DeSmog

Tories Have Received £8.4 Million from Fossil Fuel Interests, Polluters, and Climate Deniers Since 2019 Election

“Outrageous” findings show that the Conservative Party “is clearly in bed with the fossil fuel lobby”, say MPs and campaigners.
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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Credit: Associated Press / Alamy

The Conservative Party has received £8.4 million since December 2019 from oil and gas interests, highly polluting industries, and individuals who have expressed or supported climate science denial, DeSmog can reveal. 

This comes as climate action is increasingly being used as a “wedge” issue to divide voters ahead of the next election, which is due to be held on 4 July. 

Over the last year, the governing Conservative Party has watered down its support for the UK’s flagship 2050 net zero emissions target, and has enacted policies to increase fossil fuel extraction. In July, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed that his government plans to issue hundreds of new oil and gas licences, as well as introducing annual licensing rounds, claiming that he intends to “max out” the UK’s fossil fuel reserves.

Sunak launched the election campaign by claiming that he had “prioritised energy security and your family finances over environmental dogma”.

DeSmog reviewed the donations to every major Westminster party since 12 December 2019 and found that the Conservative Party and its MPs had received 80 times more polluting cash than the Liberal Democrats (£132,600), and 160 times more than Labour (£41,600). The anti-net zero party Reform UK has received more than £2 million in polluting donations since December 2019, accounting for more than 90 percent of its funding. 

Since the December 2019 election, the Conservatives have received £2.35 million from fossil fuel interests, £5.7 million from highly polluting industries, and £404,000 from supporters of climate science denial.

“No political party should be taking any money from fossil fuel interests whatsoever,” Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, told DeSmog. 

“To have the Conservative party of government in their pocket to the tune of £8.4 million is simply outrageous and unacceptable. Is it any wonder they’ve adopted so many reactionary and dangerous policies to prop up planet-wrecking fossil fuels? He who pays the piper, calls the tune.”

The Conservative Party did not respond to DeSmog’s request for comment.

Fossil Fuel Donations

Since the 2019 general election, the Conservative Party has received more than £2 million from fossil fuel companies, their executives, and those with a financial interest in oil and gas. 

These donations have come from some of the party’s highest-ranking figures. 

Tory peer Lord Michael Spencer is a former party treasurer who sits on the board of its endowment fund, the Conservative Party Foundation. In a personal capacity and through his family office, IPGL, Spencer has given £548,500 to the party since December 2019. 

Spencer currently holds an 18.8 percent (£4.5 million) stake in the oil and gas exploration company Deltic Energy, which has been awarded multiple North Sea licences by the government. 

He previously told DeSmog that he believes “it is totally in the best interest of the UK to replace imported oil and gas by energy extracted from our own North Sea.”

He added in a new comment that “using our own oil and gas clearly is a huge benefit to UK balance of payments” – with reference to the amount that the UK exports versus the amount that it imports. 

Spencer has a number of oil and gas interests. His House of Lords register of interests shows that he has a stake in Pantheon Resources, a UK company exploring for oil in Alaska, and previously had a stake in Cluff Energy Africa, which is described as an “early stage oil prospecting company seeking licences in Africa (Angola and Sierra Leone)”.

Tory peer Lord Michael Farmer has also donated £317,000 to the party since the last election. Until April 2024, Farmer held shares in the fossil fuel giants Shell and BP, each worth more than £100,000. Farmer still holds shares in BHP Group, which has mining and oil assets. In 2022, BHP’s petroleum business merged with the energy company Woodside, with the new firm being 48 percent owned by BHP shareholders, creating a “global top 10 independent energy company”.

The Conservative Party has also received £75,900 from Amjad Bseisu, the CEO of EnQuest – a company that has been awarded North Sea oil and gas licences, as well as licences to explore CO2 storage under the North Sea. EnQuest declined to comment.

Alasdair Locke, who chairs the UK’s largest independent petrol station operator Motor Fuel Group, has given £280,000 to the Tories since December 2019. Locke is also the non-executive chair of Well-Safe Solutions, a firm that decommissions oil and gas wells, and is the founder and former executive chairman of Abbot Group, a major North Sea oil and gas services company.

