The head of policy at the UK’s principal climate science denial group has been criticised for spreading false rumours about the use of diesel-powered generators at COP26, with environmental experts branding his viral tweet “desperate”.
Harry Wilkinson, one of several climate science deniers at the Glasgow summit, suggested that the conference was relying on polluting diesel generators in an effort to highlight the supposed hypocrisy of the event.
The tweet, which has been shared and liked over 10,000 times, echoes a scene in a documentary released last year by Michael Moore in which the filmmakers do the same at an environmentalist musical festival.
The government’s COP26 unit has said all generators on site are in fact powered by batteries, vegetable oil and solar.
Wilkinson is an employee at the MP-backed Net Zero Watch pressure group, the new name for the Global Warming Policy Forum, campaign wing of the UK charity established by former Tory chancellor Nigel Lawson.
He is attending the UN summit as part of a delegation sent by the US-based Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), which has a long history of rejecting mainstream climate science and has previously taken funding from oil giant ExxonMobil.
On Tuesday, the tenth day of the talks, Wilkinson posted pictures on Twitter showing several large blue and white machines, branded with Aggreko, the name of a generator company based in Glasgow.
“Are these diesel generators at #COP26 ? They seem to be behind black screens,” he asked.
But the COP26 unit and Aggreko both dismissed the suggestion. “There are no diesel generators running at COP26,” a COP26 spokesperson said, adding that the summit was being powered by the National Grid, with contingencies in place “in the unlikely event they are required”, powered using “battery, hydrogenated vegetable oil or solar”.
Aggreko said the machines pictured were “electric powered air handlers, electric chillers, and electric heaters”.
“Aggreko has been contracted by [events company] Identity to additionally provide stand-by power provision and we are delighted to be able to deliver it, deploying a fleet of generators powered entirely by 100% Fossil-Free HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil). We have also provided solar power solutions, with battery storage in the marshalling yard and production offices,” a spokesperson said.
Timmons Roberts, professor of environmental studies and sociology at Brown University, said the incident was “classic diversion and perfectionism.”
“These meetings are crucial for global agreement on how we are going to collectively solve this problem. The Scottish government, the event organizers, and the attendees can do all we can to reduce the energy and waste of meeting, but for now there will still be emissions associated with doing so.
“This is a very cheap shot, really a sign of desperate grasping for something to criticise,” he said.
Hywel Williams, an associate professor in data science at the Exeter University who studies how environmental issues are discussed on social media, said: “It seems to me that this is just a distraction tactic by Harry Wilkinson – trying to get people talking about something inconsequential rather than the more substantive issues being discussed inside the tent.”
“If indeed there is that much strategic thought behind it. If that is the best GWPF have got, then I am not concerned,” he added.
Wilkinson has been contacted for comment.
Updated 10/11/2021 with response from Aggreko.