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The UK’s only Green MP will challenge the “cosy links” between the fossil fuel industry, politicians and think tanks in a Commons debate today (30 January).
Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas, who is stepping down from Parliament at the next election to make more time for politics, told Byline Times: “When we face a climate emergency, it is outrageous that the fossil fuel industry continues to enjoy cosy links with politicians, exercising a malign influence on policy-making to the benefit of oil & gas companies while our planet boils.”
She added: “Donations, sponsorship and the buying-up of former ministers needs to end now. It’s way past the time for Westminster to end polluters’ access to the heart of policy-making.”
It comes amid growing scrutiny of the role fossil-fuel funded think tanks have on Britain’s political debate – and as Labour appears set to drop its pioneering commitment to invest £28bn a year on green infrastructure.
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In her debate, Caroline Lucas will highlight the disconnect between the need to leave the majority of the world’s coal, gas, and oil reserves underground to prevent climate breakdown – and the UK Government continuing “business as usual” or worse in its approach to climate change.
PM Rishi Sunak’s Government is currently pushing through legislation to push for new oil and gas licences to be granted to energy firms every year in the North Sea. Sunak has also rowed back on a number of green commitments including the phase out of gas boilers and the ban on new petrol/diesel car sales, and passed legislation intended to target climate protesters such as the Public Order Act 2023.
Last year, climate publication DeSmog found that firms and donors linked to climate denial groups, high-polluting sectors and fossil fuels interests gave more than £3.5 million to the Conservative Party in 2022.
Electoral Commission records revealed that the party and its MPs received “considerable sums from the highly polluting aviation and construction industries, mining and oil interests, and individuals linked to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think tank that denies climate science,” the outlet reported.
Three of the biggest donors to the Conservative party are funders or board members of the climate science sceptic think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, or its spin off Net Zero Watch, she will say.
Journalist Peter Geoghegan has also unearthed US tax documents showing that the Tufton Street-clique of right-wing think tanks received more than $1m from US donors in a single year, 2021, including significant sums from fossil fuel interests, a major Tory donor, and an influential Soviet-born billionaire.
Caroline Lucas identifies the influence of the fossil fuel industry in politics as a key reason for government inaction on climate issues.
She’ll point to Gulf states pushing fossil fuels at the recent United Nations COP 28 conference, with ex-chancellor Philip Hammond, ex-PM Tony Blair, and ex-minister Francis Maude paid as ‘consultants’ for lobbyists and polluters.
Companies ranging from Cardiff Airport to ExxonMobil are also known for handing out football tickets and passes for hospitality events to MPs across the political spectrum.
Lucas points out that former politicians and ministers often take up consultancy roles in the oil and gas sector, highlighting the “revolving doors” between parliamentarians and polluting industries.
And she notes that many of the major donors to the Conservative party are linked to climate science “sceptical” groups like the Global Warming Policy Foundation and Net Zero Watch.
Serving Conservative MPs including Mark Pritchard and Sir John Hayes work for, respectively, Linden Energy Holdings, a US fossil fuel firm, and fossil fuel logistics firm BB Energy Trading Ltd. The Guardian previously reported that Linden Energy Holdings had been accused of using “classic climate denial tactics to delay action on the climate crisis.”
Turning off the Tap
Lucas will also criticise the practice of oil and gas firms lavishing MPs with gifts – lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change.
The Green MP is calling for an overhaul of current lobbying rules, noting that most lobbying activities do not breach parliamentary rules but still pose major ethical concerns.
She proposes a “firewall” between the fossil fuel industry and decision-making, including public disclosure of conversations between policymakers and industry representatives.
Lucas is also demanding a complete ban on any sitting parliamentarians doing consultancy work for fossil fuel interests, and an end to fossil fuel company sponsorship of political party conferences.
The former Green Party leader suggests banning fossil fuel industry involvement in climate negotiations, prohibiting staff swaps between the industry and government, and implementing stricter rules on post-parliamentary employment in the industry.
Last July, Labour left-winger Richard Burgon proposed a new law to prevent MPs from taking any second jobs with, or receiving donations, gifts, hospitality or benefits-in-kind from any company that makes more than 50% of its annual revenue from oil or gas. Needless to say, it was not endorsed by the Government.
Polluting firms and lobbyists are also known to run and fund All Party Political Groups in Parliament, which bring together MPs and peers to propose policy and shape political debate.
Polling released in November found that voters believe Britain’s think tanks – the policy-writing research houses that often have charitable status – are opaque and need to open up about their funding.
A majority (59%) of the British public believe think tanks are not transparent, with only 19% of respondents disagreeing, Deltapoll polling for the Centre and Millbank Think Tanks found.
A majority of people believed think tanks lack transparency in every area of the UK included in the poll. That went for people of all ages, political leanings, voting intentions and social classes, with clear majorities for reform whichever side of the Brexit debate voters fall.
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