Sun 29 March 2020

New analysis by DeSmog raises more questions about the Prime Minister’s commitment to tackling the climate emergency.

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The Conservative Party has received nearly £1.5 million of donations from polluting interests and funders of climate science denial since its 2019 General Election victory.

The donations show that those with a vested interest in maintaining the global high-carbon status quo have not been scared off from the party, despite Boris Johnson’s headline-grabbing pledge to “go net-zero”. 

New analysis by DeSmog shows that London City Airport gave £12,500 to the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, while a company that produces steel for North Sea oil rigs donated £20,000 to the party.

The biggest donor on the list – by a very long way – was heavy machinery manufacturer and big Brexit donor JCB, which gave two £700,000 donations. The company was included in DeSmog‘s analysis because the construction industry influences almost 47% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions, according to Government estimates.

JCB’s chairman Lord Bamford, a key financial backer of the Leave campaign during the 2016 EU Referendum, has given more than £5 million to the Conservatives since 2010. Bamford is a member of the influential pro-Leave Conservative donor group, the Midlands Industrial Council, the chairman of which is Lord Ediston, who also donated £3,500 to the party through his International Motors company.

A number of Conservative MPs received money from donors to the UK’s principal climate science denial campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). The group’s latest accounts show that its annual income from member donations recently tripled.

Home Secretary Priti Patel, the former Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, the former Defence Secretary and now Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt, the former International Trade Minister Mark Garnier, and the former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Robert Halfon all received donations from hedge fund manager and GWPF donor Michael Hintze

Jesse Norman, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, has received donations from Neil Record and Edward Atkin, both GWPF funders. Record is also chairman of the Global Warming Policy Forum, the campaign arm of the GWPF, as well as the libertarian Institute of Economic Affairs, which receives regular funding from oil giant BP. Lee Rowley, who defeated pro-fracking Labour MP Natascha Engel in 2017 and has campaigned against shale gas extraction in his Derbyshire constituency, also received £3,000 from Record.

The GWPF is based out of offices at 55 Tufton Street, just around the corner from Parliament, along with a number of other influential libertarian think tanks. These groups have lobbied for a hard Brexit and argued for cutting environmental regulations to pursue favourable terms with major polluting countries in post-Brexit trade deal negotiations.

Both Patel and former European Research Group (ERG) chairman Steve Baker received donations of £2,000 from Jon Moynihan, chairman of another Tufton Street group, the Initiative for Free Trade (IFT).

The IFT, launched in 2017 by MEP Danial Hannan with the help of Boris Johnson and Liam Fox, produced a “blueprint” for a US-UK free trade deal in collaboration with US groups known to spread misinformation on climate change including the Cato Institute and Competitive Enterprise Institute.

In contrast to the Conservatives, the DeSmog analysis recorded that the Labour Party received a total of £60,000 – due to donations from the Heathrow expansion-backing GMB and Unite unions.

“Businesses rarely hand over money for no reason,” said Labour’s Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Alan Whitehead, of the analysis. “The question for the Conservative Party is, what have these companies bought?”

Climate change is an issue that is looming large in Boris Johnson’s first full year as Prime Minister. Despite bold words, he hasn’t made a great start in persuading the wider world that he is serious about tackling the crisis.

The Prime Minister recently – and very publicly – sacked the president of the next UN climate talks, Claire O’Neill, which are set to be held in Glasgow in November. That episode served to distract from the official launch of COP26 (as the talks are known) and the fact that, as host, the UK has little or no plans to update its formal contribution to meeting the Paris Agreement’s goals, putting it alongside the vast majority of countries that it is meant to persuade to increase their ambitions at the meeting. 

In February, Johnson appointed the Business Secretary Alok Sharma as COP26 President, deciding that it was very much a part-time gig. On his appointment, Sharma tweeted that he was ready to “turbo-charge ambition to tackle climate change”, but was quickly criticised for his poor environmental voting record and being seen as a diplomatic lightweight in what climate campaigners see as the most significant meeting since the landmark Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. 

Despite a flurry of recent policy announcements, the UK is still overshooting its long-standing carbon budgets. And Johnson, alongside climate science-denying party colleagues, seemingly remains convinced that the UK can “innovate” its way out of climate change – a narrative Big Oil has long pushed. 

It remains to be seen if the Conservatives’ high-carbon donors have accidentally backed a green horse or have in fact purchased continuity; protecting the status quo that has brought the world knowingly to the cusp of a climate crisis.

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