DeSmog

Mapped: The Tory Network of Climate Denial and Fossil Fuel Funding

DeSmog catalogues how oil and gas firms have forged ties with the highest levels of government, the media, and influential think tanks.
Adam Barnett - new white crop
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Speaking outside Downing Street on 23 May, announcing a general election for 4 July, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took a swipe at what he dubbed “environmental dogma”. It was a sign of how much has changed since 2021, when the UK hosted the flagship COP26 UN climate summit with a promise “irrefutably to turn the tide and to begin the fightback against climate change”. 

Since then, the Conservative government has made a series of U-turns on its own net zero policies, attacked Labour’s green spending plans, and doubled down on its support for new fossil fuel projects, approving more than 100 new North Sea oil and gas licences.

This retreat from climate action did not happen in a vacuum, but was fuelled by a steady campaign by a network of climate science deniers and fossil fuel interests. 

A DeSmog investigation – compiled in this interactive map – reveals the scale of this network, mapping the connections between oil, gas and coal companies, wealthy political donors, right-wing think tanks, anti-climate media outlets, and senior figures in the ruling Conservative Party.

This comes as DeSmog and Democracy for Sale reveal that £6.8 million has been given to pro-fossil fuel think tanks by Tory donors since the 2019 general election. 

DeSmog analysed donations, registers of interests, and company accounts, drawing on years of investigative reporting and our climate disinformation database, to map the financial and institutional ties that bind this network. 

The investigation finds that eight members of the current Conservative government, including its environment and net zero secretaries, have received donations from fossil fuel interests or supporters of climate science denial. 

In total, the past three prime ministers – Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, and Boris Johnson – have received more than £300,000 from these donors, most of it during their campaigns to become leader of the Conservative Party.

DeSmog revealed last month that the Conservative Party has received £8.4 million from fossil fuel interests, highly polluting industries, and climate science deniers since the 2019 election.

The Conservative Party’s ties to organised climate denial go back at least to 2009, when the late Tory peer Nigel Lawson, who was chancellor of the Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher, founded the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the UK’s leading climate science denial group. 

In more recent years, climate denial has gained ground via free market think tanks opposed to government net zero targets – several of them funded by fossil fuel companies – and right-wing media outlets waging a culture war against climate action.

Against this frenzied anti-climate backlash, the impacts of the climate crisis are becoming increasingly visible. The past two years were the hottest the British Isles has ever seen, with the UK experiencing temperatures of more than 40C for the first time

Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, told DeSmog: “Abraham Lincoln spoke of government ‘of the people, by the people and for the people.’ As DeSmog and Democracy for Sale have revealed ours is of, by and for Big Oil: a tragic betrayal of the principles of democracy, and one that will follow these Cabinet ministers to their graves.”

Fossil Fuel Funders

The Conservative Party has received significant sums from donors with polluting interests, while some Tory politicians have financial interests in fossil fuels. 

Tory peer and former party treasurer Lord Michael Spencer, who has donated £6 million to the Conservatives since 2005, holds an 18.8 percent (£1.8 million) stake in Deltic Energy, a British energy firm which was awarded two new North Sea oil and gas licences in January. He also holds shares in Pantheon Resources, a UK company exploring for oil in Alaska, and previously had a stake in the oil prospecting firm Cluff Energy Africa.

Billionaire Spencer told DeSmog that oil and gas investments make up less than 2 percent of his investment portfolio.

Tory peer Lord Michael Farmer has also donated £8.8 million to the party since 2001, including £38,000 to Rishi Sunak’s 2022 Conservative leadership bid. 

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”.

Conservative peer Lord John Nash, who has donated £55,000 to the party since 2019, held shares in the fossil fuel giant Shell until late last year, while Lord Moynihan has shares in oil and gas majors BP, Shell, and TotalEnergies each worth more than £100,000. Lord Moynihan donated £53,000 to Liz Truss in 2022, and £100,000 to Boris Johnson in 2019.

Nadhim Zahawi, who briefly served as chancellor under Boris Johnson, received £1.3 million as chief strategy officer of Gulf Keystone Petroleum from 2015 to 2018 while serving as a Conservative MP. 

