A media blitz by backbench Tory MPs calling for cuts to green taxes, more North Sea oil and gas extraction, and the return of fracking, is led by politicians with close links to the UK’s main climate science denial group and reflects many of its demands.
A letter by the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) of 19 MPs and one peer, published in the Sunday Telegraph this week and covered on the front page of Monday’s Daily Mail as well as by the BBC, has fed into the ongoing debate around rising energy bills.
None of the coverage notes that NZSG leader and former Brexit minister Steve Baker is a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), whose founder and board member Lord Nigel Lawson recently said “global warming is not a problem”.
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay, another signatory and NZSG chair, told Bloomberg in August that the new group would use GWPF research for its campaigning. Lord Peter Lilley, another signatory and NZSG member, is a former GWPF trustee and was one of only five MPs to oppose the UK’s Climate Change Act in 2008.
The letter’s calls to scrap green levies and back fossil fuels match two of the key demands of the GWPF’s campaigning wing, Net Zero Watch (NZW), known until recently as the Global Warming Policy Forum. These demands are to “suspend all green levies on energy bills” and “remove all fiscal and other disincentives to oil and gas exploration, including shale gas, to increase domestic production levels”.
‘Politically-Motivated Climate Deniers’
The letter is the first time a list of members of the NZSG has been disclosed since the group was set up last summer. The membership is less than half the size of the widely reported figure of 40 MPs, and well below Mackinlay’s claim in November that the group was “growing north of 50”.
Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green Party, said: “The effort by a small number of politically-motivated climate deniers to discredit first the crystal-clear science of climate change, and now the urgently-needed action to address it is extremely dangerous.
“Murkily-funded groups like Net Zero Watch and the Global Warming Policy Foundation are trying to position themselves as defending the wellbeing of ordinary people.
“Yet far from wanting the government to abandon its Net Zero policies, the majority of people want to see greater action on the very real climate emergency. That means an end to fossil fuel expansion in the North Sea and elsewhere, a levy on frequent flyers, and a carbon tax that could provide a huge dividend to genuinely tackle inequality.”
Baker, MP for Wycombe, told an event at October’s Conservative Party conference that much climate science is “contestable” and “sometimes propagandised”, and said students should be taught they will be “poorer”, “colder” and eat “insects for protein” as a result of climate policies.
The Sunday Telegraph letter urges Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak to remove the five percent VAT charged on domestic energy bills – a demand also made by the Labour Party, and used as an argument for Brexit by Johnson in 2016.
The NZSG letter also called for “the removal of environmental levies on domestic energy” and the scrapping of the Climate Change Levy on businesses.
The letter claims the UK is having to rely on hostile foreign governments for energy, and that this is a threat to its energy security, adding: “This leads to the inescapable conclusion of the need to expand North Sea exploration and for shale gas extraction to be supported.”
Shale gas extraction, conducted through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, was effectively banned in the UK in 2019 by a moratorium introduced by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May. The demand for the government to “support” shale gas extraction is a call for this ban to be overturned.
The heads of the United Nations and the International Energy Authority have said there should be no new oil and gas projects if global temperatures are to be kept to within the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C target.
The GWPF has rejected mainstream climate science and green measures for over a decade. Former Conservative Chancellor and GWPF founder Lord Lawson, who is listed as a current board member of Net Zero Watch, wrote an article for the Spectator during November’s COP26 climate summit in which he defended the burning of fossil fuels, and said carbon dioxide’s “principal effect” is the growth of plants.
Net Zero Watch – which presents itself as a mainstream group concerned about the cost and effectiveness of net zero policies – has not confirmed to DeSmog whether Lawson’s article reflects the views of the organisation.
GWPF Energy Editor John Constable has long campaigned against wind farms and solar panels, including in a June report opposing solar farms being built on agricultural land. In a GWPF report published last February, he criticised a 2019 regulation that made it illegal for companies to misreport their CO2 emissions.
Steve Baker, Craig Mackinlay, Net Zero Watch and the GWPF did not respond when contacted for comment.