The Global Warming Policy Foundation, founded by former Chancellor Nigel Lawson, has for years been promoting climate change scepticism. Back in June 2013, Bob Ward complained to the Charity Commission, arguing that the Foundation’s spread of misinformation regarding the science of climate change should exempt it from being registered as an educational charity. The Commission’s verdict has just been announced and it is damning, but the Foundation continues to be bankrolled by Conservative donors and promote climate change scepticism regardless.
The Charity Commission has at last published its ruling following an examination of Lord Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation, which he registered as an educational charity. I contacted the Commission in June 2013 to express my concerns about the dissemination of inaccurate and misleading information by the Foundation, which was launched in November 2009 to exploit the publicity surrounding e-mail messages that had been hacked from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.
Over the past five years, the Foundation has used its website, pamphlets and media interviews to promote climate change ‘scepticism’ and to campaign against policies to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. Its activities have included the reproduction of newspaper articles, with fake headlines inserted to give them a ‘sceptic’ spin.
After registering my worries, the Commission began a long and painfully slow dialogue with Lord Lawson and the other Trustees of the Foundation. I received very little information about the progress during the discussions. Meanwhile, one of the Trustees wrote to London School of Economics and Political Science on more than one occasion to complain about my actions. But now the Commission has finally made public its damning verdict and confirmed my misgivings about the Foundation. Its statement on 30 September included the following conclusion:
“The Commission found that taken as a whole, it was difficult not to form the conclusion that the publications and postings on the charity’s website promoted a particular position on global warming. The website could not be regarded as a comprehensive and structured educational resource sufficient to demonstrate public benefit. In areas of controversy, education requires balance and neutrality with sufficient weight given to competing arguments. The promotion of a particular view or position would not equate to education.”
The Foundation had anticipated the Commission’s finding. However, rather than taking steps to start to comply with charity rules, Lord Lawson decided instead to create a campaigning arm, the Global Warming Policy Forum, which he unveiled earlier this month.
The Foundation had previously denied that it was under any pressure from the Commission about its activities. The Forum has its own website, and many pages have been transferred to it from the Foundation’s website. However, it is not yet clear how the Commission’s ruling will affect the Foundation, which continues to enjoy charity status.
The Charity Commission’s finding is just the latest in a series of setbacks for Lord Lawson’s campaign. In June, the BBC ruled that his appearance in February on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, during which he disputed the scientific evidence for climate change, had breached its editorial guidelines. And over the past month campaigners have managed to lift the veil of secrecy over the identities of some of the Foundation’s funders, which Lord Lawson has steadfastly refused to name.
According to the Charity Commission’s records, the Foundation received more than £1.4 million in the first four years after its establishment, and many of the donors have also given to the Conservative Party. It also continues to receive help and support from Conservative politicians, such as Rt Hon Peter Lilley, who wrote a flawed pamphlet for the Foundation which attacked the Stern Review on the economics of climate change, and Viscount Ridley, a member of the Foundation’s all-male “Academic Advisory Council”.
Owen Paterson is due to deliver the Foundation’s annual lecture later this month, an event that was announced just a few days after he was sacked as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whose responsibilities include making the UK more resilient to the impacts of climate change. The Trustees of the Foundation include Baroness Nicholson, a Liberal Democrat peer, and Lord Donoughue, who sits on the Labour benches.
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Bob Ward is a Fellow of the Geological Society and policy and communications director at the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science.