Lord Theodore Agnew, who sits on the board of right-wing broadcaster GB News, has shares worth at least £100,000 in Equinor, the Norwegian state-owned energy producer. Equinor has a majority stake in the “carbon bomb” Rosebank oil field in the North Sea. Agnew has donated £18,000 to the Conservative Party and its politicians since 2016.

Amjad Bseisu, the CEO of petroleum company EnQuest, has donated nearly £500,000 to the Conservative Party in the last decade. Bseisu has lobbied to maximise oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, and EnQuest has been awarded oil and gas licences by the government, as well as licences to explore CO2 storage under the North Sea.

Conservative Party and Climate Denial

DeSmog’s analysis reveals the influence of climate science deniers on the Conservative Party. 

Lord David Frost, the former Brexit minister, became a GWPF director in 2022, former Tory peer Matt Ridley has sat on the GWPF academic advisory board since 2011, while Conservative politician Andrea Jenkyns joined the board of its sister group Net Zero Watch in May 2023. 

Tory peer and journalist Lord Charles Moore was a GWPF trustee from 2015 to 2021, as was fellow peer Lord Peter Lilley from 2015 to 2019. Australian hedge fund manager and Conservative peer Lord Michael Hintze, Tory peer Lord Moynihan, and former Tory peer Nigel Vinson, are known to have funded the think tank. 

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who is a trade advisor to the UK government, joined the GWPF board in February 2023. 

The GWPF – a group founded to contradict established climate science – has in the past 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 top climate science body, has stated that it is “unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”. It has also 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”.

The GWPF actively campaigns against the government’s net zero policies, which it claims will lead to “the transfer of hundreds of millions of pounds from the poor to the rich”.

Its campaign arm Net Zero Watch has urged the government to “recommit to fossil fuels”, including “a new fleet of coal fired power stations”, and has called for renewable energy from wind and solar power to be “wound down completely”. 

Lord Lilley told DeSmog that he is a “strong supporter” of the GWPF, but said that it was not a “climate science denier organisation”.

“I have a degree in Natural Sciences and have always made it clear that the basic science of global warming is rock solid,” he added, stating that “we should take a cost/benefit approach to climate policy.”

GWPF Donations to Senior Tories

Donors to the GWPF are also important funders of the Conservative Party.

Lord Hintze, who has given more than £4 million to the Conservatives since 2002, has donated to five current members of the government. 

Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Clare Coutinho received £2,000 from Lord Hintze in January, while Environment Secretary Steve Barclay received £3,000 from Lord Hintze in October 2023. The following month, Lord Hintze donated £3,000 to Defence Secretary Grant Shapps. 

Kemi Badenoch, Secretary of State for Business and Trade, received a £1,000 ticket to a Tory fundraising event from Lord Hintze in November 2021, while Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt received £3,000 from the Tory donor ahead of the 2019 general election. 

Lord 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”.

GWPF donor Vinson gave £5,000 to Liz Truss ahead of her becoming Tory leader and prime minister in September 2022. While in office, Truss overturned the ban on fracking for shale gas, and in her recent book called for the UK’s Climate Change Act to be abolished. 

Vinson has donated at least £9,000 to the GWPF since 2018, including £5,000 last year. It was recently revealed by Democracy for Sale that Lord Moynihan has also bankrolled the GWPF to the tune of £25,000 from 2018 to 2023. Moynihan has donated £584,000 to the Conservatives and its candidates since 2001.

GWPF director and former chair Terence Mordaunt, owner and chairman of First Corporate Shipping, which trades as the Bristol Port Company, has donated to several current and former Cabinet ministers, including £25,000 to now Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in May 2019, and £30,000 (in three £10,000 donations) to Penny Mordaunt between 2019 and 2022. 

Terence Mordaunt also donated £10,000 to Suella Braverman’s Tory leadership bid in 2022, during which she promised to “suspend” the UK’s 2050 net zero emissions target. 

Prime MinisterDonorValue
Rishi SunakLord Michael Farmer£38,470
Liz TrussLord Jon Moynihan£53,265
Jeremy Hosking£50,000
Lord Michael Spencer£25,000
Nigel Vinson£5,000
Boris JohnsonLord Jon Moynihan£100,000
Lord Michael Spencer£30,000
Terence Mordaunt£25,000
Lord Michael Hintze£5,000
Donations to the three most recent Conservative prime ministers from individuals with fossil fuel interests, and those who have supported climate science denial.

