Nigel Farage’s ‘Net Zero Referendum’ Drive is Steeped in Climate Science Denial

‘Vote Power, Not Poverty’ co-founder Richard Tice says politicians want to make money from the “green agenda” while Farage has campaigned against climate action for years.
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Nigel Farage’s campaign for a “Net Zero Referendum” is led and backed by climate science deniers, despite his repeated claims to care about the environment, DeSmog can report.

This week the GB News host and former UKIP leader said he was launching a campaign for a public referendum on the UK’s net zero policies, under the slogan “Vote Power, Not Poverty”. 

He repeats familiar talking points from public figures blocking climate action, including the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of MPs, who argue that the war in Ukraine means the UK should extract more fossil fuels and overturn its moratorium on fracking. Farage went further – arguing for coal extraction at the proposed mine in Cumbria.

Farage, who has a long record of rejecting climate science, is running the referendum campaign with Richard Tice, a millionaire property developer who bankrolled campaigns for the UK to leave the European Union. “Vote Power, Not Poverty”  has received widespread media coverage, especially in Brexit-supporting outlets like the Daily Mail. 

Farage has likened his net zero campaign to his push for Brexit and clearly hopes to repeat the populist tactics used ahead of the 2016 EU referendum. DeSmog has verified that the “Vote Power, Not Poverty” Twitter account is the old Brexiteer “Leave Means Leave” Twitter account with a new name. 

Farage claims that his “Vote Power, Not Poverty” campaign would, among other things, “lower global CO2 emissions”, while the campaign’s website says: “We all care about the environment and want cleaner air.”

Yet Farage and his team have a record of spreading climate misinformation and opposing climate action. Critics told DeSmog “the push for a Net Zero referendum is a clear attempt to manipulate public debate” and overturn the Paris Agreement. 

CAR26 and the ‘Net Zero Referendum’

Last month, “Vote Power, Not Poverty” co-founder Richard Tice spoke at an event organised by CAR26, a climate science denial group that first floated the idea of a net zero referendum  in an October poll.

CAR26 director Lois Perry is a PR executive and south east representative of the pro-Brexit and Covid-sceptic Reclaim Party run by Laurence Fox, who has campaigned against low-traffic neighbourhoods.

On the website of CAR26 the group questions whether carbon dioxide is a “significant factor in global warming” and suggests that teaching children about the dangers of climate change is “borderline child abuse”. 

Perry has said the climate crisis is a “con” designed by “elites” to make people poor and hungry. CAR26’s website said it is “powered by Blue Sky”, a communications firm run by a group of Brexit campaigners, according to OpenDemocracy. 

Richard Tice and Climate Science Denial

Tice is the sole director of Britain Means Business, previously Leave Means Leave. It’s not clear if Vote Power Not Poverty (VPNP) is run by Britain Means Leave. (VPNP and Farage did not respond when contacted for comment.) Tice co-funded Leave.EU, the Brexit campaign headed by Aaron Banks. Tice also funded Farage’s Brexit campaign, Grassroots Out. 

Richard Tice spoke at a CAR26 event on 10 February on a panel with speakers expressing climate science denial.  James Delingpole said: “Climate change is not real, in the sense that man-made climate change is not a problem. Let’s stop paying lip service to this nonsense.” Event host Lois Perry agreed: “No.” Former Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, who is a GB News host and motorcycle lobbyist, said: “There’s no climate emergency, either natural or human-caused.” 

Directly after Opik described climate science as a “religion”, Perry asked Tice why politicians went along with this. Tice replied by saying it was a combination of “cowardice” and corruption, with politicians making money out of what he called the “green agenda”. 

Tice  claimed the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) suggested sea level rises would not occur for hundreds of years, adding: “Why are we investing all this money in getting to net zero? If you were worried about sea level rises, you’d be better investing the money in defences.” The IPCC report in fact details sea level rises and flooding that is already occurring due to human-influenced climate change. 

In November, during the COP26 UN climate summit, Tice said on Twitter that “climate change has happened since time began not just last 40 years”. The same month he shared a Telegraph article titled “Opposition to coking coal exposes the folly of our climate debate”. 

This week (6 March) Tice tweeted that “climate change happened for last million years & next million years. Multiple periods of warming then cooling”. He argued that emissions should be reduced “for cleaner air” by extracting shale gas. 

Farage’s Climate Record

Farage has long been an opponent of climate action. Under his  leadership, UKIP’s 2015 and 2017 general election manifestos pledged to rip up green measures, repeal the UK’s Climate Change Act, withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and support fracking.

