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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Secrecy over funding for climate deniers

European organisations dedicated to challenging scientific warnings about the gravity of climate change have refused to reveal who finances their work.

Although transparency rules in the US have helped shed light on how the oil industry has aided nominally independent think tanks, the absence of such laws in Europe has allowed similar institutes on this side of the Atlantic to behave in a more secretive fashion.

I contacted several of the most prominent groups that have lobbied against a robust European response to climate change. All three of the groups that responded to my queries insisted they do not count firms selling oil or other fossil fuels as their donors but would not give more precise details about how they are funded. The three groups were the International Policy Network (IPN), the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) and the Danish right-wing “think-tank” CEPOS.

Julian Morris, director of the IPN in London, has argued for many years that climate change is a hoax. In a 2009 article for The Financial Times he described the international objective of keeping the rise in the earth's temperature below two degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels as “an arbitrary political goal”. This was despite how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -– which bands together scientists from throughout the world -– had stated in 2007 that up to two billion people would face water shortages and 30 percent of plant and animal species would be threatened with extinction if a rise in temperatures of between 1.5 and 2.5 degrees occurred.

Between 2003 and 2006, the IPN's North American office received 390,000 dollars from the energy giant ExxonMobil but Morris says that the network no longer takes such donations.

Stating that the IPN's annual income is around 1.4 million dollars, he added: "Our top donors are private individuals. We receive no money from companies or other organisations directly involved in the fossil fuels industry. This has been true for the past three years."

The Global Policy Warming Policy Foundation - also based in Britain - indicates that it has a more nuanced stance than the IPN.

"We don't take a collective position on the science at all," said GWPF director Benny Peiser. "Our members and supporters come from all areas. We have people who are happy with the IPCC, people who are agnostics and people who are sceptics. We don't consider ourselves climate sceptics, although we have sceptics in our midst."

The GWPF was launched last year by Nigel Lawson, a British Conservative politician who served as chancellor of the exchequer in Margaret Thatcher's government during the 1980s. While Lawson has acknowledged that climate change is occurring, he has maintained that its effects are unlikely to prove catastrophic. The Foundation was set up within days of a controversy that erupted after emails stolen from the climate science unit in Britain's University of East Anglia were made public. The emails led to allegations that some climate scientists were manipulating data and seeking to suppress dissenting views. Among those making such allegations were Andrew Montford, who was commissioned to write a report on the controversy for the GWPF. Montford has written that journalists have been “bullied” by climatologists into not publishing anything that questions the general scientific view on the urgency of addressing climate change.

However, an investigation by the British House of Commons cleared Phil Jones, head of climate science in the University of East Anglia, of any wrongdoing. The probe concluded that there had been "no systematic attempt to mislead" by Jones.

Peiser said that the GWPF will present a report on its finances later this year and that he will seek permission from its main donors to name them. Asked to reveal their identity now, he replied: “I'm afraid I can't.”

Earlier this year Greenpeace issued a report detailing how Koch Industries, an American conglomerate dominated by oil and chemical interests, “has become a financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition.” From 2005 to 2009, Koch Industries contributed almost 25 million dollars to groups opposing renewable energy and decisive action aimed at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Among the research institutes linked to Koch Industries by Greenpeace was CEPOS in Denmark. A publication by CEPOS which questioned if Denmark's investment in wind power was bringing environmental benefits was supported financially by the Institute for Energy Research (IER) in the U.S. That institute, in turn, had been aided by Koch Industries, while the IER's president Thomas Kyle had previously worked as a lobbyist for Koch.

CEPOS chief executive Martin Agerup has also visited Washington on a trip organised by the IER. Yet when IPS asked Agerup if he had received finance from the fossil fuel industry, he replied “No”. Asked who his main donors are, he added: “We don't give out that information.”

Agerup said that he favours a “free-market approach” to environmental issues. “I am not denying that climate change is happening. You could label me a sceptic towards the current economic approach. My view is that the current approach on fixed targets of reductions (in greenhouse gas emissions) and legally-binding international agreements is problematic.”

Cindy Baxter, a specialist on climate policy with Greenpeace, said: “Climate deniers have one goal – to create enough doubt about the climate science to limit public pressure on governments to act on climate change. Their campaign has been well-funded over the years by the fossil fuel industry whose very product causes the problem. Climate denial poses a threat to the millions of people whose lives are at stake from dangerous climate change. In the years to come, they (the deniers) will be held accountable for their irresponsibility.”

First published by Inter Press Service (www.ipsnews.net), 3 October 2010

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