Misinformation and propaganda campaign on net zero
|Apology to Professor Gwythian Prins|
The first version of this article implied that Professor Gwythian Prins was falsely asserting that he is one of our emeritus professors. This was incorrect and LSE apologises to Professor Prins for the offence caused to him. He is a Research Professor Emeritus at LSE having first worked with us as a Professorial Research Fellow (2000-2002) and then as the Alliance Research Professor (2002-2013).
A small group of MPs have launched a media campaign that is spreading misinformation about the Government’s climate change policies.
Craig Mackinlay, the Conservative MP for Thanet South, is leading the so-called ‘Net Zero Scrutiny Group’ but has been relying on inaccurate and misleading claims, particularly about the investments required to achieve the statutory target of net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, in order to promote their cause.
Writing for the Conservative Home website in July, Mr Mackinlay stated that the Climate Change Committee “has come up with a new estimate for the cost of Net Zero that details £1.4 trillion of capital spending that will be required to meet it”. He added: “The committee was keen not to publicise this mind-boggling number (over half of UK annual GDP or 35 times the annual defence budget for context), and so discounted it with a range of speculative benefits that may or may not materialise”.
This was extremely misleading. The Office for Budget Responsibility examined the Committee’s calculations in its ‘Fiscal risks report’ in July. It pointed out that the ‘Balanced Net Zero Pathway’ would mean £1312 billion of investment costs, but that these would be spread over 30 years between 2020 and 2050.
Furthermore, these investments would be offset by significant and growing savings, particularly by avoiding the purchase of fossil fuels, amounting to £991 billion during the 30 years to 2050.
Although this would mean a net cost of £321 billion over 30 years, the annual investment costs of £16 billion by 2050 would be outweighed by yearly savings of £19 billion. This means that if the analysis was extended beyond 2050, the accumulated net costs would be even smaller.
Hence it is clear that Mr Mackinlay has been exaggerating the potential economic consequences of achieving net zero emissions by publicising a gross cost over 30 years, while ignoring the significant savings, and comparing it with a single year’s GDP.
Mr Mackinlay has promoted the £1.4 trillion figure in other media interventions, although he has yet to have it painted on the side of a bus in the same way that Vote Leave publicised its notorious £350 million per week claim.
I have challenged Mr Mackinlay about his use of the £1.4 trillion figure and other misleading claims in his articles. I have yet to receive a response.
He told Bloomberg that he expects about 30 MPs to join his group, and that they will rely on the Global Warming Policy Foundation for its campaign information.
The Foundation was launched in 2009 by Lord Lawson to lobby against policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
In 2014, the Foundation was sanctioned by the Charity Commission for its persistent promotion of climate change denial.
However, the Foundation continues to reject the evidence for climate change. In April, the Foundation published a pamphlet by Dr Ralph Alexander, whose website bizarrely describes him as “a retired physicist and a science writer who puts science above political correctness”. Dr Alexander has no qualifications in climate science and his 1971 PhD thesis describes ‘An investigation of the channeling technique for atom location and its application to hyperfine interaction studies on implanted sources’.
The Foundation’s media release for the pamphlet includes the following quotation from Dr Alexander: “It doesn’t matter what extreme weather phenomenon you look at, evidence of long-term worsening is sketchy at best and in many cases non-existent”.
This is a false claim. The most recent report, published in August 2021, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s most authoritative source on the issue, concluded: “Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe”. It adds: “Evidence of observed changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones, and, in particular, their attribution to human influence, has strengthened”.
Mr Mackinlay appears to share the Foundation’s reluctance to accept the scientific evidence of the impacts of climate change. For example, in July he welcomed the Government’s announcement of £5.2 billion in funding over the next six years as part of its investment plan for flood and coastal erosion risk management. But he failed to mention that climate change is increasing flood risk in his constituency and across the country, even though it was explicitly highlighted in both the media release and the plan itself, which states upfront: “Climate change is leading to rising sea levels and warmer and wetter winters, together with an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme events such as heavy rainfall, coastal erosion and landslips”.
Mr Mackinlay has been assisted in his media blitz on net zero by Steve Baker, the Conservative MP for Wycombe, who revealed in May that he was becoming a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
Mr Baker has also exaggerated the costs of achieving net zero. Writing in ‘The Critic’ magazine, he made the wildly untrue claim that “the drive for renewables has led to electricity prices nearly doubling, a rise that looks likely to continue for decades to come”. In fact, the latest figures published on 26 August 2021 by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for the fuel components of the consumer prices index, in real terms relative to the GDP deflator, show that electricity prices were 36 per cent higher in the second quarter of 2021 compared with 2010. However, accompanying figures show that reductions in household energy consumption mean that actual average electricity bills were only 4.4 per cent higher in 2020 than in 2010 in real terms, and 3.5 per cent lower than their peak in 2013.
I have challenged Mr Baker about his inaccurate figures but he has not yet corrected them.
It should be noted that both Mr Mackinlay and Mr Baker were elected in 2019 on a Conservative Party manifesto which pledged: “We will lead the global fight against climate change by delivering on our world-leading target of Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as advised by the independent Committee on Climate Change”.
It is not yet clear if other Conservative MPs have joined Mr Mackinlay’s crusade against the manifesto promise. However, some appear to be circulating other weird propaganda from individuals affiliated with the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
For instance, some Conservative MPs are reportedly sharing copies of ‘The Worm in the Rose: “Green Growth” is Riddled with Fallacies’, which was written by Gwythian Prins, a member of the Foundation’s all-male “Academic Advisory Council”.
His document is a mixture of unhinged Sinophobia and daft falsehoods about climate change policies. For instance, the introduction laughably claims that “’Net Zero’ will fail because it involves breaking laws of physics”, and adds: “Since 2000 it has already weakened the UK national electricity grid and it forecloses options for the newly liberated British economy by ‘lock in’ to thermodynamically incompetent technologies.” The author seems to be unaware that the net zero target was only introduced in 2019.
But it is the extreme rhetoric that stands out in the diatribe by Dr Prins. He writes that “the encouragement of and facilitation of self-harming behaviours leading to moral disarmament via ‘wokus pocus’, the racism of Critical Race Theory, support for the marxist purposes of Black Lives Matter and the anarchism of deep green activism are all grist to the mill of the UFWD [Communist China’s Ministry of State Security United Front Work Dept]”.
It is quite right that Parliamentarians scrutinise the Government’s policies to achieve net zero emissions, but they should educate themselves with robust and authoritative research and analysis rather than misinformation and propaganda.
Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.