Tufton Street Ties

The GWPF is not the only climate-hostile think tank with ties to the Conservative Party. A network of libertarian think tanks based in and around 55 Tufton Street in Westminster has boasted significant access to the Conservative government over the last 14 years. 

Though these think tanks are characterised by a lack of funding transparency, investigations have revealed that a number of them have received funding from major fossil fuel companies, or from U.S. libertarian groups promoting climate denial. 

Rishi Sunak last year credited the think tank Policy Exchange, where he used to work, with helping to draft the government’s crackdown on climate protests. In 2017, the group’s U.S. wing, American Friends of Policy Exchange, received $30,000 (roughly £23,700) in funding from oil major ExxonMobil. The think tank has also received £17,000 from GWPF funder Lord Moynihan since 2019. 

The centre-right think tank Onward, whose alumni include several Tory cabinet members including Claire Coutinho and Kemi Badenoch, has received thousands from Shell, BP, and, Equinor since its founding in 2018. Onward had more meetings with government ministers in 2023 than any other think tank. 

Another free market think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), has long opposed state-led climate policies. The IEA’s chief operating officer and energy analyst, Andy Mayer, has called for the UK’s net zero target to be “scrapped”, has advocated increased drilling in the North Sea, and a revival of fracking. 

In 2018, an undercover investigation by Unearthed revealed that the IEA had received funding from oil giant BP every year since 1967. The IEA’s board of trustees includes GWPF funders Neil Record, and Nigel Vinson. Vinson gave the IEA more than £3.7 million in 2023, and has donated a further £596,000 over the last decade. Since 2019, the IEA has also received £155,000 from Lord Hintze, and £110,000 from Lord Moynihan.

The IEA was an influential force in Truss’s short-lived premiership. Former Downing Street adviser Tim Montgomerie said that Truss and her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng had been “incubated” by the IEA. “Britain is now their laboratory,” he added.

Tom Brake, director of the campaign group Unlock Democracy, told DeSmog: “It is time to lift the lid on the activities of some think tanks. While their funders remain largely anonymous, they cannot be described as ‘independent’ and they shouldn’t secure easy and regular access to ministers. The new government should make introducing transparency rules for these organisations a priority.”

The pro-Brexit Legatum Institute think tank, whose parent company co-owns GB News, has received funding from the Charles Koch Foundation, a charitable organisation linked to the oil and gas corporation Koch Industries and a major funder of climate denial. In December 2023, the Legatum Institute gave £50,000 to the ‘New Conservatives’ group of Tory MPs.

At least seven UK think tanks have been members of Atlas Network, a U.S.-based non-profit which supports around 500 “free market” groups, several of which promote climate denial. Atlas Network has received funding from ExxonMobil, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the Sarah Scaife Foundation, according to its tax forms. Atlas Network told DeSmog that it has not received funding from oil or gas companies for nearly 15 years.

Atlas Network‘s members have included the IEA, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, Policy Exchange, the Legatum Institute, the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), the Adam Smith Institute, and Civitas, according to its online directory, (scroll to ‘Atlas Network Members/Partners’ and see under ‘United Kingdom’).

Atlas Network told DeSmog that, “The projects we fund do not engage in climate denial, and many embrace market-based solutions to environmental problems and climate-related issues.”

DeSmog previously revealed that the CPS had been pushing for further North Sea oil and gas drilling while several of its board members held financial interests in the industry. The think tank has several influential Conservative figures on its board, and receives over £1 million a year from these directors. 

A CPS spokesperson previously told DeSmog that the think tank is “grateful for all our supporters, especially the support of our board members, but the investments of other boards on which they sit have no bearing on their relationship with the CPS”.

This week, Democracy for Sale revealed that directors, trustees, and advisors of Tufton Street think tanks have collectively given more than £35 million to the Conservative Party over the last two decades.

An Onward spokesperson said: “Onward believes in openness and transparency. Twice a year, we publish the names of all donors and organisations who donate more than £5,000 per annum to support our work.

