Revealed: the PR Firm Behind the UK’s Net Zero Backlash

Blue Sky Strategy, run by anti-BBC campaigner Rebecca Ryan, was listed on the website of a group whose founder calls climate change a “con”.
Revealed: the PR Firm Behind the UK’s Net Zero Backlash
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Sticker criticising the salary of BBC radio presenter Stephen Nolan. Credit: Rossographer (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A well-connected public relations specialist who runs an anti-BBC pressure group and campaigned for a “hard” Brexit is working with climate science denial groups to oppose the UK’s net zero target, DeSmog can report.

The finding sheds new light on a network of PR agencies, right-wing politicians and think-tanks working to drum up opposition to climate policies as part of a broader drive to cut regulation and boost production of fossil fuels.

Rebecca Ryan, managing director of Blue Sky Strategy, runs the “Defund the BBC” campaign, which wants to see the licence fee scrapped and deep cuts in the corporation’s budget. The campaign, launched in 2020, has accused the public broadcaster of bias, including in its climate coverage. 

Ryan has ties to senior politicians, having run a campaign for a “hard” Brexit backed by 60 MPs including Boris Johnson and former Brexit Minister Steve Baker, who is leading efforts to scrap climate policies. 

Last month, Ryan was listed as the media contact for a survey commissioned by Net Zero Watch (NZW) that suggested strong public support for an end to the UK’s ban on fracking.

NZW is the political arm of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the UK’s most prominent climate science denial group, which published a paper last month claiming there is “no evidence of a climate crisis”.   

In October, CAR26, a new group whose director has said the climate crisis is a “con” designed by “elites” to make people poor and hungry, said in a note on its website that Blue Sky was “powering” the site. The reference was later removed from the website but is still visible via an archived link of the page. 

Rebecca Ryan declined to comment on the evidence connecting the agency to climate science denial groups. She directed DeSmog to Blue Sky’s website and said in an email: “Blue Sky Strategy is a political consultancy specialising in digital communications and campaigns across the political sphere.”

Tweets by Ryan paint a mixed picture of her stance on climate change. In 2017, Ryan praised the Conservative Party for cutting carbon emissions. She has since tweeted about “climate hysteria” in UK schools, said “zero carbon energy is unreliable and expensive”, and criticised Johnson’s government as “authoritarian Green Party-lite”. 

Dr Ella Gilbert, a climate scientist at the British Antarctic Survey, said: “The science is clear: ambitious and rapid action to reduce emissions to net zero is essential to avoid further devastating climate impacts to people’s lives and livelihoods.

“Opposition to climate action will prolong and intensify the suffering of those worst affected and make it more challenging to address the problem.”

Sean Buchan of the Stop Funding Heat campaign, which calls on advertisers to shun media outlets that disseminate climate misinformation, said groups like Net Zero Watch and GWFP were seeking to steer public debate. 

“We are seeing a coordinated set of campaigns attempting to influence climate policy,” he said. “Out-and-out climate denial is no longer in vogue, and so groups like Net Zero Watch have shifted to ‘climate denial-lite’, presenting their campaigns as ‘just asking questions’, or as concern for the average Brit.” 

Political Influence

Ryan has links in parliament, having founded the pressure group StandUp4Brexit in 2018, which was backed by 60 MPs including the now Prime Minister Boris Johnson and four of his cabinet ministers – Priti Patel, Nadine Dorries, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Suella Braverman. 

The group was praised as “heroic” by former Brexit Minister Steve Baker, a trustee of the GWPF who is currently leading the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) of MPs and peers opposing the UK’s net zero targets. 

In March, the group’s chair, fellow Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay, endorsed a Net Zero Watch report that called for the “rapid” extraction of oil and gas, the return of fracking for shale gas, keeping coal-fired power stations open, and for renewable energy from wind and solar power to be “wound down completely”. 

Ten StandUp4Brexit signatories are now involved in the NZSG, including Baker and Mackinlay – both of whom provided quotes to support the fracking survey for which Ryan was listed as the media contact.  

Ryan was also managing editor of Global Vision UK, a pro-Brexit news website launched in 2020 whose contributors included GWPF personnel. GWPF head of policy Harry Wilkinson wrote an article for the website that year opposing investment in wind farms and clean energy, calling it “magical thinking” and part of a “decarbonisation obsession”.

‘Discretion is Key’

Blue Sky appears to specialise in the kind of social media campaigning adopted by both Net Zero Watch and CAR26. A message on Blue Sky Strategy’s website reads: “Times are changing. People now rely on personal referral and online news sources significantly more than traditional broadcast media or advertising.”

The website does not have a client list, but features videos and tweets for Global Vision and Free Market Conservatives, another Ryan project, as examples of its work, including a video for the latter with the now Home Secretary Priti Patel.

“In politics, discretion is key,” reads another message on the site. 

You can explore our profiles of climate science deniers in DeSmog’s Climate Disinformation Database.

Revealed: the PR Firm Behind the UK’s Net Zero Backlash
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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