Revealed: Oil and Gas-Backed Think Tanks Give £240k to ‘Green’ Parliamentary Groups

The fossil fuel industry has been allowed to “infiltrate” certain APPGs, warn campaigners.
Adam Barnett - new white crop
The House of Commons lobby. Credit: Jorge Royan (CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED)

Parliamentary groups focused on energy and the environment received nearly £240,000 worth of support from think tanks backed by oil and gas companies in the past two years, DeSmog can report. 

All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are informal cross-party groups of MPs and Lords which discuss issues and try to influence policy around a specific subject area. They are required to register financial interests and “benefits in kind” – services at a reduced rate or free. 

DeSmog can reveal that three APPGs received benefits in the past two years from think tanks whose funders or members include major polluters, including Shell and Equinor. These were the APPGs on Net Zero, Hydrogen and Carbon Monoxide. The APPG on the Environment received a further £5,000 directly from RWE, a major producer of coal. 

At least 12 APPGs have oil and gas connections – from direct funding or services via think tanks, to administrative support by industry associations, or having fossil fuel companies as “external members”.

The findings are part of analysis of the latest official registers of interest by DeSmog, based on new research by campaign group Fossil Free Parliament.  

They come as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces criticism for his 11-hour appearance at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai last week, where the phase out of fossil fuels is currently being debated, and after Sunak’s weakening of the UK’s net zero policies in September.

DeSmog has previously reported that the Conservative Party received £3.5 million from polluting interests or climate science deniers in 2022. 

“This research has made it very obvious that the fossil fuel industry has its fingers in every APPG that might have some impact on its business model,” said Carys Boughton, a campaigner Fossil Free Parliament, which opposes fossil fuel influence on UK politics. 

“By providing funding and administrative support to these informal but highly influential parliamentary groups, the industry has backdoor access to relevant decision-making processes that it can then manipulate in its favour.” 

A review by Parliament’s standards committee chaired by Labour MP Chris Bryant in July made proposals to improve APPG’s transparency, including that groups provide an annual statement of their income and spending.

Gas Links

The analysis found several APPGs focused on energy and the environment have ties to oil and gas companies. 

The Net Zero APPG chaired by Labour MP Alex Sobel says it works to “secure a low carbon and clean industrial and economic future for the UK [and] embed zero carbon solutions”. In January, the group received up to £51,000 from Vision10, a policy group whose members include Calor Gas, the UK’s leading supplier of  liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Vision10’s membership also includes green groups and renewable energy companies. 

The group’s website says its supporters include British multinational energy supplier Centrica, which owns British Gas, and French energy supplier EDF. Both provide gas for domestic heating, which accounts for 14 percent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

An EDF spokesperson claimed the company was “Britain’s biggest generator of low carbon electricity” and supplies electric heat pumps. They said the company does not operate fossil fuel power stations. 

The Net Zero APPG, Centrica, and Calor Gas did not respond when contacted. 

‘No Influence’

Another green group, the APPG on the Environment, chaired by prominent pro-net zero Conservative MP Chris Skidmore, says it works to “strengthen the influence of parliamentarians on public policy and public debate on the environment”. 

In a donation last December, registered in March 2023, the APPG received a £5,000 donation from German energy company RWE, which is listed as one of its “associate members” on the group’s website. RWE runs the most polluting coal power plant in Europe. In 2022, 36 percent of RWE’s output was gas, compared to 33 percent renewable energy, including offshore wind. 

A spokesperson for the APPG said it has a “proud record of securing bold and ambitious change to environmental policy”, and that its business guidelines exclude companies it believes are not “firmly committed to UK leadership on the climate and nature crises”. 

They added that “associate members”, which include RWE, “do not influence our position and lobbying efforts on this issue, which are led by the latest climate science and considerations relating to equity and justice”.

RWE did not reply when contacted for comment. 

Cadent Donations

The APPG on Carbon Monoxide (known as APPCOG) works with politicians to tackle the poisonous gas, which is produced from factory and vehicle emissions, and can also contribute to climate change. 

