The UK’s most prominent climate science denial group has seen its income drop to the lowest level since 2016, DeSmog can reveal.
The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) filed its latest accounts on 18 January, showing an income of £280,000 for the year ending 30 September 2023, a drop of £110,000 from the previous year. Total annual losses increased from £17,000 to over £150,000.
While membership fees remained stable, falling marginally from £10,300 to £9,900, the GWPF saw a large fall in donations from £346,000 to £201,000. The GWPF does not declare the names of its donors.
The GWPF’s director Benny Peiser has claimed that it would be “extraordinary anyone should think there is a climate crisis”, while the group 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 UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s foremost climate science body, has stated it is “unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”. The IPCC has also warned that false and misleading information “undermines climate science and disregards risk and urgency” of cutting emissions.
The GWPF’s income has fallen markedly since a high point of £426,000 in the year ending September 2019. In total, the group has earned £2.8 million since September 2015.
Founded by the late former Conservative chancellor Nigel Lawson, the GWPF has attracted criticism for its use of a subsidiary, Net Zero Watch, to front its campaigns. While the GWPF is a registered charity, and is in theory bound by Charity Commission rules limiting “political activity”, Net Zero Watch is a private company.
The Good Law Project has been urging the Charity Commission to launch an investigation into the GWPF, claiming that the charitable foundation funds non-charitable lobbying work by Net Zero Watch.
Net Zero Watch (previously the Global Warming Policy Forum) was set up after a previous investigation by the Charity Commission found that the GWPF had breached the commission’s rules on political activity.
This financial relationship was consolidated in 2023, with Net Zero Watch paying a record £205,000 to the GWPF to cover its administrative costs. Peiser told DeSmog that “this arrangement is known and accepted by the Charity Commission”. The GWPF has more than £730,000 in reserve funds and claims to be in a “sound financial condition”.
“The profile of GWPF – rapid rise then inevitable decline – is emblematic of dark money funded pressure groups generally,” Jolyon Maugham, executive director of the Good Law Project, told DeSmog. “Like a burner phone they are cheap to buy and easily abandoned when they become toxic. The mystery here is why its brand of pseudoscience has been protected by the Charity Commission.”
Net Zero Watch appointed Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns as a director in May 2023, while former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott and Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson were also appointed to the GWPF board during the year. Tory peer and former Cabinet Office minister David Frost is also a director.
Jenkyns has called for the UK to “ditch” its net zero target, while Abbott has previously said that “climate change is probably doing good” and is a long-standing advocate for coal power, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel. Pearson has claimed that green policies will cause “life as we know it” to “[return] to the pre-industrial age”.
The Politics of Net Zero
In its latest accounts, the GWPF’s chairman Jerome Booth states that: “As the high and widespread costs to meet net zero targets become more burdensome we anticipate increased public antipathy and frustration with the status quo and enquiry into policy alternatives. The charity intends to provide balance and objectivity to that future public debate”.
It is unclear how the GWPF provides “balance” in its policy prescriptions, given that it produces reports and public statements that vehemently oppose current climate targets.
The GWPF is based in 55 Tufton Street – the focal point for a number of libertarian think tanks and pressure groups that are in favour of more fossil fuel extraction and opposed to state-led climate action. These groups are characterised by a lack of transparency over their sources of funding.
55 Tufton Street is also home to Civitas, an opaquely-funded pressure group that produced a report in September that vastly overestimated the costs of net zero. Civitas was forced to retract the report, which claimed that achieving net zero emissions would cost the UK £4.5 trillion, acknowledging “factual errors”.
The Climate Change Committee (CCC), the government’s independent advisory body on net zero, has estimated that the cost of achieving net zero will be less than one percent of GDP, while the government independent spending watchdog – the Office for Budget Responsibility – has said that, “the costs of failing to get climate change under control would be much larger than those of bringing emissions down to net zero”.
The Conservative government has weakened a number of flagship net zero policies in recent months. The party has announced that a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles will be pushed back from 2030 to 2035. It has also watered down schemes to phase out gas boilers and scrapped new energy efficiency regulations on rented homes.
Through the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, passed by MPs on Monday evening, the government is also attempting to bind future administrations to annual North Sea oil and gas licensing rounds.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak used his address at the COP28 climate summit in December to claim that “climate politics is close to breaking point”, while stating that the UK will meet its net zero targets, “but we’ll do it in a more pragmatic way, which doesn’t burden working people.”
However, a 2023 court case found that the government’s plans only added up to 95 percent of the reductions needed to meet its net zero targets.
DeSmog has previously revealed that the Conservative Party received £3.5 million in donations from fossil fuel interests and climate science deniers in 2022, while two-thirds of the directors in charge of the party’s multi-million-pound endowment fund have a financial interest in oil, gas, and highly polluting industries.
However, Sunak’s dilution of the UK’s net zero commitments do not appear to have found favour with voters. A YouGov poll commissioned by Greenpeace and released this week found that a majority (55 percent) of people believe that the government isn’t taking a lead on climate change, compared to only 19 percent who think it is taking a lead.
Since Sunak backtracked on several of the government’s net zero policies in September 2023, the Conservative Party’s average poll rating has marginally deteriorated.