These policies represent Farage’s long-held views. In 2020, Farage used his show on LBC to claim that global population growth was a greater threat than CO2 emissions. That year, Farage said his new party, Reform UK (now headed by Richard Tice), would run candidates against “any and every” politician who backed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 10-point plan for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. 

Ahead of the 2020 US elections, Farage attacked Joe Biden for allegedly wanting to “do away with the oil business and fracking” in Pennsylvania, which Farage said would mean workers lose their jobs. Farage campaigned for Donald Trump, who took the US out of the Paris Agreement and appointed the head of ExxonMobil as Secretary of State. 

In 2013 he told the website Edie: “I’m all for pollution controls but to obsess with carbon dioxide, which as I understand it, is a perfectly natural occurring phenomenon, strikes me as strange.” He also said of human activity increasing CO2 emissions, “as the years go by it looks increasingly unlikely”, adding: “To be told that the science is settled is hard to accept.”

Farage has also opposed green solutions to the crisis. In 2015 he told the libertarian website Spiked: “I think wind energy is the biggest collective economic insanity I’ve seen in my entire life. I’ve never seen anything more stupid, more illogical, or more irrational.”

Farage has long surrounded himself with climate sceptics. His Brexit Party, launched in 2019, had several high profile candidates who have promoted climate science denial. Brexit Party candidate Anne Widdecome, a former Conservative Party minister, was one of only five MPs to vote against the 2008 Climate Change Act. In 2009 she told the Daily Express: “There is no climate change, hasn’t anybody looked out of their window recently?”

Farage is Spouting ‘Complete Nonsense’

Experts have rubbished Farage’s arguments about Ukraine, against net zero and for a referendum. 

“It’s never been true that moving to net zero would make people poorer and colder”, said Richard Black, senior associate at non-profit Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.

“But the Russian invasion of Ukraine has upped the ante massively, and anyone who’s invested in insulation, solar panels, a heat pump or an electric car is now reaping the financial rewards.

“Polls regularly show massive support for tackling climate change, energy efficiency and renewables, whereas previous calls for a referendum aiming to slow down climate action have raised less than 2,000 supporters. So it’s hard to see what Mr Farage is trying to achieve with this.”

He added: “As to fracking – my suggestion to Mr Farage would be, if he thinks there is a viable future in UK shale gas, why not invest some of his own money in it?”

Climate scientist Dr Ella Gilbert said: “Nigel Farage – as usual – is spouting complete nonsense. There is no fossil fuel generation capacity that could be brought online fast enough to address the short-term crisis brought about by the war in Ukraine. 

“Rather than being the economic boon Farage suggests, further investment in fossil fuels will cost us all money. Fossil fuels are causing the climate impacts that are already being felt all over the world, including in the UK, and the costs of climate change – both in human and non-human life and in economic terms – are astronomical. 

She added: “Contrast that with the plummeting costs of clean, green alternatives like wind and solar energy – the cheapest form of electricity according to the International Energy Agency – and the light shines through the holes in his argument. 

“A green transition towards net zero emissions will bring jobs and opportunities and contribute to solutions to the climate crisis.”

Little Public Interest in Referendum

Jennie King, head of civic action and education at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said the think tank’s research finds little interest among the public in a net zero referendum, with social media mentions having “flatlined” or decreased since the UN COP26 climate summit in November.

“The push for a Net Zero referendum is a clear attempt to manipulate public debate”, she said. “Entities like CAR26, Net Zero Watch and Reform UK have manufactured a false sense of controversy, in large part using mainstream media as a platform. They are now trying to retrofit public support for their agenda, namely the rollback of climate targets in line with the Paris Agreement.”

Greenpeace UK’s head of politics Rebecca Newsom said: “Our dependence on fossil fuels has been the lifeblood of Vladimir Putin’s regime. Thanks to weak political leaders who have allowed themselves to be swayed by a vocal minority of sceptics like Farage, we’re now stuck with gas-guzzling homes that are funding Putin’s war, hurting our pockets as gas prices soar and wrecking the climate.”

She noted analysis by Carbon Brief that finds UK energy bills are £2.5 billion higher than they would have been if climate policies had not been scrapped over the past decade. 

Newsom added: “Our best hope for a safer, healthier, peaceful future is in moving away from oil and gas as quickly as possible and investing in renewable energy and warmer homes. That’s the hope Farage is trying to extinguish, and no doubt Putin will be cheering him on.”

Adam Barnett pic
Adam Barnett is DeSmog's UK News Reporter. He is a former Staff Writer at Left Foot Forward and BBC Local Democracy Reporter.

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