In January, the APPG received up to £120,000 of benefits in kind from Policy Connect, a cross-party think tank which connects MPs with stakeholders on issues including industry and sustainability. According to its website, Policy Connect’s biggest funders, which donated £20-30,000, include gas distributors Cadent, Northern Gas Networks and Scotia Gas Networks. 

Cadent distributes gas to 11 million businesses and homes in the UK. Gas boilers are used to heat around 85 percent of UK homes, which together produce 14 percent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Cadent has also lobbied against heat pumps and for hydrogen being used to heat homes using current gas infrastructure, an approach rejected by experts as polluting and inefficient.

Labour MP Barry Sheerman, chair of the APPG, said it was the “leading forum” for working with MPs and Lords to tackle carbon monoxide poisoning. He added that “Policy Connect receives funding to pay for dedicated staff and operational resources to support APPCOG officers”. 

A spokesperson for the Energy Networks Association (ENA), whose members include Cadent, Northern Gas and Scotia Gas, did not address the benefits when contacted, but told DeSmog that the Carbon Monoxide APPG is “the leading forum for Parliamentarians to discover, discuss and promote ways of tackling carbon monoxide poisoning in the UK”. 

Cadent did not comment directly when contacted, referring DeSmog to the ENA. Policy Connect did not respond when contacted for comment. 

Hydrogen Push

The Hydrogen APPG says it works with politicians and business to meet the UK’s net zero targets “through implementation of hydrogen projects”. As DeSmog has reported, the APPG has lobbied the government to support “blue” hydrogen – which involves capturing and burying emissions –  and supported “hydrogen-ready” boilers, which burn gas. 

Experts have warned that exaggerating the potential of hydrogen could delay climate action by obstructing the switch to renewables and keeping the fossil fuel industry alive. 

In February, the Hydrogen APPG received at least £70,000 worth of services to help run the group from Connect, a PR firm paid for by oil and gas companies. 

The companies include Shell, Cadent and Equinor. Connect has provided similar funds in previous years, according to the register. The APPG’s chair, Alex Stafford MP, who worked at Shell before entering Parliament, defended the group’s links to the gas industry at the Conservative Party conference this year. 

In a new emailed statement this week, Alex Stafford MP told DeSmog the group “seeks to raise awareness and build support for hydrogen projects that will enable the UK to meet decarbonisation targets” and was run in an “open and transparent way”. 

Shell declined to comment. Equinor did not respond when contacted. Cadent referred DeSmog to the ENA (see above). 

‘Open and Transparent’

Fossil fuel trade bodies are helping to run APPGs, for example by providing administrative services, but this support is not registered as a donation or benefit. 

The British Offshore Oil and Gas Industry APPG describes itself as a forum on relevant issues and to “raise matters with government and industry itself”. 

The group is co-run by trade body Offshore Energies UK (OEUK), the rebranded Oil and Gas UK, which also acts as its secretariat. As DeSmog reported in October, OEUK has extensively lobbied the government to water down its windfall tax on oil and gas company profits. 

A spokesperson for OEUK told DeSmog the organisation was proud to “support the work of parliamentarians with an interest in energy security and the transition”. They added: “We will always champion our industry to all parliamentarians on a cross-party basis and do so in an open and transparent manner.”

Conservative MP Peter Aldous, the APPG’s chair, told DeSmog: “If the UK is to deliver a home grown transition and energy security, it is vital that policy makers and parliamentarians listen to the voice of industry and the 200,000 strong workforce, who in many cases are also our constituents.”

Echoing the OEUK, he added that “the group operates transparently and is open to all parliamentarians on a cross-party basis”. 

Industry Ties

The APPG on Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS), which promotes controversial “carbon-capture” technology, also enjoys admin support from the fossil fuel industry. 

The CCUS APPG describes itself as a forum for the carbon-removal technology for the purpose of “mitigating carbon dioxide emissions from energy intensive industries, heating and power”. There is growing evidence that CCUS does not work at scale and is being used by the fossil fuel industry to justify new drilling. 

The APPG is co-run by a trade group called the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA). As DeSmog reported in September, nearly a fifth of the CCSA’s 100 members are oil and gas companies, including BP, ExxonMobil, Shell and Equinor. 

