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‘Pro-net-zero’ Mordaunt under pressure for taking climate sceptics’ cash

Tory leadership candidate has welcomed endorsements and taken donations from figures opposed to UK’s climate target

Adam Bychawski
15 July 2022, 1.27pm

Mordaunt has said she would scrap green levies and halve fuel VAT as part of her leadership campaign pitch.

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PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Tory leadership candidate Penny Mordaunt is under pressure to explain donations she has taken from prominent climate sceptics despite maintaining she backs the UK’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

The trade minister has previously received £20,000 from First Corporate Consultants, a company run by Terence Mordaunt, who chaired the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) between 2019 and 2021.

She did not respond to openDemocracy’s requests for comment – but could face questions on her financial backers at tonight’s leadership debate on Channel 4.

Kerry McCarthy, Labour’s shadow climate change minister, called on Mordaunt to end her silence on the donations.

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“Given some of the contenders have openly called for the commitment to net zero to be scrapped, Penny Mordaunt needs to explain why she has seemingly accepted multiple donations from notorious climate change deniers,” she said.

“The outgoing prime minister was incapable of giving a straightforward answer to a simple question. Candidates to replace him need to show that they will be honest with the British public.”

Terence Mordaunt, the co-owner of Bristol Port, claimed in an openDemocracy article in 2019 that “no one has proved yet that CO2 is the culprit” of climate change despite the United Nations’ own Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluding the CO2 is responsible for the greenhouse effect as early as 1990.

The GWPF is one of the most vocal groups lobbying against the UK’s net zero commitments and has been accused of spreading “misinformation and propaganda” about policies to reduce emissions by researchers.

Earlier this year, the GWPF’s campaigning arm Net Zero Watch published two reports claiming that there was “no evidence of a climate crisis” and arguing that the UK should increase production of fossil fuels while phasing out renewables. The group says its aim is “to provide robust and reliable analysis of climate and energy issues”.

The GWPF claims it does not accept donations from anyone with an interest in an energy company, but openDemocracy revealed in May that the group had received funding from a US foundation with millions of pounds’ worth of shares in oil, gas and coal companies. The revelations prompted MPs, peers and climate scientists to file a complaint with the charity regulator alleging that the GWPF has broken its guidelines.  

Penny Mordaunt also received £3,000 in 2020 from British-Australian billionaire Michael Hintze, a top Tory donor and one of the funders of the GWPF.

The MP would not respond to questions from openDemocracy about whether she agreed with Terence Mordaunt (the two are reportedly distant cousins) and the GWPF’s positions on climate change, or whether she would return the donations.

Penny Mordaunt currently has the second-highest level of support among Tory MPs in the party’s leadership race. She has said she would not scrap or delay the UK’s net zero targets but has also pledged to cut green levies from energy bills and halve the VAT for fuel

Climate experts say cutting green levies, which are used to support energy efficient measures and investment in renewables, would make it harder to transition away from fossil fuels in the long-term.

The Tory leadership hopeful also welcomed an endorsement from fuel lobbyist Howard Cox, who described her as the “best PM for drivers”. 

Cox has previously said he does not accept the scientific consensus on climate change and has claimed his FairFuelUK campaign group has been responsible for keeping fuel duty frozen in the UK. He is also the secretary of the All Parliamentary Party Group (APPG) for Fair Fuel for Motorists and Hauliers, whose members include several anti-net-zero Tory MPs.

Last year, the Fair Fuel APPG published a report that Cox produced alongside the GWPF calling for the government to scrap its plan to ban sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030. 

Terence Mordaunt also donated £25,000 each to both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt’s leadership campaigns in 2019. He did not respond to a request to comment from openDemocracy.

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