Four’s digital platforms, where based on the data collected, farmers will rely more (rather than less) on the Big Four’s traits, seeds and pesticides for their increasingly automated precision farming.” [21], [22]


Read more: Digital and Precision Agriculture – Criticisms and Concerns


Role in Pesticides Controversy

Roughly a third of BASF AG’s 2019 sales were herbicides, 30% fungicides, 10% insecticides, and the remaining 27% were other agricultural products like seeds. [1]

A February 2020 investigation by Greenpeace’s Unearthed journalism project found that “close to half (41%) of the leading products of the agrochemical giants BASF, Bayer, Corteva, FMC and Syngenta contained at least one” highly-hazardous pesticide. This included a chemical called glufosinate, manufactured by BASF, which can damage fertility and harm unborn children, the report noted. [23]

BASF has been the target of lawsuits alleging that the company and another major pesticides manufacturer knew that their dicamba pesticides would spread from farms where it was sprayed, but predicted that other farmers would then be driven to buy dicamba-resistant seeds — allegations that the company has denied. “A federal jury determined that German agribusiness giants Bayer and BASF will have to pay $250 million in punitive damages to Bader Farms, the largest peach farm in Missouri, for damage caused by their dicamba-related products,” Investigate Midwest reported in February 2020. “Bader Farms is among thousands of farms, comprising millions of acres of crops, that have alleged dicamba damage since 2015,” the report said. [24], [25], [26]

A 2020 investigation by the Guardian revealed how BASF and agriculture giant Monsanto “were aware for years that their plan to introduce a new agricultural seed and chemical system would probably lead to damage on many US farms,” with some internal emails showing BASF and Monsanto employees joking about hoping to stay “out of jail”. [27]

Lobbying

In 2018, BASF SE spent $1,560,000 on US lobbying according to OpenSecrets.org. Its 2018 lobbying spend was largely in-house ($1,390,000) with the remaining funds going to two lobbyists with the firm McLarty Inbound. [28]

BASF spent €3,100,000 in 2019 on EU lobbying, according to LobbyFacts.EU data, on issues relating to: “EU Green Deal, Circular Economy, Sustainable Finance, Energy & Climate Policy, Innovation & Research, Trade Policy, Health & Environmental Policy, Chemicals Policy, Construction, Crop Protection Policy, Biotechnology, Internal Market, Competitiveness, Industrial Policy, Social and Employment Policy.” [29]

LobbyFacts.EU lists that BASF has had 28 meetings since 2014 with the European Commission, while Tranparency International’s Integrity Watch lists 24 meetings in the same time period. [29], [30], [31]

An archive of lobbying disclosures compiled by ProPublica shows that BASF has lobbied on climate change. “BASF supports legislation on climate change that ensures that reduction targets are economically feasible and technologically reasonable,” BASF’s lobbying disclosure reads. “Policies must allow energy-intensive and trade-exposed (EITE) companies to remain globally competitive (carbon leakage protection).” [32]

Among the lobbying on bills disclosed by BASF’s lobbyists is “Environmental Justice and role of Sustainable Chemistry, S. 3296”.  That bill, according to the American Chemistry Council, “would direct the president to establish an interagency sustainable chemistry entity to promote and coordinate federal sustainable chemistry research, development, demonstration, technology transfer, commercialization, education and training activities.” The bill failed to progress in 2018 but has been reintroduced for the 2019-2020 session as S. 999. [33], [34], [35]

A 2010 report by the Climate Action Network Europe (CAN-E) revealed that a number of large companies, including BASF, Bayer, and BP, had disproportionately donated funds to US Senate election candidates who were either “known climate change deniers or to senators who voted against the Obama administration’s cap-and-trade legislation, seen by activists as a major contribution the fight against climate change.” [36]

BASF was given an overall ‘C’ grade by NGO Transparency International in its 2018 Corporate Political Engagement Index, with the company given a ‘D’ for its “responsible lobbying” practices. [37]

In August 2020, Norway’s largest private asset manager, Storebrand, divested their stakes in BASF, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Rio Tinto “citing their lobbying practices regarding climate”. The asset manager sold its $2.7 million stake in BASF with Storebrand CEO Jan Erik Saugestad telling Reuters that “If you have corporates that are spending a lot of resources and energy to try to avoid that regulation that is required, that is clearly not supportive and not in the long-term interest of anybody, if you want to reach the climate goals or the (United Nations’) sustainable development goals.” [38]

In May 2019, BASF responded to investor pressure and committed to undertake a review of their climate lobbying activities. It was one of 13 US companies to lobby President Trump and Congress to enact business-led climate legislation that would “increase regulatory and business certainty, reduce climate risk, and spur investment and innovation needed to meet science-based emissions reduction targets.” [39], [40]

Affiliations

BASF is a member of CropLife International, which its 2019 sustainability report describes as “a global trade association of agrochemical companies representing the plant science industry.” CropLife has six member companies: FMC, BASFBayer, Corteva Agriscience, Syngenta and Sumitomo Chemical. [41]

In a 2019 “Industry Associations Review,” BASF acknowledged that the American Chemistry Council’s position on climate policies was “aligned” with BASF’s view. [42]