Balmoral Holdings, an engineering firm heavily involved in the North Sea industry, has given £335,000 to the party, while more than £100,000 has been donated by Matthew Ferrey, a former senior partner at oil trading firm Vitol.

Donations worth £63,000 have also been given by Nova Venture Holdings, a firm owned by Jacques Tohme, who describes himself as an “energy investor” on LinkedIn and says that he is the co-founder and former director of Tailwind Energy, an oil and gas company. 

In 2023, Serica Energy bought Tailwind, reportedly making Serica one of the 10 largest North Sea oil and gas producers.

“This investigation is yet more evidence of the stranglehold the oil and gas industry has on our politics,” Georgia Whitaker, Greenpeace UK’s climate campaigner, told DeSmog. “And it’s bill payers and the climate that will continue to suffer because of it.

“The governing party we’ve had for the last 14 years is clearly in bed with the fossil fuel lobby. We’ve seen rowback after row back on climate policy, as well as highly damaging rhetoric from political leaders. It’s clear that the Conservatives can’t be trusted to make the right decisions about energy policy.

“We already have the solutions to cut bills, increase energy security and cut emissions, but the government has ignored them in favour of pandering to vested interests at the expense of the rest of us. Dirty money from fossil fuels, highly polluting industries, or climate deniers should have no place in our politics.”

Carbon-Intensive Industry

The largest polluting donation to the Conservatives came from Amit Lohia, a petrochemicals executive whose business interests include a Russian textiles plant, as previously revealed by DeSmog. Lohia donated £2 million to the party in March 2023. 

The Conservative Party also received more than £1.7 million during this period from the construction giant JCB and its proprietors the Bamford family. JCB sells its products in 150 countries and specialises in heavy machinery. The company, chaired by Tory peer Lord Anthony Bamford, also sells diesel-powered generators.

According to the government’s Environmental Audit Committee, the UK’s built environment is responsible for 25 percent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. The construction industry is responsible for 18 percent of large particle pollution in the UK, a figure that rises to 30 percent in London, according to a report by Impact on Urban Health, and the Centre for Low Emission Construction.

Aviation entrepreneur Christopher Harborne has given more than £1.6 million to the party since the last election. Harborne is the owner of AML Global, an aviation fuel supplier operating in 1,200 locations across the globe with a distribution network that includes “main and regional oil companies”, according to its website. Harborne is also the CEO of Sheriff Global Group, which trades in private jets.

In addition to his Conservative Party donations, since December 2019 Harborne has given £465,000 to Reform UK, the country’s most overtly anti-net zero political party.

Aviation emissions accounted for eight percent of the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions before the pandemic, according to the government’s Climate Change Committee (CCC).

In response to DeSmog’s request for comment, Harborne posted a lengthy statement on the AML Global website. He said: “I am not a climate science denier and … I do not seek to influence any government through donations or lobbying regarding their policies on climate change or in favour of corporate interests.”

Harborne added that “there is overwhelming scientific evidence that human activity and in particular the use of hydrocarbons as an energy source is accelerating climate warming due to the greenhouse effect.”

He noted that he supports “aviation industry initiatives to improve fuel efficiency and the use of sustainable aviation fuel” and that he is “financing a business that is creating ambitious and innovative new designs for next generation aircraft that will have a radically lower carbon footprint.”

Climate-Denier Donors

Climate science denial is a growing feature of mainstream British politics. Its proponents dispute the settled consensus around human-caused climate change and the need to reach net zero emissions by 2050, displacing informed debate with divisive conversations that mislead the public.

The Climate Action Against Disinformation global coalition has observed that “climate has become co-opted into the culture wars”, which has widened the potential scope of mis- and disinformation around both the causes of and best solutions to global heating.

Since the 2019 election, the Conservative Party has received hundreds of thousands of pounds from individuals who have funded and promoted climate science denial. 

