IEA Think Tank Contributes to Climate Science Denial Documentary

The group, which received money from BP for at least 50 years, is “cementing its role as a major mouthpiece for climate change scepticism”, campaigners say.
The Institute of Economic Affairs has its headquarters on Lord North Street, Westminster. Credit: Des Blenkinsopp (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A senior figure at the influential Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) think tank contributed to a new documentary that spread numerous myths about climate change. 

Stephen Davies, an academic who has worked in educational outreach roles at the IEA since 2010, appeared several times in Climate The Movie: The Cold Truth – a new film directed by climate science denier Martin Durkin

In the documentary, Davies claims that climate activists want to impose an “austere” life on ordinary people. “Behind all the talk about a climate emergency, climate crisis” is “an animus and hostility towards” working-class people, “their lifestyle, their beliefs and a desire to change it by force if necessary,” he says.

According to the website Skeptical Science, which debunks climate misinformation, Climate The Movie contains more than two dozen myths about climate change. The film suggests that we shouldn’t be worried about greenhouse gas emissions, because plants need carbon dioxide. “We’re in a CO2 famine,” one interviewee claims.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s foremost climate science body, has stated that carbon dioxide “is responsible for most of global warming” since the late 19th century, which has increased the “severity and frequency of weather and climate extremes, like heat waves, heavy rains, and drought”.

Climate The Movie producer Thomas Nelson told DeSmog that “I see the misguided fight against carbon dioxide as being as crazy as fighting against oxygen or water vapour, and I think scaring innocent children about this is deeply evil”.

The IEA said that “Steve firmly believes that climate change is happening and carbon emissions are having an impact. His view that climate policy imposes costs, particularly on working-class communities, is entirely mainstream. IEA publications and spokespeople have supported action on climate change, including carbon pricing.”

A screenshot of Stephen Davies of the Institute of Economic Affairs in Climate The Movie: The Cold Truth. Credit: Climate The Movie / YouTube

In 2018, Greenpeace’s investigative journalism unit Unearthed revealed that the IEA had received funding from oil major BP every year since 1967. In response to the story, an IEA spokeswoman said: “It is surely uncontroversial that the IEA’s principles coincide with the interests of our donors.” 

The IEA also received a £21,000 grant from U.S. oil major ExxonMobil in 2005.

The IEA has extensive influence in politics and the media. It was pivotal to Liz Truss’s short-lived premiership as prime minister, and has boasted of its access to Conservative ministers and MPs. During the year ending March 2023, the IEA appeared in the media on 5,265 occasions, a figure 43 percent higher than its previous peak in 2019.

The group has also received donations from a number of philanthropic trusts accused of channelling funds from the fossil fuel industry and helping to support climate science denial groups. The IEA is a member of the Atlas Network – an international collaboration of “extreme” free market groups that have been accused of promoting the interests of fossil fuel companies and other large corporations.

It’s not known if the IEA has received funding from BP since 2018.

The IEA is a prominent supporter of the continued and extended use of fossil fuels. The group has advocated for the ban to be lifted on fracking for shale gas, calling it the “moral and economic choice”. The IEA has also said that a ban on new North Sea oil and gas would be “madness”, has criticised the windfall tax imposed on North Sea oil and gas firms, and said that the government’s commitment to “max out” the UK’s fossil fuel reserves is a “welcome step”.

The IEA is part of the Tufton Street network – a cluster of libertarian think tanks and pressure groups that are in favour of more fossil fuel extraction and are opposed to state-led climate action. These groups are characterised by a lack of transparency over their sources of funding. The IEA does not publicly declare the names of its donors. 

“From Brexit to Trussonomics, the IEA has consistently peddled and promoted destructive and damaging policies,” Green Party MP Caroline Lucas told DeSmog. “Yet perhaps nothing will prove more dangerous long term than the stream of climate denialism and calls to delay action that have been pouring out of Tufton Street for many years.

“Clearly the IEA is now ramping up its climate culture war and the Conservative Party has been following suit. The cross-party consensus on climate action we used to have in Parliament is under strain like never before.”

Stephen Davies was approached for comment. 

