UK Energy Secretary Meets And Praises Climate Science Denier Reform Candidate

This week two cabinet ministers met with motoring campaigner and net zero critic Howard Cox, Reform UK’s candidate for London Mayor.
Adam Barnett - new white crop
Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho (left) meets Reform UK's Howard Cox. Image: X

The UK government’s most senior climate minister has publicly celebrated a petrol campaigner who wants to “scrap net zero” and claims “man is not responsible for global warming”. 

In a post from her official X account on Tuesday, Claire Coutinho, Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), endorsed the “persistence” of Howard Cox, director of the FairFuelUK lobby group that campaigns against charges on motorists. 

Cox is standing as the London mayoral candidate for Reform UK, a party which has publicly ruled out working with the Conservatives ahead of this year’s general election. 

Coutinho, who was photographed smiling with Cox, hailed his ‘PumpWatch’ campaign to monitor the price of petrol and diesel. The campaign, which has also been backed by The Sun newspaper, appears to have influenced the government’s proposal last July for a website and app that allow drivers to compare petrol prices. 

It comes after DeSmog last night revealed that the energy secretary accepted a £2,000 donation in January from Lord Michael Hintze, a funder of the UK’s leading climate science denial pressure group.

The warm words between Cox and senior Conservatives raise further questions ahead of the general election, set to take place towards the end of this year. In December, Reform leader Richard Tice said the Party had “terrified” Tory MPs, and guaranteed there would be “no deal” with the Tories ahead of the election.

Cox is running to be London Mayor in May for Nigel Farage’s right-wing party Reform UK, which calls for the UK’s net zero policies to be “scrapped”, and is funded by climate science deniers and fossil fuel interests. The party is polling around ten percent. 

Cox has publicly denied climate science. Fossil fuels produced and burnt by humans account for over 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions. “It is arrogant to think that we, as human beings, can make any difference to this planet,” Cox said in an interview in November.

In September, Cox attacked what he called the Conservative government’s “myopic drive to a costly net zero pipedream”. 

Despite his stated opposition to the Conservatives legally binding climate commitments, Cox also met with Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt “to chew the fiscal cud” ahead of this year’s budget, according to another X post posted on the same day. 

The meetings took place amid considerable opposition to the government’s Offshore Petroleum Licencing Bill, which would guarantee annual bids for new North Sea oil and gas projects, which experts say would “wreck” the UK’s net zero target.  

The bill has prompted Conservative MP and former environment minister Chris Skidmore to resign and has been criticised by the government’s climate advisors, the Climate Change Committee, which called the plans for new drilling licences “inconsistent with climate goals”. 

“In case you still doubted quite how appalling this government’s so-called environmental policy has become, the Secretary of State for Net Zero, Claire Coutinho, has now publicly aligned herself with a man who denies the existence of man-made climate change,” said Jo Maugham, executive director of the Good Law Project. 

Access to Government

In her X post on Tuesday, Coutinho shared a photo of herself with Cox, adding: “Thanks Howard & for all your persistence on this issue over many years. Drivers must get a fair price at the pump.”

The photo was reshared from a post by Cox, who said: “I had a positive constructive meeting with the Energy Minister, @ClaireCoutinho about #PumpWatch She gets it and is implementing a PumpWatch that really will have teeth. More announcements to come that I support. Still more to do though to stop the profiteering at the pumps.”

Claire Coutinho shared a photo with Howard Cox. Image: X

This appears to be Cox’s first meeting with the UK’s top energy minister, according to the database of watchdog Transparency International UK.  

But Cox has long boasted of access to ministers. He runs the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Fair Fuel with anti-net zero Tory MP Craig Mackinlay. In an article for the Daily Express last week, Cox claimed he has “worked very closely with dozens of Tory MPs” since 2011 to oppose fuel duty rises, adding “many of these backbenchers, some now ministers, I count on as good friends”. 

Cox also shared a photo of himself meeting Penny Mordaunt, leader of the House of Commons, who in 2022 welcomed his endorsement in that year’s Conservative Party leadership contest. 

Mordaunt received £10,000 last March from the management consultancy First Corporate Consultants, which is owned by Terence Mordaunt, a director at the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the UK’s main climate denial group.

Cox also posted a photo of himself on Monday shaking hands with Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis, an officer on the Fair Fuel APPG.

DESNZ, Coutinho, Mordaunt, and the Conservative Party did not respond when contacted for comment. 

Climate Science Denial

Cox, who has pledged to scrap air pollution policies including London’s ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) if elected as London Mayor, claims to have secured annual cuts to fuel duty. 

Climate deniers have used the ULEZ, which played a role in last July’s Uxbrigde and South Ruislip byelection, to push the government to roll back on net zero policies. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cited it when watering-down some net zero policies in September. 

Cox is also a fierce opponent of electric vehicles, and has pushed for a delay to the 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars – a policy adopted by the government in September. FairFuelUK was funded by the Road Haulage Association (RHA) until October 2022. 

In September, Cox posted on X that the government should “scrap all of net zero”. He also has a record of climate science denial, writing on X in August 2022: “I am now even more convinced man is not responsible for global warming.” 

Cox continues to spread such views. Last week he shared an X post from conspiracy theory outlet Wide Awake Media which claimed: “There is no definitive scientific proof that CO2 is responsible for any of the slight warming of the global climate that has occurred during the last 300 years.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s body on climate science, has said it is “unequivocal” that human influence has caused “unprecedented” global warming. 

Reform UK has pledged to accelerate oil and gas drilling, start fracking for shale gas, end subsidies for renewables, and scrap the windfall tax on oil and gas companies. DeSmog reported in November that Reform UK received £135,000 in 2023 from climate science deniers and donors with fossil fuel interests. 

In May’s London Mayoral election, Cox will be running against Conservative Party candidate Susan Hall. Hall has promoted climate science denial on social media and supported overturning the UK’s ban on fracking for shale gas.  

The Susan Hall campaign did not respond when contacted for comment about the Energy Secretary praising her mayoral election opponent. 

When contacted by DeSmog, Howard Cox said: “Meeting with Energy Secretary was about PumpWatch, the CMA-recommended pump pricing watchdog I pushed for to stop profiteering. Nothing else discussed.”

He also addressed the historic funding of FairFuelUK by haulage industry groups. He said “FairFuelUK is not funded by the haulage industry”. The Road Haulage Association, a previous funder, told DeSmog in October that it had stopped funding FairFuelUK around October 2022. 

“Howard Cox pretends that he has a mandate to speak on behalf of drivers, but he usually ignores their best interests and instead promotes his own extreme agenda, including climate change denial,” said Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics.

“He [Cox] often uses misinformation to express his ideological opposition to electric vehicles. The best interest of drivers is better served by credible organisations such as the RAC, which do not have the same ideological baggage.”

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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