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Environment secretary had secret meeting with anti-climate lobbyists

Ranil Jayawardena gave a speech to US think tanks that have lobbied against climate action while trade minister

Adam Bychawski
12 October 2022, 4.21pm

The lobby group that advised Donald Trump to leave the Paris Agreement was among the attendees at the event.

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PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Environment secretary Ranil Jayawardena failed to declare a speech he gave at a secret meeting with think tanks funded by climate denial groups, openDemocracy can reveal.

In November 2020, when he was an international trade minister, Jayawardena met with representatives from the Heritage Foundation, Mercatus and Americans for Tax Reform, which a 2021 study found to have collectively received more than $300m from US funders of climate denial.

The minister, who was appointed by Liz Truss last month, has faced a barrage of criticism from climate groups this week after it was reported that he will ban new solar farms from being built on most farmland. Jayawardena also backed a campaign that led to a solar farm development being withdrawn from his North East Hampshire constituency.   

Jayawardena was invited to speak about the UK’s post-Brexit trade deals by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) – a UK think tank that recently claimed credit for inspiring Liz Truss’s disastrous budget – at its monthly Global Trade Coalition meeting.

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In a briefing note obtained by openDemocracy through a Freedom of Information request, the IEA wrote that the purpose of the shadowy gathering was: “To bring together like-minded academics, activists, and practitioners focused on removing trade barriers and maintaining rules-based trade that allows individuals to exchange goods and services freely.”

The meeting was attended by up to 60 guests from the “US and UK free-market think tank community, a few of their counterparts from the EU, and representatives from the private sector as well as trade lawyers, legislators and officers from the USTR [the US trade department]”, according to the think tank.

Jayawardena was invited to speak at the event by Syed Kamall, an academic and research director at the IEA, who was made a lord by Boris Johnson in 2020. 

Kamall, who was appointed as a junior minister at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in September, suggested that Jayawardena give a five-minute speech where he “may be asked about the latest on UK-EU talks” by attendees, emails obtained by openDemocracy show.

The environment minister did declare a meeting with the IEA on the same date “to discuss the UK’s trade policy post-Brexit” but did not declare that it was attended by the US think tanks.

The Global Trade Coalition is co-organised by the lobby group Americans for Tax Reform, which urged Republicans to oppose a tax on carbon emissions last year and was a member of the Cooler Heads Coalition, an oil industry-backed association of climate science denial groups. 

Jayawardena was also joined by attendees from the Heritage Foundation and the Mercatus, which together received more than $300m from funders of climate science denial between 2003 and 2018, according to climate researchers.

The Mercatus Center was founded in 1980 by a former vice-president of Koch Industries, one of the biggest industrial conglomerates in the world and a top funder of climate science denial. Charles Koch, the company’s billionaire owner, is a director at the think tank, to which he and his late brother David have donated more than $10m.

The think tank has previously suggested that climate change is “beneficial” and “making humans better off” and recommended “work to facilitate movement of people from areas likely to be harmed by climate change” instead of lowering emissions. In 2020, Mercatus was accused of promoting “flawed” research to “hobble” environmental regulation in Australia.

The Heritage Foundation, which has also been funded by the Kochs, has also previously denied the science around climate change. It was directly involved in shaping Donald Trump’s policies to scrap environmental regulations and withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement. 

Truss has praised the think tank for being at “the forefront of Republican thinking” and has visited its Washington headquarters twice. 

In September, an Obama-era US climate change official warned that the UK should be concerned about Truss’s links to the group given the role it played in successfully lobbying against a cap on carbon emissions in the US. 

The minister of state for trade policy MP Greg Hands also gave a speech at the Global Trade Coalition a month before Jayawardena, but declared all attendees.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it would not comment on events that took place before Jayawardena was made environment secretary. Jayawardena's office did not respond to requests for comment.

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