Climate The Movie

During the documentary, Davies suggests that action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is being used to limit the freedom of individuals. He claims that climate activists want to impose “a much more austere simple kind of lifestyle” on people “in which the consumption choices of the great bulk of the population are controlled or even prohibited.”

Davies adds that: “What you have here is a classic example of class hypocrisy and self-interest masquerading as public spirited concern. You could take these kinds of green socialist more seriously if they lived off grid, they cut their own consumption down to the minimum, they never flew. Instead you get constant talk about how human consumption is destroying the planet but the people making all this talk show absolutely no signs of reducing their own.”

The documentary also features an interview with Benny Peiser, the director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) – the UK’s leading climate science denial group. Peiser has previously claimed that it would be “extraordinary anyone should think there is a climate crisis”, while the GWPF has expressed the view that carbon dioxide has been mischaracterised as pollution, when in fact it is a “benefit to the planet”. 

The film was favourably reviewed by commentator Toby Young in The Spectator magazine, who described it as “a phenomenon”. Young has previously said that he’s sceptical about the idea of human-caused climate change. 

The IPCC has stated it is “unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”, while scientists at NASA have found that the last 10 years were the hottest on record. Earth’s average surface temperature in 2023 was the warmest since records began in 1880. 

The IPCC has also warned that false and misleading information “undermines climate science and disregards risk and urgency” of climate action.

The documentary also features Claire Fox, a member of the House of Lords who was nominated for a peerage by former prime minister Boris Johnson in 2020. 

Fox used the documentary to claim that, by tackling climate change, people will be forced to pay more “to simply live the lives that they were leading”.

She suggests that supporters of climate action are trying to “take away what we consider to be not luxuries but necessities.”

The UK’s Climate Change Committee, which advises the government on measures to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, estimates that the combined policies will cost less than one percent of the country’s national output.

The Office for Budget Responsibility, the UK’s independent economic forecaster, has also 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”.

Those suffering during the cost of living crisis have seen their energy bills increase by nearly £2.5 billion, in turn reducing their disposable incomes, due to successive governments failing to implement green reforms. 

Claire Fox and the GWPF were approached for comment. 

A Charitable Cause?

The IEA is a registered charity, meaning that it receives generous tax breaks. 

The group justifies this charitable status partly on the basis of its educational outreach programme, which aims to “equip tomorrow’s leaders with a deep understanding of free market economics”.

The IEA claims that: “Our aim is to change the climate of opinion in the long term and our work with students is a key part of this.”

In the year ending March 2023, the group claimed to have engaged with 3,500 students and 1,200 teachers via its seminars, internships and summer schools.

Formerly the IEA’s head of education and now a senior education fellow, Davies is a senior member of the group’s outreach programme. He is the first person listed in the IEA’s student speakers brochure, which advertises the IEA staff members who are available to speak at schools or universities. 

The brochure also lists the IEA’s chief operating officer Andy Mayer, who has said that the government should “get rid of” its target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, which he called a “very hard left, socialist, central-planning model”.

The non-profit Good Law Project recently made a complaint to the Charity Commission about the IEA, claiming that the libertarian group had breached charity rules. Namely, the Good Law Project claims that the IEA is in breach of rules stating that charities must avoid presenting “biased and selective information in support of a preconceived point of view”.

The Charity Commission rejected this complaint, stating that: “We have assessed the concerns raised and have not identified concerns that the charity is acting outside of its objects or the Commission’s published guidance.” 

Good Law Project campaigns manager Hannah Greer told DeSmog: “It won’t be a surprise to anyone that the IEA is cementing its role as a major mouthpiece for climate change scepticism. It’s a huge scandal that the IEA is still allowed to peddle fringe views under the guise of being an ‘educational charity’ while benefiting from taxpayer subsidies.

“This has been allowed to happen because we have seen alarming and unambiguous regulatory failure from the Charity Commission – who have been presented with evidence of how the IEA is flouting charity law, but have chosen to look the other way.”

Sam is DeSmog’s UK Deputy Editor. He was previously the Investigations Editor of Byline Times and an investigative journalist at the BBC. He is the author of two books: Fortress London, and Bullingdon Club Britain.

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