A Guide to the Anti-Net Zero Forces in Westminster Politics

The key individuals and organisations that have seized on anti-ULEZ sentiments to launch an attack on the government’s green policies.
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Conservative peer Lord Frost sat alongside former Prime Minister Liz Truss. Credit: Andrew Parsons / 10 Downing Street, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Conservative Party’s victory at last week’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election has been credited to an aggressive campaign against the expansion of the Mayor of London’s ultra low emissions zone (ULEZ). 

In the days since, the wider net zero “agenda” has been pulled into the spotlight, with opponents of green action seeing an opportunity to capitalise on the by-election result. 

This net zero scepticism has quickly entered the upper echelons of Westminster politics, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak saying that policies to achieve the UK’s legally binding climate targets shouldn’t “hassle” households and should be “proportionate and pragmatic”. 

It has quickly been speculated that flagship green policies, including the proposed ban of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, and new household energy efficiency standards, will be reviewed or delayed.

This is despite new polling showing that 57 percent of 2019 Conservative voters think that Sunak hasn’t gone far enough to tackle climate change, while only 9 percent think he has gone too far.

Labour leader Keir Starmer, meanwhile, has urged London Mayor Sadiq Khan to “reflect on” the impact of the ULEZ expansion, in the wake of the Uxbridge and South Ruislip result. 

Over recent days, we have seen how pressure is being exerted on both the Conservatives and Labour by a sprawling alliance of public figures, think tanks, pressure groups, and media outlets that are hostile to green policies and sketchy on the science of climate change. 

As record-breaking temperatures turn parts of Europe into an inferno, we take a look at the key players in Westminster attempting to stifle action to achieve net zero. 

Climate Science Denial Groups

Global Warming Policy Foundation / Net Zero Watch

The opaquely-funded Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), based at 55 Tufton Street in Westminster, is the UK’s most prominent climate science denial group. It was founded in 2009 by the late Conservative chancellor Nigel Lawson with the purpose of combating “extremely damaging and harmful policies” designed to mitigate climate change.

In 2015, the group said that “policies to ‘stop climate change’ are based on climate models that completely failed to predict the lack of warming for the past two decades”. The GWPF has also expressed the view that carbon dioxide has been mis-characterised as pollution, when in fact it is a “benefit to the planet”.

The world’s foremost body of climate scientists, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that 50-75 percent of the world’s population could be exposed to periods of “life-threatening climatic conditions” due to extreme heat and humidity by 2100. “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” the IPCC has also said

The GWPF has a number of high-profile directors, including former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson, and Conservative peer Lord Frost. Frost, a former Cabinet Office minister, this week said in a House of Lords debate that rising global temperatures were “likely to be beneficial” to the UK.

The GWPF’s campaigning arm, Net Zero Watch (NZW), has also this week claimed that the wildfires raging on the Greek island of Rhodes were being used by the media and “climate extremists” to “further their net zero agenda”. Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns is one of the directors of NZW.

A new scientific study published on Tuesday found that heatwaves in Europe and the US would have been “virtually impossible” without human-induced climate change. The study also found that burning fossil fuels made heatwaves in China 50 times more likely.

The GWPF has also doubled down on criticism of the UK’s 2030 target to ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars. A blog post on the NZW website on Tuesday described the target as “radical” and could lead to a “driver rebellion” if enforced. 

Climate Delay Politicians

Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG)

Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) is a body of backbench Conservative MPs that opposes many of the government’s net zero policies.

The NZSG has said that it wholeheartedly accepts the “fundamental facts” of climate change and the need to reduce emissions, but that the government’s net zero plans are too rapid and expensive.

On Tuesday, during a debate on a net zero referendum, Craig Mackinlay told TalkTV: “We need to do all those things we can do without really affecting our lives rather than embarking on a £2 trillion exercise based on things people aren’t sure on.”

Research from University College London (UCL) shows the economic cost of climate change could be six times more than previously thought. The UCL study has indicated that failing to act on climate change not only locks the country into higher energy prices in the medium term, but will also have a long-term impact on the cost of living. 

The NZSG has extensive ties to the GWPF. NZSG chair Craig Mackinlay’s parliamentary aide is Harry Wilkinson, who also serves as the GWPF’s head of policy. The NZSG was set up in 2021 by Conservative MP Steve Baker, who was at the time a GWPF director. He stepped down from both groups in September when he became a minister. 

A full list of NZSG members has never been published, meaning that its supporters can only be discerned through open letters organised by the group. 

Based on open letters organised by the NZSG in February 2022 and June 2023, its known allies include former Business and Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, Lord Frost, former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative Party Deputy Chair Lee Anderson, as well as influential Conservative MPs Andrea Jenkyns, Miriam Cates, Esther McVey, and Philip Davies.

