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Lord Lawson should name funder of climate sceptic think tank, judge told

THERE IS “enormous public interest” in naming the climate sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation’s seed donor and “a pressing need to scrutinise” any links he has with the oil and coal industry, an information tribunal judge heard today (Friday, January 27, 2012).

Brendan Montague, the co-founder and director of the Request Initiative, asked the tribunal to reveal the name of the wealthy public figure who gave £50,000 to launch Lord Lawson’s think tank, an increasingly influential charity which attacks climate science and has called for changes to climate policies.

Mr Montague’s initial Freedom of Information request was refused by the Charity Commission in 2010 and that decision was upheld by the Information Commissioner on the grounds that it would be “unfair” to release personal data without permission from the funder.

However, Mr Montague took the case to the Information Tribunal arguing there is a “legitimate public interest” in releasing the name because the cash has financed Lord Lawson’s charity while it has been calling for huge changes in government policy. The donor handed over at least £50,000 out of a total of £500,000 raised by Lord Lawson in the first year of the foundation’s existence.

Mr Montague was represented at the hearing by barrister Robin Hopkins who has been instructed by Harrison Grant.

The public interest argument has been supported by professor James Hansen, adjunct professor at the Columbia University Earth Institute and one of the first influential voices to warn of catastrophic climate change. Hansen has been joined by professors John Abraham and Stephen Lewandowsky in his calls for transparency on the GWPF’s funders.

Professor Naomi Oreskes, the author of the book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, which documents how US think tanks were funded by the oil industry to smear climate science, and Clive Hamilton, a professor of public ethics and author of Requiem for Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change, are also supporting the request.

Dr Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the British Medical Journal; Dr Richard Horton, editor in chief of the Lancet; Hugh Montgomery, professor of intensive care medicine; Anthony Costello, professor of international child health; Rachel Stancliffe, director of the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare; Dr Robin Stott, co-chair of the Climate and Health Council and Maya Tickell-Painter, director of the Medsin Healthy Planet Campaign, have publicly supported the Freedom of Information request, although this does not form part of the hearing.

Mr Hopkins told the judge:

“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.”

Professor Hansen, whose testimony before the United States Congress in 1988 focused international attention on climate change, writes in his witness statement:

Climate change is a moral issue of unprecedented scope, a matter of intergenerational injustice, as today’s adults obtain benefits of fossil fuel use, while consequences are felt mainly by young people and future generations…

“The fossil fuel kingpins are separated from the foot soldiers who serve as their public mouthpieces, separated by multiple layers of people, and even by corporations…the public has the right to know who is supporting the foot soldiers for business-as-usual and to learn about the web of support for the propaganda machine that serves to keep the public addicted to fossil fuels and destroys the future of their children.”

Professor John Abraham, associate professor of engineering with expertise in thermal-fluid sciences at the University of St Thomas in Australia, said:

“The GWPF has been engaged in significant obfuscation with respect to the reality of climate change and they have been engaged in unwarranted criticisms of well-respected scientists…

“It is a charade institution meant to suggest that scientists are still debating the cause of climate change. With it now apparent that the scientist-advisors of the GWPF are anything but scientists, it is clear that this organization is tailored to promote mistruths and half-truths. Consequently, the release of information regarding the funding of GWPF is in the public’s interest.”

Professor Stephen Lewandowsky, a Winthrop professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Western Australia, said:

“The GWPF has engaged in on-going obfuscation of the reality of climate change and they have been purveying unwarranted criticisms of well-respected scientists. I believe that the GPWF is an outfit dedicated to mislead the public into thinking that climate scientists are still debating the cause of climate change— when in fact the peer-reviewed literature abounds with evidence that those fundamentals were resolved long ago.”

Professor Naomi Oreskes, professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego and adjunct professor of geosciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said:

“The Global Warming Policy Foundation is the latest incarnation of a climate sceptic think tank that conforms to the model first devised by public relations firms working on behalf of the tobacco industry… The website of the Global Warming Policy Foundation publishes many of the claims devised and propagated by the earlier climate change deniers.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation is practicing climate denial and effectively creating doubt about whether climate change is being caused by carbon dioxide emissions while actively campaigning for changes in government policy relating to the regulation of carbon dioxide. In doing so, it is clearly acting in the interests of the fossil fuel industry and against the general public interest.”

Professor Clive Hamilton, professor of public ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt [correct] University, Canberra, said:

“The reluctance of governments around the world to act with the alacrity and seriousness warranted by the scientific warnings has in substantial measure been due to the campaign to discredit climate science by a network of well funded think tanks and related organisations.

“The Global Warming Policy Foundation advances the same arguments put forward by ‘sceptic’ organisations in the United States, and has links to some of them…when assessing the claims of the GWPF the public has a right to know who is funding it.

“Given the enormous states, the conflicting claims, and the shadowy but now well documented history of financing of sceptic organisations by politically motivated corporations and individuals connected to the fossil-fuel industries, the principle of transparency is of utmost importance, and I urge the Information Rights Tribunal to instruct the Charity Commission to make public the funding sources of the GWPF.”

Tribunal judge Alison McKenna is expected to reach a decision within four weeks. She will either decide the name must be disclosed in which case she will produce a substitute decision notice which the Information Commissioner’s Office will then communicate to the Charity Commission. It is possible the judge could ask for the name to be released within 35 days of the decision notice. If the judge rules against publishing the donor’s name, the case may be appealed to the Upper Tribunal on legal grounds.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation was founded in November 2009 ahead of the Copenhagan conference on climate change. The foundation has received £500,000 in funding from individuals and family trusts. Lord Lawson has refused to reveal the name of any of his funders.

Lord Lawson gave evidence before the Science and Technology Committee in the House of Commons in March 2010 where he accused the University of East Anglia of failing to be transparent about climate science.

He said:

“We are absolutely clean. I would be very happy to see the names of all our donors published, I can assure you, it would be very, very good.

“But if they wish to remain anonymous, for whatever reason, maybe they have other family members who take a different view and they do not want to have a row within the family, maybe they do not want a whole lot of other people asking them for money…”

A photocopy of a bank statement showing the name of the seed donor was sent by Lord Lawson to the Charity Commission to prove he had the cash to set up the charity. The commission has refused to release the name or the bank statement. The commission does not hold information about any of the other funders.

Research conducted by the Reuters Institute of the Study of Journalism has shown that the GWPF has been the country’s most effective climate sceptic organisation, while Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change has argued that information published by the charity is inaccurate.

Lord Lawson served as energy minister under Margaret Thatcher. He was later president of the British Institute of Energy Economics, which fosters links between the oil industry, government and academia and has been sponsored by BP and Shell. A Mike Smith from BP was chairman of the BIEE in 2003 during Lawson’s last year as president.

Lawson is chairman of Central Europe Trust Co Ltd, a consultancy business dealing in assets in Eastern Europe for which he has earned £76,000 a year. The company, in which Lawson was previously a shareholder, boasts that BP Amoco and Shell have been major clients. The company suffered losses and Lawson no longer has a financial stake.

 




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