Hedge fund manager Lord Michael Hintze has donated £294,000 to the Tories and a number of its MPs, including energy security and net zero secretary Claire Coutinho in January 2024.

Hintze, a Conservative peer, was one of the early funders of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the UK’s leading climate science denial group, which has claimed that carbon dioxide has been mis-characterised as pollution, when it is a “benefit to the planet”. 

Hintze has said that he believes “there is climate change” caused “in part due to human activity over the past century”. However, he has said that “all sides must be heard” on climate change “to reach the right conclusion for society as a whole“.

A number of climate consensus studies conducted between 2004 and 2015 found that between 90 percent and 100 percent of experts agree that humans are responsible for climate change. A study published in 2021, which reviewed over 3,000 scientific papers, found that over 99 percent of climate science literature says that global warming is caused by human activity.

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 party has also received £90,000 from First Corporate Consultants, a firm owned by Terence Mordaunt, a director and former chair of the GWPF. Mordaunt told openDemocracy in 2019 that “no one has proved yet that CO2 is the culprit” of climate change.

The IPCC 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”.

Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, told DeSmog: “No one who has seen how the Conservative Party chose Big Oil over families during the cost of living crisis will be surprised by these numbers. But that shouldn’t dull our sense of quite how grim all of this is.”

Other Parties

Last year First Corporate Consultants also donated £200,000 to Tory rivals, the right-wing party Reform UK, which has been the second largest recipient of donations from polluting sources since December 2019. 

Of the £2.5 million that Reform UK has received in donations since the 2019 election, around 92 percent (£2.3 million) of that income has been given by fossil fuel interests, polluting industries, or climate science deniers.

Reform UK has received £515,000 from former Tory donor Jeremy Hosking, whose investment firm had more than $134 million (around £108 million) invested in the energy sector at the close of 2021, two thirds of which was in the oil industry, along with millions in coal and gas. 

Hosking, who also donated £50,000 to the Conservatives during this period, previously told DeSmog: “I do not have millions in fossil fuels; it is the clients of Hosking Partners who are the beneficiaries of these investments.” He declined to comment further for this article. 

Hosking told The Guardian in May that he had ended his donations to Reform UK and is now channelling his political donations to Reclaim, a radical right-wing party led by actor Laurence Fox. 

Since December 2019, Reform UK has also received more than £1.1 million from businesses run by its leader Richard Tice, who is a prominent climate science denier. Tice has claimed that “there is no climate crisis”, and has also expressed the view that “CO2 isn’t a poison. It’s plant food”. Reform UK campaigns on an overtly anti-climate platform. It has called for the UK’s 2050 climate target to be scrapped, and has proposed holding a “referendum on net zero”. 

Reform UK has also received more than 50 loans collectively worth around £1.4 million from a company called Tisun Investments, which is owned by Tice, since the start of 2020.

A Reform UK spokesman said: “Climate change is real, Reform UK believes we must adapt, rather than foolishly think you can stop it. We are proud to be the only party to understand that economic growth depends on cheap domestic energy and we are proud that we are the only party that are climate science realists, realising you can not stop the power of the sun, volcanoes or sea level oscillation.

“The deniers are those who continually gaslight the public into thinking you can stop these powerful natural forces. We must use the energy under our feet, rather than send our money and jobs abroad.”

The Liberal Democrats and Labour have received much smaller sums from fossil fuel interests, polluters, and climate science deniers since December 2019. DeSmog’s analysis found that the Lib Dems have received £132,600, including £10,000 from energy investor Hosking, and £110,600 from Christopher D. Leach, who runs a private plane chartering and management business. 

The Labour Party has received £41,600, including £9,600 from the aviation firm Airbus, and £12,000 from biomass company Drax, which is the UK’s largest single source of carbon emissions. Labour has also received sizeable donations from green technology entrepreneurs, including eco-campaigner Dale Vince. 

The Scottish National Party (SNP) did not receive any Westminster donations from fossil fuel interests, polluters, or climate science deniers, according to DeSmog’s research. 

Labour and the Liberal Democrats did not respond to DeSmog’s request for comment.

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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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