DeSmog

Reform Candidate in ‘Green Tory’ By-Election Has Record of Climate Science Denial

Rupert Lowe, who is standing to replace net zero advocate Chris Skidmore, has attacked the “cult of climate change” and “climate loons”.
Adam Barnett - new white crop
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Reform party candidate Rupert Lowe. Credit: European Parliament / YouTube

Rupert Lowe, the Reform party candidate in Thursday’s Kingswood by-election, claimed in 2020 that there is “no definitive evidence” for “the cult of climate change”.

The by-election is being held after Chris Skidmore, a prominent Conservative advocate for climate policies, quit as the local MP over the government’s plans to formalise the awarding of annual North Sea oil and gas licences.

In January 2020, when Lowe was a Member of European Parliament (MEP) for the Brexit Party (now Reform UK), he used a debate about bushfires in Australia to attack climate science and experts.

“It’s disappointing that climate change has been blamed as the primary cause of these devastating bushfires by both our [European] parliament and other so-called climate experts”, Lowe said. “The cult of climate change marches on with no definitive evidence to support or deny the factual accuracy of their assertions. Logic suggests that climate change has little to do with this natural catastrophe.”

A March 2020 analysis by the World Weather Attribution initiative, run by climate scientists, estimated that the Australian bushfires in 2019 and 2020 had been made 30 percent more likely by human-induced climate change. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading climate science body, states it is “unequivocal” that human influence has caused “unprecedented” global warming. 

“Climate denial has no place in our politics,” Liberal Democrat climate and energy spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse MP, told DeSmog. “The damage that climate change will do to our planet makes it the most pressing challenge that we all face. These comments are frankly dangerous. It is our collective challenge to rise to this climate crisis and provide solutions that will build a safer future for generations to come.”

Reform is standing in two House of Commons by-elections this week. The second, in Wellingborough, will be contested by Reform deputy leader Ben Habib, who has called the internationally-agreed goal of achieving net zero emissions the “biggest, most pernicious, regressive tax on the working and middle classes”. It was revealed in 2019 that Habib was the second highest-earning MEP, making nearly €1 million a year from his property company.

Reform, which is polling at around 10 percent, has positioned itself as the anti-climate party, campaigning to “scrap all of net zero”. Reform leader Richard Tice has spread climate science denial, claiming that “CO2 isn’t poison; it’s plant food”. As DeSmog has revealed, the party received £135,000 last year from climate deniers and fossil fuel interests, while its honorary president Nigel Farage has called for a public referendum on net zero.

Reform originally said it would boycott the by-election in Kingswood, Gloucestershire – calling the contest a “grotesque abuse of taxpayers’ money” – before U-turning and fielding a candidate. Skidmore, the constituency’s former MP, produced a flagship review of the government’s net zero strategy in 2023, alleging that the UK was “falling behind” on its targets. 

“There is no doubt this is a climate by-election, given it was caused by the decision by Chris Skidmore to stand down because of the government’s climate inaction,” Green Party peer Natalie Bennett told DeSmog. 

Bennett accused Reform of peddling “fantasy explanations for the climate emergency”, adding: “What’s crucial is that all other parties stand firmly against them, and set out clear, committed plans to take climate action, and tackle the poor quality housing, air pollution and broken food system that are behind the terrible quality of health in the UK today.”

Earlier this month, DeSmog revealed that the party received £10,000 from former Tory donor Crispin Odey last summer, who has been accused of sexual harassment or abuse by 19 women. Odey denies the allegations.

A Lowe Point

Rupert Lowe, a former City trader who served as chairman of Southampton Football Club from 1996 to 2006, was a Brexit Party MEP from 2019 to 2020. 

In a European Parliament debate in January 2020, Lowe dismissed the contribution of climate change to bushfires in Australia, which destroyed more than 3,000 buildings and killed 34 people between September 2019 and March 2020,

Lowe suggested the fires were caused by “discarded cigarettes”, campfires, sparks from electric transmission lines and “arson”. Blaming climate-influenced wildfires entirely on arsonists is a common trope used by climate science deniers. 

When challenged on his remarks during the session, Lowe repeated that the fires had “nothing to do” with “dryness or heat”, adding that: “We’ve had bushfires in Australia… for many centuries” and that “The biggest fires happened in 1974-75”. 

The claim that extreme weather has been worse in the past is another familiar climate denial argument. 

Lowe went on to say that the European Parliament should “urgently address its own excessive, avoidable carbon footprint” and that its buildings in Strasbourg, Brussels and Luxembourg were an example of “do-gooding hypocrisy”. 

Charges of hypocrisy, while often valid, are another line of attack used by opponents of climate action. 

In May 2023, Lowe also appeared to defend physical confrontations with climate protesters. He shared a video of a man who was stopped by police for grabbing climate protesters and said that it was a “scandal” that officers were confronting a person who was “doing their job for them” by “removing these climate loons from blocking up the roads”.

Reform and Rupert Lowe have been approached for comment.

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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