Who is funding the shadowy front groups that represent the interests of polluters by sowing doubt about climate change? One of the most aggressive climate denial “think” tanks spreading misinformation in Europe is the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), founded in 2009 by former British Conservative politician Lord Nigel Lawson, who chairs the organization.
British investigative journalist Brendan Montague argued today in a tribunal that the UK's Charity Commission should release documents regarding the GWPF’s early funding. Specifically, Montague seeks to persuade a judge to compel the release of a bank statement provided to the commission by Lord Lawson that would reveal the name of the “well known” secretive donor who furnished Lawson with the initial £50,000 seed donation to launch the GWPF.
In his appeal to the Information Rights Tribunal to fulfill his Freedom of Information (FOI) request for the financial document, Montague argued that the public has a right to know who has bankrolled the GWPF to assess possible conflict of interest. The GWPF has promoted doubt about manmade climate change ever since its founding in 2009. It is essential to the public interest because it will help to understand the foundation’s motivations for continuously promoting political inaction on climate change, Montague argues. He seeks to confirm whether this wealthy donor is connected to the oil or coal industry.
NASA’s James Hansen and other scientists have publicly endorsed Montague’s inquiry. Climate denial front groups have long hidden behind the lack of a legal requirement to reveal their donors, a level of secrecy that is increasingly under the spotlight around the world. Greenpeace has worked diligently for more than a decade to compile information about funding from ExxonMobil and, more recently, the funding from Koch Industries for U.S. climate denial groups through its ExxonSecrets.org site and its reports on the Kochtopus network.
But little is known about other sources of funding, particularly support from other polluter interests.
“The public should know who is funding climate denial so they can properly judge the information put out by organizations like the Global Warming Policy Foundation,” Australian ethics professor Clive Hamilton told Graham Readfearn, writing for the Brisbane Times.**
DeSmogBlog and others have repeatedly pointed out that the GWPF plays fast and loose with facts, and the funding sources behind Lord Lawson's group are thought to be another area in which the GWPF may not be telling the whole truth.
Lord Lawson has claimed in a GWPF annual report:
… “we offer all our donors the protection of anonymity. However, in order to reassure those who might otherwise doubt our complete independence, our Protocol for the Acceptance of Gifts lays down that we do not accept donations either from the energy industry or from anyone with a significant interest in the energy industry.”
Montague wants Lawson to come clean about this to see whether it's true or not. Montague is a seasoned journalist who previously worked for the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail in the UK, and now serves as director of the Request Initiative, which files Freedom of Information requests on behalf of non-profits.
Montague's lawyer Robin Hopkins appealed to the judge today:
“There is enormous public interest in transparency as to who that individual is. There is a pressing need to scrutinise whether or not that person has any ‘significant interest’ in the energy industry. It appears that the Charity Commission makes no attempt to address that issue – it is left entirely in the hands of the GWPF itself.
“Further, it is important that the public knows which high-profile figure has this degree of influence within GWPF. Parliament’s Science and Technology Select Committee has expressed this public interest and has pressed for transparency on the issue of GWPF’s donors. It has been stonewalled.”
Tribunal judge Alison McKenna is expected to reach a decision within four weeks.
Read Montague’s witness statement to the UK Information Rights Tribunal [PDF].
**Graham Readfearn, a freelance journalist, is a DeSmogBlog contributor. The piece he wrote for the BrisbaneTimes.com.au describes in more depth how the UK inquiry has important ramifications in Australia and around the world. He notes that two prominent Australian climate change contrarians – Professor Bob Carter, of James Cook University, and Professor Ian Plimer, a mining company director and geologist at the University of Adelaide – are members of the GWPF's academic advisory committee. See Graham’s piece for more detail: Bid to out the money behind the voice against climate change.