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Watchdog urged to strip anti-net-zero group of charitable status

MPs, peers, climate scientists and leading authors back letter sounding alarm over Global Warming Policy Foundation

Adam Bychawski
23 May 2022, 5.00am

Nigel Lawson and Benny Peiser, the founders of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, at a select committee hearing in 2010.


PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Britain’s charity watchdog has received a complaint backed by MPs calling for a Tory-linked anti-net-zero lobby group to be stripped of its charitable status following an openDemocracy investigation.

The complaint alleges that the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), which is one of the most vocal groups opposing the government’s ‘net zero’ plans, has breached Charity Commission guidelines by accepting donations from oil and gas interests.

Last month, this website revealed that the GWPF, which also campaigns through a non-charitable arm as Net Zero Watch, had received donations from a foundation with millions of dollars’ worth of shares in oil, gas and coal companies – despite claiming it would not take cash from anyone with a fossil fuel interest.

In a letter to the commission, two MPs, three Lords members and more than 70 scientists, writers, and campaign groups allege that “the GWPF is not a charity but a fossil fuel lobby group”.

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The MPs are Caroline Lucas from the Green Party and Labour's Nadia Whittome. The peers are Greens Natalie Bennett and Jenny Jones, and independent baroness Rosie Boycott.

The GWPF says its goal is to “help inform a balanced debate” about environmental policies. It has described itself as “open-minded on the contested science of global warming” and says it analyses “global warming policies and their economic and other implications”.

But climate researchers and environmental groups have called it the UK’s most prominent source of climate denialism.

Last month, Peiser, the GWPF’s director, introduced a GWPF report by saying it was “extraordinary that anyone should think there is a climate crisis”.

Recently, it has become closely linked to a small number of Tory MPs, known as the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, who have pressured the prime minister to backtrack on climate commitments. The group is led by Conservatives Craig Mackinlay and Steve Baker, who is also a trustee of the GWPF. Six members of the House of Lords, some of whom have recently retired, have also worked with the GWPF.  

The GWPF has always refused to disclose its funders and has said that it does not accept donations from anyone with an interest in an energy company.

But financial filings in the US uncovered by openDemocracy showed that it had received $210,525 in 2018 and 2020 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation. The US-based foundation, set up by the heir to an oil and banking fortune, has $30m worth of shares in 22 energy companies, including $9m in Exxon and $5.7m in Chevron, according to its latest accounts.

The GWPF told us this represented only a small proportion of the foundation’s total assets, and said it was “risible” to suggest $30m of share investments might constitute a vested interest.

The complaint signatories, which also include the authors Zadie Smith, Irvine Welsh and Ali Smith, allege that the GWPF should not be considered a charity because it does not meet the regulator’s requirements to act in the public benefit.

“In promoting views that are not precautionary, and work[ing] against the public need to prepare, mitigate and adapt to the unfolding climate emergency, the GWPF neither serves nor benefits society,” the letter says.

It also argues that the GWPF fails to satisfy the regulator’s requirement that any detriment or harm caused by a charity should not outweigh its benefit. 

“We contend that the ongoing global harm caused by climate change is exacerbated by the vested interests that use the GWPF’s undeserved charitable status as a front for their interests.”

The GWPF was forced to set up a separate non-charitable organisation, the similarly-named Global Warming Policy Forum, in 2014 after an investigation by the Charity Commission found that its views on climate change were too partisan for it to be considered a charity.

But the authors of the complaint allege that there is “no true separation” between the charitable and non-charitable arms of the organisation. 

“The GWPF would seek to persuade us that they conform to Commission requirements by making the ‘political’ the reserve of the Forum rather than the Foundation. 

“However, Benny Peiser and Andrew Montford are directors of both, and when publishing articles promoting denial, they simply choose the most convenient ‘flag’.”

Last year, the commission dismissed a complaint by 70 leading scientists that the  activities of the GWPF  “are detrimental to the general public from both an educational and health perspective”. The watchdog said it was not within its ability or remit to assess the scientific accuracy of the views promoted by the group.

The GWPF had no further comment on the Charity Commission complaint, instead it referred openDemocracy to a statement posted on its website earlier this month in response to its previous article.

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