The CCSA board is also dominated by key figures at oil and gas companies, including BP, Equinor, and Shell. CCSA is also part of Vision10, the policy group which donated to the Net Zero APPG. 

Labour MP Alex Cunningham, who chairs the CCUS APPG, told DeSmog said he was pleased to have invited the CCSA to be the group’s secretariat. “The agenda is to further understand and promote the development of CCUS on agendas developed by the officers of the group”, he added. “No one group of industrialists have any particular influence on it – but all demonstrate their commitment to the aims of the APPG.”

A CCSA spokesperson told DeSmog it was “proud” to work alongside the APPG to support the development of a CCUS industry. It said its members were from “a wide range of sectors”, including “hard to abate essential industries, such as cement, which cannot decarbonise without CCUS”. 

BP, ExxonMobil, Shell and Equinor did not respond when contacted for comment. 

Oil and Gas Links

The analysis identified a number of further examples of fossil fuel interests behind APPGs.

An APPG on Corporate Governance, which says it promotes “a culture based on responsible leadership and investments”, received £5,000 in a direct donation from oil and gas giant BP in April. BP made a record $28 billion (around £22 billion) in 2022, and this year urged more investment in oil and gas and cut back its climate targets. The APPG and BP did not respond when contacted. 

In February, the APPG for the East of England, which says it works “to give a strong political voice” for the region’s economy, received between £37,501 and £39,000 from Steve Barwick Political Consultancy, a communications firm which claims it “helps create and drive change in Westminster, Whitehall and throughout the UK’s regions”. 

According to the APPG register, the consultancy’s funders include gas distributor Cadent.

The consultancy’s founder, Steve Barwick, told DeSmog in an emailed statement: “Cadent’s involvement with the APPG has primarily focussed on skills and jobs in the East of England, alongside working with partners on projects to support the East’s move towards Net Zero, especially around industrial decarbonisation.” He added that the APPG held a meeting this month on net zero and adapting to climate change. 

Barwick said: “Cadent is just one of 12 organisations plus four universities that support the APPG. Proportionally Cadent only contributes a small percentage of the funding”. 

Cadent also gave £25,000 of direct financial support to an APPG on Football, the All-Party Parliamentary Football Club Group, in August 2022. 

Robin Millar MP, the Football APPG’s chair, did not address the donation, but told DeSmog: “The Football Club APPG is a cross-party group and provides parliamentarians an opportunity to raise money and awareness for charities and humanitarian initiatives whilst playing football.”

Cadent referred DeSmog to the ENA (see above). 

‘Like the Tobacco Industry’

Another group, the APPG on Energy Studies, which describes its mission as “informing the government of the day of the energy issues of the day”, lists its associate members for 2021-22 as BP, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Cadent, and RWE. Cadent is on its executive council for 2022-23. 

The APPG on Marine Energy, which promotes the “economic, supply chain and energy security benefits” of marine energy resources, lists Renewables UK as its secretariat. The renewable energy trade body’s members include major producers of oil and gas, Shell and BP. The APPG received between £4,501 and £6,000 of benefits in kind from Renewables UK in October 2021, the most recent entry. 

Another group, the APPG on Energy Costs, which lobbies for what it calls an “evidence-based discussion on all aspects of energy costs”, lists as external members Calor Gas and RWE, along with environmental groups including Greenpeace. 

Carys Broughton of Fossil Free Parliament added: “Until restrictions are placed on the fossil fuel industry’s access to all aspects of political decision-making, MPs’ and peers’ ability to progress the necessary phase out of fossil fuels will be severely compromised.”

She added: “You wouldn’t allow the tobacco industry any access to APPGs on public health, so why is the fossil fuel industry – which is so clearly pushing for further fossil fuel extraction – allowed to infiltrate APPGs about climate and energy policy?” 

Note on methodology: The research for this story involved searching the APPG register for donations or services from fossil fuel companies or industry groups, and looking into APPGs related to energy or the environment. The true extent of fossil fuel influence on APPGs could therefore be higher.

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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