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Cabinet Ministers Join Outspoken Climate Science Deniers at National Conservatism Conference

It is ‘deeply concerning’ that Suella Braverman, Michael Gove, and a raft of Tory MPs are speaking alongside anti-green forces, say opposition politicians
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Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Credit: Simon Dawson / 10 Downing Street, CC BY 2.0

The National Conservatism (NatCon) conference kicks off today in Westminster, London, featuring a roster of high-profile speakers drawn from the upper reaches of the government and the conservative right. 

A DeSmog analysis has found climate denial and a hostility to net zero to be a common feature among many of the individuals speaking at the three-day summit. 

The gathering comes as Rishi Sunak’s government – which is already off track to meet the UK’s climate commitments – pursues new fossil fuel extraction, and prominent figures in the right-wing media continue to cast doubt over net zero policy. 

The NatCon conference is being organised by the US-based think tank the Edmund Burke Foundation (EBF) and intends to catalyse a “revival” of a political philosophy based on “national identity and culture” alongside “god and country”.

While energy and climate policy is oddly absent from the agenda, many of the speakers and their parent organisations have a record of hostility to climate action, a scepticism of climate science, and interests in fossil fuels.

The event features keynote speeches from Home Secretary Suella Braverman, and Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary Michael Gove. Braverman ran for Tory leader last year vowing to “suspend the all-consuming desire to achieve Net Zero by 2050”. They will be joined by David Frost, a Conservative peer and a director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the UK’s most prominent climate science denial group. 

Fellow conference speakers also include Lee Anderson, Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party, who has claimed that people are “sick to death” of net zero, and former Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has said that taking action on climate change is “unrealistic” because “it would have no effect for hundreds or possibly a thousand years.”

Another speaker is Conservative MP John Hayes, a former energy minister who received £150,000 between 2018 and 2020 from Lebanon-based oil company BB Energy for work as a “strategic advisor”. Also in attendance will be Conservative MPs Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates, and Conservative peer Daniel Hannan.

Cates used her speech to claim that “epidemic levels of anxiety and confusion” among young people are being caused by “culture, schools and universities” teaching that “our country is racist, our heroes are villains, [and] humanity is killing the Earth.”

Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat Climate Spokesperson, told DeSmog: “It is deeply concerning to learn that Conservative ministers would attend a conference with climate deniers who stand in the way of progress.

“We need leaders who are committed to finding solutions to this crisis, not those betraying the trust of the people they were elected to serve by ignoring the overwhelming evidence of climate change.”

The selection of high-profile MPs, peers, and ministers are attending the NatCon conference despite Conservative backbencher Daniel Kawczynski having been reprimanded by the party in 2020 for speaking at a NatCon conference in Rome alongside far-right politicians. 

“Daniel Kawczynski has been formally warned that his attendance at this event was not acceptable, particularly in light of the views of some of those in attendance,” the Conservative Party said at the time. Kawczynski spoke alongside Hungary’s far-right prime minister Viktor Orban and other far-right figures from across the EU.

The Edmund Burke Foundation

NatCon conferences have been running since 2016 and have featured radical right-wing politicians, academics and journalists from across the world, including former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, and Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni.

The EBF, which has organised the conferences since 2021, is a US think tank founded in 2019 under the founding principle that “public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honoured by the state and other institutions both public and private.” 

NatCon conference chairman Christopher DeMuth, who is co-chairing this week’s London conference, has previously expressed climate science denial and is tied to a number of think tanks that have opposed climate action.

DeMuth served as president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) from 1986 to 2006, an influential conservative think tank whose representatives have consistently cast doubt on humanity’s contribution to climate change. 

The AEI has received over £2.9 million ($3,615,000) from ExxonMobil since 1998, and over £1.6 million ($2 million) from foundations related to petrochemicals giant Koch Industries from 2004 to 2017. 

Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch drew criticism for meeting the AEI in November. Her predecessor Liz Truss met with the group in 2018.  

In 2001, DeMuth wrote in the AEI’s Energy Crunch publication that “The Kyoto Treaty Deserved to Die”, and cast doubt on climate science. He wrote: “Although it is fairly well-established that the Earth’s atmosphere has warmed somewhat (one degree Fahrenheit) during the past century, it’s not clear why this happened.” 

“Whatever the causes, we don’t know if future warming trends will be large or small, or whether the net environmental and economic consequences (including both beneficial and harmful effects) may be large or small,” he added. 

It’s not clear whether DeMuth’s views towards climate science have evolved since. However, at the 2022 EU NatCon conference, he praised the contested science that emerged during the Covid pandemic and appeared to contrast this with a too-eager scientific consensus over man-made climate change. “The climate-change mantra of ‘the science is settled’ never got traction in a genuine crisis,” he said.

DeMuth is also a distinguished fellow of The Hudson Institute, a group which has reportedly worked to defeat climate bills in Congress. The group received more than £6.3 million ($7.9 million) in funding from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund between 2011 and 2013 – two opaque groups that have provided finance for anti-green causes.

DeMuth is also on the Alliance of Market Solutions board of advisors – an organisation of “conservative leaders” that aims to build support for policies that “protect the environment and deregulate and grow the economy.”

Another keynote speaker at the conference is Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation – a hub of opposition to climate action. The think tank, which influenced the policy of the Reagan administration, has platformed high-profile climate deniers such as the late S. Fred Singer, and received over £4.9 million ($6.1 million) from groups linked to the Koch family between 1997 and 2017. 