Resources

  1. BASF Report 2019 – Economic, Environmental and Social Performance,” BASF. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  2. Richard Partington. “Chemicals Firm BASF Biggest Beneficiary of UK Coronavirus Loan Scheme,” The Guardian, June 4, 2020. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/ibTBd
  3. Pesticides: Competitive Analysis & Leadership Report 2018 – Bayer Ranks Number One, Followed by Syngenta, BASF, DowDuPont, and FMC Corporation,” PR Newswire, February 3, 2020. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/3PDoU
  4. Our Climate Protection Goal,” BASF. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/0io8H
  5. BASF Advocates Globally For More Climate Protection,” BASF. Archived November 12, 2020, Archive.fo URL:  https://archive.fo/xFzuT
  6. Our Solutions: Products For Climate Protection,” BASF. Archived November 11, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/1aOSF
  7. Executives From BASF & Others React to Paris Conference,” SBC Magazine, December 15, 2015. Archived November 11, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/uYNkN
  8. CDP Disclosure – 2019,” BASF. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  9. Martin Menachery. “CDP Recognises BASF As Global Leader in Corporate Climate Action and Water Security,” Refining & Petrochemicals, January 24, 2019. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/GAyf3
  10. Tony Heslop. “BASF in the UK Accredited as Carbon Literate,” Carbon Literacy, February 2020. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/lRNPO
  11. Tom Murray. “The Businesses That Are – And Are Not – Leading on Climate Change,” Environmental Defense Fund, November 9, 2019. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/mBJL9
  12. Corporate Carbon Policy Footprint,” InfluenceMap, September 2017. Archived November 12, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  13. Who’s Holding Us Back?,” Greenpeace. Archived November 12, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  14. Kate Sheppard. “BASF CEO Questions Whether Climate Change is a Problem,” Grist, June 28, 2007. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/NSWKl
  15. Precision Agriculture in the Digital Era,” BASF. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/BvupE
  16. John Hart. “Ag Must Adapt to Climate,” South East Farm Press, March 10, 2019. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/IcFlN
  17. BASF’s New Focused Approach Boosts Agricultural Innovation Pipeline by 25%,” Seed World, February 28, 2020. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/Tndo4
  18. Tom Allen-Stevens. “Climate Change Champions – Each Plant is Important,” Crop Production Magazine, September 7, 2020. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/lPNL9
  19. The Future Farm,” BASF. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/vEXKn
  20. BASF on Why Precision Agriculture is the Future,” Innovation Forum, February 20, 2019. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/scuaQ
  21. Mute Schimpf. “Digital Farming,” Friends of the Earth Europe, February 2020. Archived November 12, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  22. An Updated Antitrust Review of the Bayer-Monsanto Merger,” The Konkurrenz Group, March 6, 2018. Archived November 12, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  23. Crispin Dowler. “Revealed: The pesticide giants making billions on toxic and bee-harming chemicals,” Unearthed, February 2, 2020. Archived August 20, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/lPZS5
  24. Jef Feeley, Tim Bross, Bloomberg. “Bayer Is Facing A New Wave of Herbicide Lawsuits – And This Time It’s Not Over Monsanto’s Roundup,” Fortune, February 17, 2020. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/l3erd
  25. Johnathan Hettinger. “Jury Orders Monsanto, BASF To Pay Peach Farmer $250 Million in Punitive Damages,” Investigate Midwest, February 15, 2020. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/Xlvaa
  26. Virginia Gewin. “Beyond Damaging Crops, Dicamba is Dividing Communities,” Civil Eats, November 8, 2018. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/Hdy07
  27. Carey Gillam. “Revealed: Monsanto predicted crop system would damage US farms,” The Guardian, March 30, 2020. Archived November 10, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttps://archive.fo/bJx9C
  28. BASF SE,” OpenSecrets. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/ZR13x
  29. BASF SE”, LobbyFactsEU. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/wNZxK
  30. BASF Meetings – Juncker Commission (2014 – 2019),” Integrity Watch, Transparency International. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  31. BASF Meetings – Von der Leyen Commission (2019 – 2024),” Integrity Watch, Transparency International. Archived November 12, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  32. BASF Corporation,” ProPublica. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/ZR13x
  33. BASF Corporation – 1/21/2019,” Lobbying Disclosure Act Database. Archived November 12, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  34. ACC Announces Support for Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act,” American Chemistry Council, July 31, 2018. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/yPMCW
  35. S.999 – Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2019,” Congress.Gov. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/8ig0w
  36. Michael Lawton. “European Companies Back Climate Skeptics in US Senate Race, Report Says,” Deutsche Welle, October 26, 2010. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/q4bc0
  37. Corporate Political Engagement Index 2018,” Transparency International UK. Archived November 12, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  38. Gwladys Fouche, Simon Jessop. “Storebrand Divests Out of Exxon, Others Over Climate Lobbying,” Market Screener, August 24, 2020. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/wXxIL
  39. We, BASF Commit To Review Climate Lobbying After Investor Pressure,” Energy Central, May 3, 2019. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/gKhqB
  40. BASF And DuPont Call On US Congress To Enact Business-Led Climate Change Legislation,” Global Insulation, May 17, 2019. Archived November 12, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/gKhqB
  41. Members,” CropLife InternationalArchived November 9, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttps://archive.fo/PSOBu
  42. Industry Associations Review – 2019,” BASF. Archived November 12, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

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