That Time When an International Free Market Think Tank Attacked The Kyoto Protocol


This DeSmog UK epic history post looks at how Julian Morris’s free market think tank spread its influence in its attack on the Kyoto Protocol.

The free marketeer, Julian Morris, and his team at his International Policy Network (IPN) think tank continued to lead the charge against climate science in the autumn of 2003 – all the while secretly receiving generous funding from ExxonMobil.

In October 2003, Morris unleashed a vitriolic attack on the Kyoto Protocol along the familiar theme that the restrictions on fossil fuels would strangle economic growth.

He said: “Kyoto would slow economic growth in the EU and in Russia without providing any substantive benefits. If Russia does not ratify, Kyoto will not come into force, so both Russia and EU countries will grow more rapidly and then can look for alternative solutions to climate change.”

Warm Welcome

He was warmly received when he spoke at the Mont Pelerin Society – an international group of free market economists, historians and philosophers founded by Friedrich von Hayek – meeting the following year and presented the case for “removing barriers to adaptation as a cost effective strategy to addressing problems associated with the climate.”

Morris also conducted a brilliant ambush in persuading the Liberal-left and broadly environmentalist Guardian to reproduce the IPN allegation that the scientific analysis in the influential 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report was “flawed”.

The Arctic study had already suffered delays from the US State Department until after the 2004 US election cycle (pitting the Republican George Bush against Democrat John Kerry) because its findings were so significant that the administration feared voters would react by electing a president who was promising effective action on the environment.

However, the sceptics in the US were able to cite a report from a respectable-sounding British think tank, reported by a respected left British paper, in order to shoot this serious and alarming report down in flames.

Tim Radford, the Guardian journalist who published the article, confirmed he did not know the IPN was funded by Exxon at the time of the story.

Morris Attacks

Then, in November, Morris echoed the extreme criticisms made by Myron Ebell, director of the Exxon-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), of Sir David King – the then chief scientific advisor to the British government. He called King “an embarrassment to himself and an embarrassment to his country.”

Later that month, Morris attacked Prime Minister Tony Blair for his attempt to use his presidency of the forthcoming G8 summit of world leaders to put greenhouse emissions reductions at the centre of the discussions. 

The IPN activists also attended the 10th international United Nations COP climate change negotiations in Argentina, translating its reports into Spanish for the occasion.

Bate was advertised as an expert available to discuss the conference by the Koch-affiliated American Enterprise Institute in the United States.

He published an article, titled “Climate Alarmism and the Poor”, in which he attacked the IPCC for allowing developing countries longer to reduce emissions.

These countries will rightly resist any international efforts to curb their use of energy,” he argued. “What we must do is invest in new technologies with them, not export our anti-energy regulations.”

Exxon Funding

The IPN boasted in its end of year accounts that it had “sponsored, coordinated and enabled affiliates to participate in policy events in Australia, Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Denmark, France, Ghana, Hungary, India, Iceland, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand, the UK and the USA.”

This represented extraordinary good value for the funders of the think tank. During 2004, ExxonMobil piped $115,000 to the US IPN, of which £65,656 flowed through to the London office, which in turn spent £35,511 on its “Climate Change and Sustainable Development” programme.

Morris was personally paid £69,284 in “fees and expenses”, although this cash would not have come from Exxon alone but, also, from the other corporate sponsors and donors.

The Exxon cash continued to spill into the IPN offices during 2005, with a donation of $130,000 made to the US partner organisation. Moreover, the charity also accepted $25,000 from the Koch-dominated Claude R. Lambe Foundation.

And, a further $130,000 poured in from the Earhart Foundation, which was founded by an oil company that would become part of Exxon and was also, decades earlier, a generous supporter to Hayek and his pioneering free market think tanks.

Morris, working in the office in London, began to have his £69,284 salary paid directly from the US wing of his charity. Okanski, his wife, was paid an additional £28,000-wage and expenses of £4,448 for the year.

Unprecedented Influence

This was a British think tank that recently enjoyed unprecedented and unrivalled influence on the government, secretly banking hundreds of thousands from US oil interests while actively trying to influence international negotiations about climate change: the single most important and controversial debate of the era.

Morris refused throughout to name his funders. But, in the end, Exxon would reveal its interest in the think tank through its corporate giving reports in the US.

That year Mother Jones named and shamed the IPN among 40 groups funded by Exxon, many of which attacked the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report. The progressive American magazine stated that “as the world burns think tanks and journalists funded by ExxonMobil are out to convince you global warming is a hoax.”

During the course of the year, Exxon had funnelled $2.9 million to 39 different US groups, including the CEI and the IPN, all of which are accused of “spread[ing] misleading information about climate change”.

In a short diary article published in December 2005, Simon Bowers reported in the Guardian that Morris called the newspaper to deny reports in another newspaper that the IPN had claimed climate change was a myth having been paid $250,000.

Morris told the Guardian that both claims were “simply not true”, only to concede later that the think tank had received Exxon cash and that a contributor to an IPN publication “may have” referred to “a European myth about climate change.”

Perhaps Morris was unaware of the huge bout of funding from the American oil giant, or perhaps he got his facts confused.          

Next time, our epic history series reveals how the ExxonMobil funded IPN took over a scientific publication to act as “guest editor”.


Photo: Ian Britton via Flickr

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