Former Australian PM Tony Abbott joins board of UK climate sceptic thinktank

Abbott says ‘we need more genuine science and less groupthink’ in announcing position at Global Warming Policy Foundation

The former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has joined the board of a UK-based thinktank that has been highly critical of climate science and action on global heating.

Since its launch in 2009, the Global Warming Policy Foundation has become known for its consistent attacks on climate science, the risks of global heating and – more recently – policies to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The group, founded by the former Thatcher government treasurer Sir Nigel Lawson, is facing a complaint from three UK MPs and a not-for-profit campaign group accusing the GWPF of inappropriately claiming status as an educational charity while carrying out lobbying and skewed research.

Abbott said he was pleased to join the foundation “because it’s consistently injected a note of realism into the climate debate”.

“All of us want to save the only planet we have but this should not be by means which impoverish poorer people in richer countries and hold poorer countries back,” he said.

“Right now, in countries like Australia, the impact of climate policy is to make electricity less affordable and less reliable rather than perceptibly to cool the planet.”

Experts have consistently rejected the argument that climate policy has caused electricity prices to rise, instead pointing to the war in Ukraine and the high price of gas.

Abbott added: “We need more genuine science and less groupthink in this debate – that’s where the GWPF has been a commendably consistent if lonely voice.”

Dr Jerome Booth, the foundation’s chairman, said Abbott brings “a global perspective and policy insight at the very highest level” and he would help the group “to foster a culture of debate, respect and scrutiny in policy areas that are currently dominated by intolerance, high emotions, moral reasoning and confusion”.

Abbott is currently an adviser to the UK government’s Board of Trade. His name was raised last month as a possible replacement for the late senator Jim Molan in the upper house.

During his prime ministership between 2013 and 2015, Abbott drove to dismantle much of the country’s public policy architecture on climate change, successfully repealing a legislated price on carbon, defunding the independent Climate Commission but failing to dismantle the Climate Change Authority and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

In 2017, he flew to London to deliver the GWPF’s annual lecture, where he suggested natural factors could be to blame for global warming, that CO2 was a trace gas and hinted at a global conspiracy to tamper with temperature data to make global heating seem worse.

The foundation is seen as influential among some conservatives. Conservative MP Steve Baker resigned as a GWPF trustee when he became minister for Northern Ireland.

A group of Conservative MPs and peers – several with links to the foundation – have formed the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, which has used the GWPF’s work as part of its advocacy.

The GWPF’s non-charitable arm – the Global Warming Policy Forum – runs a project called Net Zero Watch, which claims to scrutinise climate and decarbonisation policies.

The foundation has several Australian links. As the Guardian reported, one of its earliest funders was Australian billionaire hedge fund manager Sir Michael Hintze, who last year was handed a seat in the House of Lords at the recommendation of the former UK prime minister Boris Johnson.

Four Australian climate sceptics sit on the GWPF academic advisory board, including mining industry figure Prof Ian Plimer and controversial marine scientist Dr Peter Ridd of the Institute of Public Affairs, an Australian thinktank known to promote climate science denial.

The late Cardinal George Pell also delivered a GWPF annual lecture in 2011.

Presenting a report last year, the GWPF’s director, Dr Benny Peiser, said: “It’s extraordinary that anyone should think there is a climate crisis.”

Last year three MPs – one each from Labor, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats – joined with a not-for-profit campaign group to complain to the UK’s Charity Commission.

The group questioned if the GWPF was breaking charity rules by commissioning unbalanced research and carrying out political advocacy from charitable funds.

Peiser has reportedly written to the commission about the concerns, telling the charity sector publication Third Sector he had written to the commission, but there was no official investigation and he “looked forward to hearing the commission’s conclusions”.

A spokesperson previously said in response to the allegations: “It is right and proper that non-charitable activities are not funded by charitable donations and we take great care to ensure this does not happen. Any suggestion to the contrary, or attack on the academic credibility of the foundation’s publications, is unfounded. We will, as always, cooperate fully with any questions the Charity Commission considers it appropriate to ask of us.”


Graham Readfearn

The GuardianTramp

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