“We are a not-for-profit organisation and rely entirely on the generosity of our network to support our research programme. Most recently, we published work on public support for net zero, putting farmers on a more sustainable footing, and community benefits for areas hosting renewable energy. We routinely meet and share our research with government and shadow ministers.

“We do not take commissions from companies or government for specific pieces of research, which gives us complete editorial control over our priorities and conclusions. This safeguards our credibility and avoids accusations of vested interest.”

Climate Denial in the Media

Voices attacking climate action, and casting doubt on the science behind them, have gained a significant media platform in recent years with the help of wealthy donors and Conservative politicians. 

The Telegraph newspaper is one of the country’s strongest media critics of climate action. A DeSmog investigation in November found that 85 percent of Telegraph opinion pieces about environmental issues over a six month period were anti-green – either attacking climate policy, questioning climate science, or ridiculing environmental groups.

Three Telegraph columnists have current roles at the GWPF: Lord Frost, Matt Ridley, and Allison Pearson.

Pearson is The Telegraph’s chief interviewer and columnist, and hosts its podcast ‘Planet Normal’. She joined the GWPF board last year, claiming that “our country has adopted a legally binding net zero 2050 target which threatens to have massive downsides for ordinary Britons, causing hardships of which the majority of people are wholly unaware.”

The Climate Change Committee, which advises the government on its net zero policies, has estimated that the cost of achieving net zero will be less than 1 percent of UK GDP. The independent government 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”.

Another Telegraph columnist, Lord Moore, was a GWPF trustee from 2015 to 2021. 

Conservative politicians have also helped to spread climate science denial on GB News, the right-wing broadcaster launched in 2021. 

A DeSmog investigation last year found that one in three GB News hosts had broadcast climate science denial in 2022, while nearly half attacked net zero. Last month DeSmog revealed that GWPF figures had appeared on GB News 36 times in the previous seven months. They used these appearances to claim that the climate emergency is simply “scaremongering”, that “net zero is doing enormous damage to the economy”, and that “the lights will go out” if we divest from fossil fuels. 

GB News co-owner Paul Marshall’s hedge fund Marshall Wace had $2.2 billion (£1.8 billion) invested in more than 100 fossil fuel companies – including Shell, Equinor, and Chevron – as of June 2023. Marshall also owns the right-wing publication UnHerd. 

Several Conservative politicians are GB News hosts, including former Business and Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, Esther McVey, and Philip Davies. Tory peer Lord Farmer is also a shareholder in GB News’s parent company, where his son George Farmer is a director. 

“This new exposé – coupled with the fact that GB News’s fossil-fuelled investors keep throwing money at a channel losing millions of pounds – only adds to the impression that its real purpose is political,” said Richard Wilson, director of the campaign group Stop Funding Heat.

“Yet under Ofcom’s rules, a political organisation is not even supposed to own a broadcasting licence. Britain’s broadcasting regulator urgently needs to start doing its job and stop acting as an enabler for special interests.”

The broadcaster’s other co-owner is the UAE-based investment firm Legatum Group. As mentioned above, the group’s think tank, the Legatum Institute, has received funding from the Charles Koch Foundation, and Atlas Network. 

Marshall and Legatum run the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship (ARC), a conservative group launched last year whose advisory board includes the GWPF’s Lord Frost, Tony Abbott, and Tory MPs Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates. 

ARC is fronted by Canadian author Jordan Peterson, who has written in The Telegraph that “eco-extremists are leading the world towards despair, poverty, and starvation”. His YouTube channel has promoted several notorious climate science deniers. 

ARC founder and CEO Baroness Philippa Stroud is a Conservative peer and former CEO of the Legatum Institute. She was recently appointed chair of the Low Pay Commission by the Conservative government. 

Other GB News hosts include Reform UK’s Nigel Farage, Richard Tice, and Lee Anderson. Reform campaigns on an overtly anti-climate platform, calling for a referendum on the UK’s 2050 net zero emissions target. The party has received £2.3 million from climate science deniers, fossil fuel interests, and major polluters since the 2019 general election. 

All those named in this article were 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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