The Motoring Lobby

Howard Cox / Fair Fuel

Fair Fuel UK is a lobbying group that campaigns to reduce charges on diesel and petrol vehicles, most notably fuel duty. The group has been funded by the Freight Transport Association (FTA), Logistics UK, the RAC, Association of Pallet Networks, Liquid Gas UK, and the Road Haulage Association. It claims to have the support of 140 MPs and “key media”.

Formed in 2011, Fair Fuel is led by political lobbyist Howard Cox, who is running as the Reform Party candidate in the 2024 London mayoral election. He has pledged to scrap London’s ULEZ scheme entirely and remove Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) in the city.

The ULEZ scheme claims to have contributed to a nearly 50 percent reduction in toxic nitrogen dioxide pollution in central London. 

Cox positions himself as a champion for motorists, and has consistently campaigned against the UK’s 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles. He is regularly quoted in national media, including The Sun and the Daily Express. 

In a comment piece published this week in the Express, he wrote that “electric cars are no kinder to the environment than the one you already drive”, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.

Cox has falsely conflated the ULEZ expansion, introduced by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, with the Conservative government’s net zero policies.

On 24 July, he tweeted that the ULEZ expansion and the government’s proposed 2030 petrol and diesel car ban were both of a “net zero pipedream [that will] make us even more poorer [sic]”.

As recently as 2022, Cox has said he does not believe in human-induced climate change. Responding to a TalkTV clip featuring Reform Party leader Richard Tice, he tweeted: “I am now even more convinced man is not responsible for global warming”.  

Media Amplifiers

GB News / Talk TV

GB News is a current affairs broadcaster launched in 2021. It is principally owned by the Legatum Group, a UAE-based investment firm, and British investor Sir Paul Marshall. 

Since its launch, GB News has regularly broadcast hostility to climate policies and cast doubt on climate science. A DeSmog investigation found that one in three GB News hosts spread climate science denial on air in 2022, while more than half attacked the UK’s climate policies, including its net zero target. 

Presenters claimed that net zero will cause “death by poverty and starvation”, “poses an existential threat to the free world”, and called for the UK to “drill, baby, drill” for more fossil fuels. 

GB News has become a major platform for climate science sceptic politicians, including presenters Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Philip Davies

Star presenter Nigel Farage, the former leader of UKIP, has a long record of opposing climate action and dismissing the dangers of global warming. Last year he used the channel to launch a campaign for a Brexit-style referendum on net zero. 

On Dan Wootton’s GB News show on Monday night, regular commentator Neil Oliver used the platform to suggest that “people are being manipulated by fear of the summer”, while falsely claiming that temperatures in Europe are being exaggerated by an allegedly new methodology used by meteorologists.

Farage launched his net zero referendum campaign in concert with Richard Tice, leader of Reform and a presenter on rival channel TalkTV. This week, Tice used his “Sunday Sermon” to tell viewers that “there is no climate crisis”.

TalkTV was launched in April 2022 and is owned by News UK, which is part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp media empire. 

Several TalkTV presenters – including Tice, Mike Graham, Julia Hartley-Brewer, and Kevin O’Sullivan – have used their platforms to attack climate policies and the science behind them.

The Tufton Street Network

The streets surrounding Tufton Street in Westminster house a small but influential network of libertarian, pro-Brexit think tanks and pressure groups. 

A number of these opaquely-funded groups have lobbied against government action to address climate change, and have advocated for more oil and gas extraction. 

These include the GWPF, and the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA), a libertarian pressure group that has advocated for the removal of various measures designed to reduce emissions, including the Climate Change Levy, which incentivises businesses to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions. The TPA has also campaigned against increases in fuel duty, and in favour of fossil fuel exploration.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a free-market think tank and a member of the Tufton Street network, has a history of opposing climate policies, and a 2018 investigation by Greenpeace’s Unearthed unit revealed that the IEA had received funding from oil giant BP every year since 1967. 

Until July of this year, the IEA and the GWPF had a chair in common, Conservative donor Neil Record, who in January donated £10,000 to former GWPF director and NZSG founder Steve Baker MP.

Former prime minister Liz Truss has close ties to the IEA, having founded the “Free Enterprise Group” of backbench Conservative MPs in 2011, which has been described as the “parliamentary wing” of the IEA. 

Truss attempted to end the ban on fracking for shale gas, which is a measure that has long been advocated by the IEA and other pressure groups belonging to the Tufton Street network.

At the 2022 Conservative annual party conference, the IEA’s chief operating officer and energy analyst Andy Mayer called for the government’s legally binding net zero target to be scrapped, labelling it “nonsense”.

Mayer has been regularly quoted by media outlets on the expansion of London’s ULEZ scheme. In a Daily Mail article in May, he argued that it was “implausible” that expanding the zone would improve health outcomes.

All the groups mentioned in this article have been approached for comment.

Phoebe Cooke headshot - credit Laura King Photography
Phoebe joined DeSmog in 2020. She is currently co-deputy editor and was previously the organisation's Senior Reporter.
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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