The Heritage Foundation’s Vice President for Outreach, Andrew Olivastro, will also be speaking at the NatCon conference. Olivastro has said that environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing – based on standards measuring a business’s impact on society and the environment – “is a direct assault on the heart and soul of the free market economy”.

‘Doom Mongering Propaganda’

The London conference will also play host to a number of British speakers who have refuted the scientific consensus on climate change in recent years.

Keynote speaker Douglas Murray, Associate Editor at The Spectator, argued in 2020 that “terrible policy decisions” were being made due to “the false belief that we are seeing an increase in catastrophic weather events.”

A Carbon Brief analysis of 504 scientific articles examining the link between climate change and extreme weather events found that 71 percent of the events and their underlying trends were made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change.

Elsewhere, Murray claimed that educating children about climate change was akin to “terrifying our children with doom mongering propaganda” which “is nothing less than abuse.”

Speaker Melanie Phillips, a regular contributor to the The Daily Mail, The Spectator and The Times, wrote in 2022 that “there is no evidence that anything is happening to the world’s climate that lies outside historic fluctuations.” 

She continued by arguing that “net zero has been a major contributor to Britain’s soaring fuel prices and the cost of living crisis, which played an outsize role in defenestrating Boris Johnson by turning the public against him.”

Daily Telegraph columnist Sherelle Jacobs, who will also speak at the event, argued in 2019 that “CO2 emissions may not be the only reason for warming.”

She added: “sidelining studies that have, for example, found the natural climate system can suddenly shift, and ridiculing researchers who explore other possible variables – from solar changes to volcanoes – could be driving us further from the truth.”

Beyond climate science denial, many of the conference’s speakers have attacked green policies, with a particular focus on net zero. 

Along with Lord Frost, the conference will host Gwythian Prins, a member of the GWPF’s academic advisory council. In 2021, Prins argued that “net zero agenda hands geopolitical control to China,” because green policies “attempt to defy the laws of thermodynamics.”

Toby Young, Editor of the Daily Sceptic, will also be speaking at the conference. Young wrote in The Spectator in 2022 that, “it’s not the fact of climate change that I’m sceptical about, but the claim that it’s anthropogenic [caused by humans]. I think that could be true, but the evidence isn’t compelling enough to justify the net-zero policy.”

A number of climate consensus studies conducted between 2004 and 2015 found that between 90 percent and 100 percent of experts agree that humans are responsible for climate change. A study published in 2021, which reviewed over 3,000 scientific papers, found that over 99 percent of climate science literature says that global warming is caused by human activity.

“There is no scientific evidence or method that can determine how much of the warming we’ve had since 1900 was directly caused by humans,” Young told DeSmog. “What we do know is that temperatures have varied widely over the last 600 million years, along with levels of greenhouse gases, and these natural forces did not stop operating at the start of the last century.

Young questioned the validity of studies that cite near unanimous agreement among scientists on climate change. “Science is a process, not a consensus. The unproven hypothesis that humans have caused all or most climate change since the Industrial Revolution does not lend itself to a yes or no answer. The debate is over how much or how little humans are responsible for”.

The National Conservatism website also recommends a number of books which dispute the scientific consensus on climate change. Of the 41 books listed on the website and reviewed for this article, 14 contain passages that either refute climate science, criticise climate action, or demonise those calling for climate action.

Legatum’s Presence

A number of speakers at the conference also have links to Legatum – the Dubai-based investment fund behind the broadcaster GB News, which regularly platforms views that are hostile to climate science and net zero. Legatum also funds the Legatum Institute think tank, which received over £61,000 ($77,000) from a Koch Industries foundation in 2018.

“Legatum is an investor in GB News, a platform which hosts individuals with views on both sides of the argument,” a Legatum spokesperson said. “GB News supports media plurality in the UK, bringing fresh perspectives to the national conversation.”

Five of the UK NatCon speakers are on the advisory board of The Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, a Legatum-funded enterprise, founded by Jordan Peterson and dedicated to empowering “responsible citizenship” by drawing “on our moral, cultural, economic and spiritual foundations.” ARC members speaking at the conference include: the Conservative MPs Cates, Hayes, and Kruger, EBF UK chair James Orr, and UnHerd columnist Louise Perry.

Fred de Fossard, who heads a research unit at the Legatum Institute and acted as a special advisor to Jacob Rees-Mogg between 2020 and 2022, will also be speaking at the conference. 

Rees-Mogg is now a GB News host, as is Tory deputy chair Anderson. They will be joined at the NatCon conference by fellow GB News host Darren Grimes, who has used his TV platform to demand a Brexit-style referendum on the UK’s net zero target, which he called “an asphyxiating straitjacket bound around the body of Britain”.

“This collective of climate deniers should have representatives of this government nowhere near it – yet multiple cabinet ministers aren’t merely in attendance, they’re keynote speakers,” Green Party MP Caroline Lucas told DeSmog. “Ministerial links to this conference wipe away any remaining shred of this government’s climate credibility. It’s time to kick toxic fossil fuel interests out of politics once and for all.”

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Joey Grostern is a climate reporter and researcher at DeSmog since April 2023. His work focuses on news media and has been covered by The Guardian, The Intercept, and The Nation. He also works freelance for Deutsche Welle in Berlin.
Adam Barnett - new white crop
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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