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Is a Big Money Coalition Influencing Liz Truss’ Climate Change Policies?

Max Colbert reports on the well-funded, well-connected groups seemingly determined to water-down Britain’s climate commitments

Prime Minister Liz Truss alongside COP26 President Alok Sharma. Photo: Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street

Is a Big Money Coalition Influencing Liz Truss’ Climate Change Policies?

Max Colbert reports on the well-funded, well-connected groups seemingly determined to water-down Britain’s climate commitments

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As Liz Truss’ administration doubles-down on its heavily-criticised pledge to expand licences for North Sea oil and gas drilling, attempts to force English farms to ban solar-related projects, and plans to overturn the fracking ban, there are swirling questions about the providence of this anti-green agenda.

An important group in this story is the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), which overlaps with the Tufton Street lobbying groups that have such influence over the Truss regime and the Conservative Party itself.

Dubbed the UK’s “principal climate science denial campaign group” by the investigative site DeSmog and founded by former Conservative Chancellor Lord Nigel Lawson, the GWPF earlier this year posted a gross income of £387,490 for the year ending September 2021 – up from £374,330 in 2020, despite a drop of 21.9% in funds from ordinary members.

The GWPF has said it seeks to debate the supposedly “contested” science of global warming and is “deeply concerned about the costs and other implications of many of the policies currently being advocated”.

In the past 11 years, the organisation has received £4.2 million in funding, while the group’s income from donations dwarfs that of any other type. £134,000 has been raised since 2010 from membership fees, compared to almost £4 million from individual donations.

The GWPF is based in 55 Tufton Street – the command centre of Westminster’s libertarian lobbying groups. Mirroring its Tufton Street counterparts, the GWPF does not declare its donors and maintains charitable status. However, investigative reporting has revealed donations from some notable entities.

The GWPF and its campaigning arm, Net Zero Watch, recently had some of its funding unpicked by openDemocracy. The investigation detailed $1.3 million received from funds linked to US libertarian billionaires with ties to the fossil fuel industry – though the specifics are disputed by the GWPF.

The Sarah Scaife Foundation, established by the heir to an oil and banking dynasty, and the Donors Trust, which contributes substantially to libertarian causes, have both donated to the GWPF. The latter has received millions from the Koch brothers – libertarian billionaires equally notorious for funding right-wing causes, with their fortunes tied up in fossil fuels. At least $864,884 has been channelled into the UK through its US fundraising arm, the American Friends of the GWPF.

The GWPF has denied accepting donations from energy firms or from individuals who have a significant interest in an energy company – claiming that the Sarah Scaife Foundation does not represent a fossil fuel interest, and that it is able to reject funding from the Donors Trust if the money has been given by fossil fuel interests.

However, the GWPF has other links to the energy sector – much closer to home.

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Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) director Mark Littlewood is a close friend of Liz Truss. The pair went to Oxford University together and Littlewood says that Truss has spoken at IEA events more “than any other politician over the past 12 years”.

The IEA, part of the Tufton Street network, has received donations from fossil fuel interests, including energy firms Exxon Mobil and BP. The self-proclaimed think tank has likewise received money from the Koch-linked National Philanthropic Trust, with its most recent filings revealing a grant of $130,000 in 2020.

Neil Record, chairman of the IEA and Net Zero Watch (a wholly owned subsidiary of the GWPF), has donated to the GWPF – as has Nigel Vinson, the life vice president of the IEA having first joined its board in 1971.

Sir Michael Hintze, hedge fund manager and Conservative donor – who has given more than £4.3 million to the party – was revealed in 2012 to be a financial backer of the GWPF. He is also a founding member and trustee of the IEA, and sat on the advisory board of the lobbying firm run by Truss’ new chief of staff, Mark Fullbrook.

“I personally regard the continuing contribution of the GWPF to the climate change debate as very positive in assisting balance and rationality in this contentious area,” Record previously told the Guardian – while Vinson added that “I am very proud to fund [the GWPF]. You have to put a question mark over climate change if over the last 14 years the world has not got any hotter”.

Hintze, Record and Vinson have collectively donated £5.1 million to Conservative causes and politicians. Vinson was also revealed last week to have donated £5,000 directly to Liz Truss. It is not suggested that funding to the IEA from energy interests has influenced the opinions of any of these individual donors.

The IEA refused to respond on the record to requests for comment.


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‘Who Voted for This?’

Byline Times has documented the extensive involvement of the Tufton Street network in Liz Truss’ Downing Street operation, which seems to be operating a ‘revolving door’ between current and former members of the IEA, Policy Exchange, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Adam Smith Institute, and the Centre for Policy Studies. 

The presence of the groups was also strongly felt at this year’s Conservative Party Conference, where members of the IEA were represented in 19 different talks, alongside staff working for the aforementioned Tufton Street groups, who spoke at more than 50 events. 

The Tufton Street network is notoriously opaque about its sources of funding, but almost all of its members have accepted money from those with vested interests in polluting industries through ‘friends of’ entities with extensive transatlantic ties, fed by opaque trusts.

Within Parliament itself, Conservative MP Steve Baker has been close to the GWPF, joining its board of trustees last May. He is an ideological ally of Truss. While now having left the GWPF to take up a role as Northern Ireland Minister, Baker is still allied with the group, which after the Conservative conference praised an “important intervention” of his at a fringe event. 

Baker suggested that the UK’s net zero carbon emission plans are “not affordable in the short-term” and called for a “temporary suspension” of the policy. He has also received donations from Neil Record, logging £5,000 in January.

Baker has, as of July this year, gone on to relaunch the Thatcherite-era campaigning group, Conservative Way Forward (CWF), which calls for extensive tax cuts, reductions in fuel VAT, and the suspension of green levies on energy bills designed to fund renewables. The money donated to Baker by Record was to hire a “media and strategic campaign consultant” for the relaunch of the CWF.

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Concerns have also been raised about the appointment of Jacob Rees-Mogg as Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary, who has previously decried “climate alarmism”. As recently revealed by Byline Times, Rees-Mogg – who is in charge of accelerating Britain’s Net Zero strategy and who has just announced the Government’s intention to lift restrictions on fracking – has links via his investment firm to palm oil deforestation and Canadian pipeline polluters. 

In defence of her libertarian tax policies, Truss herself has cited economist Patrick Minford, a fellow at the Centre for Brexit Policy, which has multiple ties through fellowships to the GWPF.

Lifting the fracking ban puts Truss and Rees-Mogg at loggerheads with Conservative MP Chris Skidmore, appointed to lead the Government’s net zero review. Skidmore has already said that fracking won’t be included in the review as it doesn’t constitute a “significant energy source” and is a “non-starter” – claims corroborated by experts.

Skidmore has also urged the Prime Minister to ignore a “tiny vocal minority in Westminster” pushing for a bonfire of environmental red tape. Even the founder of fracking company Cuadrilla has openly criticised the Government’s plans, calling them a “political gesture” and saying that “no sensible investors” would choose fracking in this country. 

Meanwhile, the UK has some of the highest public levels of concern in the world regarding climate change, with 81% of people ‘believing’ in the climate emergency, and 77% saying we must do ‘everything necessary, urgently as a response’. However, it is unclear how Britain will ever be able to take action while the people running the country, and those advising them, hold both ideological and financial interests that are antithetical to addressing the climate emergency.

The Conservative Party itself directly received £1.3 million in donations from fossil fuel interests and climate sceptics from December 2019 to October 2021.

While they may have been received with jeers and boos by the Tory faithful, the Greenpeace protestors who interrupted Liz Truss during her keynote conference speech, it turns out, were asking exactly the right question: “Who voted for this?”

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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