Old School Climate Science Denial Lingers on Outskirts of Tory Conference

At a thinly-attended “Freedom Zone” event, figures on the right of the party rubbed shoulders with an author who decries the “dogma” of global warming as a socialist plot.
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Net Zero Watch conference crop
Net Zero Watch panel. From Left: Fracking campaigner Lorraine Allanson, Charles McAllister of UKOOG, Andy Mayer of IEA and Harry Wilkinson of Net Zero Watch. Credit: DeSmog

BIRMINGHAM, UK – “There is no greenhouse effect.” That was the stark title of the leaflets piled up outside the Birmingham & Midland Institute’s Lyttelton Theatre, where old school climate science denial was on open display on the outskirts of the Conservative party’s annual conference. 

The party made Britain the first G7 country to adopt a legally-binding net zero target in 2019, but a refusal to accept established climate science persists at the margins. Climate campaigners fear that this sentiment could bolster a push against net zero by think tanks around new Prime Minister Liz Truss.

Taking place only a short walk from the Conservative party conference, the two-day “Freedom Zone” event at the theatre was a reminder that influential figures on the right of the party are still content to mix with hardcore climate science deniers. 

The seminar was organised by the Bruges Group, a pro-Brexit think tank named after a speech by Truss’s hero and predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, who was herself an advocate of climate action. 

Printed by the Bruges Group, which has a history of backing climate science denial, the leaflets promoted the new book CO2 – Nature’s Gift by Jeremy Nieboer, who was scheduled to give multiple talks. 

A corporate solicitor whose biography includes no science qualifications, Nieboer argues in his book that the “dogma of ‘global warming’ was conceived as a means of socialist reversal of the global economic order”. 

He goes on to say that the “dangerous warming dogma” of the UN climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that increased carbon dioxide (CO2) is trapping heat in the atmosphere and threatening life on Earth is a “colossal falsehood” that is “without any basis in physics and chemistry”.

Net Zero Watch Fracking Panel

Nieboer laid out his position at the “Freedom Zone” event yesterday ahead of a panel on fracking run by Net Zero Watch (NZW), the campaign arm of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the UK’s main climate science denial group. 

Entitled “Unlocking the potential of UK shale gas,” the panel was chaired by NZW head of policy Harry Wilkinson – and drew an audience of about ten. It featured Andy Mayer, chief operating officer and energy analyst at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a think tank with ties to Prime Minister Truss, and which has received funding from oil giant BP. Mayer yesterday used an event at the conference proper to urge the UK to scrap its net zero target

NZW had released a statement earlier in the day welcoming Steve Baker MP’s remarks on the same IEA panel that the country cannot afford net zero “in the short run”. Baker had cited a NZW report during his appearance, and was a GWPF trustee until Truss appointed him Northern Ireland minister last month.

Other panellists at the “Freedom Zone” fracking discussion included Charles McAllister, director of policy, government and public affairs at trade body United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), and Lorraine Allanson, a self-styled pro-fracking “grassroots campaigner,” who wrote a book called My Story about being terrorised by anti-fracking protesters.

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Reform UK leader Richard Tice at the Bruges Group event. Credit: DeSmog

Richard Tice, the  leader of Reform UK (formerly the Brexit Party) who has promoted climate science denial on his show on Talk TV, attended Nieboer’s talk and the fracking panel. Earlier this year, Tice launched a campaign with Nigel Farage for a Brexit-style referendum on net zero. 

Question Time

In the question and answer session, DeSmog asked Wilkinson and Mayer whether they agreed with the climate science denial in Nieboer’s speech and in the leaflets strewn across the nearly empty theatre. 

Wilkinson replied: “People have their own views, different views have been expressed here. We’re in favour of people having those views. Our views are the ones we’ve expressed, and we welcome a discussion, and an open discussion at that.”

When pressed, he added: “We’re not here to have a debate about CO2, we’re here to discuss shale gas.”

Mayer said: “It’s a reasonable question. I want my kids to live in a clean, green world. And that includes a world in which hydrocarbons are used for something rather more meaningful than burning for energy.” 

He continued: “The argument on fracking is not whether or not we believe climate change is happening, the argument on fracking is whether we want gas here or from the United States.”

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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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