From rogue Tory backbenchers to North Sea profits for Putin, in the past year the DeSmog UK team has kept tabs on the people, money and PR machines that work to block action on climate change.
In 2022 this has led us to stories that have unmasked all manner of trickery: from the minutiae of misleading stickers marketing “hydrogen-ready” boilers to the sinister presence of sanctioned coal barons at this year’s COP27 climate summit.
It was a tough year for the green transition. Green targets were under threat from all sides with climate science deniers, politicians and media platforms exploiting the war in Ukraine and ensuing energy crisis to demand an increase in fossil fuel extraction.
We saw misinformation surge from familiar and new sources, with a disturbing conflation of “QAnon” and anti-vax conspiracy theories with climate opposition tropes.
Meanwhile, corporations’ greenwashing tactics morphed, sometimes into forms of dizzying complexity – in the case of voluntary carbon markets. It was also the year that “solutioneering” took hold in agriculture – source of 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions – as major players announced net zero plans and began to push harder on sometimes fanciful technologies (think: capturing cow burps), at the expense of the deeper transformations needed to safeguard nature and the climate.
At the same time, it was a year in which the case for climate action could not have been clearer. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine showed the real dangers of relying on brutal polluting petrostates for energy, and devastating impacts of a warmed world became tragically ever more present across the globe.
Plenty for DeSmog to get stuck into, in summary. It was a tough call to select the highlights, but here you have my Editor’s pick of our Top 10 – in no particular order – chosen for going deep, originality, capturing the political moment, scoring victories for the climate movement or straight-up popularity…
Our reporter Christopher Deane noticed that a subsidiary of Gazprom had posted £28 million in dividends to its parent company and thought the world should know. So did The Times, which also ran the story – and Ukrainian journalists who are collecting evidence of how President Putin’s regime sidesteps sanctions. This scoop made a mockery of the “energy sovereignty” argument used by the UK government to justify 130 new North Sea oil and gas drilling licences, which fly in the face of unequivocal scientific advice ruling out all new fossil fuel extraction. Russia’s North Sea profits also run counter to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s pledge to clamp down on Putin’s funding streams. The government has so far refused to rule out awarding new licenses to Gazprom, which hopes to launch new projects in the North Sea.
Many months in the making, this deeply reported long read saw our senior reporter Phoebe Cooke travel to the industrial German port of Wilhelmshaven, which, as the site for a new floating liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal, is at the forefront of the country’s dash to break its dependence on Russian gas. Climate campaigners see the new piers and pipelines as ominous signs that the gas lobby has finally achieved a long-standing goal to lock Germany into the $100 billion global LNG market – threatening to keep Europe’s biggest economy hooked on fossil fuels for decades to come instead of fast-tracking renewable alternatives.
We uncovered how out-and-out climate science denial had slipped into parliament with this story about two employees from the UK’s leading climate-sceptic think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), who were found to be working as parliamentary aides to Craig Macklinay, the Tory MP leading a backbench campaign against the government’s net zero policies. Picked up throughout the mainstream media, the story landed a “fatal blow” to the legitimacy of Mackinay et al.’s anti-green agenda in the words of the Grantham’s Institute’s Bob Ward. This story is best read alongside its companion piece: an exposé that showed anti-eco MP Steve Baker had taken money from Neil Record, a funder and chair of the GWPF.
Our investigative reporter Adam Barnett and lead researcher Michaela Herrmann meticulously – you might say obsessively – pulled together a stack of insights on the climate denial links of the various figures who launched an attack on the UK’s green targets earlier this year: figures such as Nigel Farage, Michael (now Lord) Hintze, Telegraph columnist Charles Moore, haulage industry lobbyist Howard Cox, and others. We documented how they were connected – to each other, to think tanks linked to vested fossil fuel interests and also to Brexit – so that other journalists could run with the story.
We read, re-read and read again a seemingly innocuous note from the wood pellet industry to European politicians that was leaked to DeSmog. It transpired that the request to be allowed to harvest tree stumps was in fact an attempt to roll back EU legislation geared to protect ancient woodlands in Europe. Polluting UK power plant Drax – a former coal power station which now burns wood to generate electricity – was found to be at the heart of these lobbying efforts to dilute EU biodiversity rules that could limit the indsutry’s supply of wood. It turned out to be the first of many scandals that would rock the company, which ended the year “running for cover”.
In this intense, high-speed number-crunching exercise, we found that the number of registered COP27 delegates who represented the interests of industrial agriculture had doubled compared to last year’s summit in Glasgow. Participants linked to the world’s largest agribusiness firms – such as meatpackers JBS, food corporation Cargill, or biotech leaders Bayer – and their lobby groups had jumped from 76 in 2021 to at least 160 this year. This investigation was part of our series on the growing presence in climate policy forums of the agribusiness lobby, set on sowing doubt and delaying action, campaigners say.
Our revelation from DeSmog researcher Clare Carlile that donors linked pro-fracking groups had made tens of thousands of pounds worth of donations to Liz Truss’s leadership campaign was particularly pertinent given that two days after taking office, Truss lifted the fracking ban (later reinstated by Rishi Sunak). Along with revelations of huge party donations from the aviation industry uncovered by our associate editor Rich Collett-White, the story showed the alarming extent of carbon-intensive industries’ ties to the Conservative party.
Our Disinformation Database entry on Tufton Street was among the most-viewed DeSmog content in a year that the UK finally woke up to the dangers posed by the shadowy network of think tanks that deny or downplay climate change and push a fiercely libertarian agenda. Under Liz Truss’s premiership, the British government adopted almost wholesale the demands of these groups (many of which are linked to fossil fuel money) to: remove “green levies” from energy bills, lift the UK’s ban on fracking, and increase extraction of oil and gas in the North Sea. The Global Warming Policy Foundation was another much-visited profile, along with the Net Zero Scrutiny Group and Institute of Economic Affairs.
The revelation that Liz Truss’s chief of staff Mark Fullbrook had lobbied for a company that puts wind turbines on North Sea oil rigs showed once again – are you noticing a theme here? – the proximity of fossil fuel-linked energy interests to government. It also highlighted the “greenwashing” tactics represented by Cerulean Winds, which had received public money for decarbonising North Sea oil and gas fields via its plans to power – wait for it – new North Sea drilling rigs with offshore wind turbines. Best case: drop in the ocean. My personal take? Lipstick on a pig.
This major investigation, led by researchers Clare Carlile and Michaela Herrmann, documented how pesticide companies and others have taken a leaf out of Big Oil’s playbook to sow doubt over targets to cut the use of harmful chemicals that are decimating bees, birds and butterflies in Europe. Questioning the science around green reforms and scaremongering about economic impacts were just some of the arguments used in this extensive study that also produced a new set of profiles on Big Agriculture’s major players and their stance on climate change and biodiversity.
Special mention: DeSmog Debunks…
And finally, on a lighter note, we have also been experimenting with new ways – beyond the investigative stories above – to counteract misinformation from anti-climate pundits. DeSmog’s DeBunk pilot has gently corrected figures via Twitter threads on Talk TV host Julia Hartley Brewer, Lord Frost and others, to help put the evidence at the public’s fingertips to correct the misleading or false climate claims.