Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho accepted a donation from Lord Michael Hintze, a funder of climate science denial group GWPF, raising concerns about government commitment to net zero policies.
by Sam Bright
E nergy Security and Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho accepted a £2,000 donation in January from Lord Michael Hintze, a funder of the UK’s leading climate science denial pressure group, DeSmog can reveal.
The donation, which was registered on 4 January and declared on the MPs’ register of interests this week, was to aid Coutinho’s local East Surrey Conservative association with its campaigning activities.
The GWPF’s director Benny Peiser has suggested it would be “extraordinary anyone should think there is a climate crisis”, while the group has also expressed the view that carbon dioxide has been mischaracterised as pollution, when in fact it is a “benefit to the planet”.
Scientists have recently confirmed that 2023 was the hottest year on record, driven by human-caused climate change and the El Niño weather event, where warmer surface waters in the East Pacific Ocean release additional heat into the atmosphere.
The Guardian revealed that Hintze gave £3,000 to Conservative MP Steve Barclay in October, weeks before he was appointed as environment secretary. A source close to Barclay told the Guardian that “Lord Hintze is a Conservative peer and regular party donor who supports a number of Conservative MPs. Steve has never discussed environmental policy with him. Steve is fully committed to the government’s net zero aims.”
The Conservative government has weakened a number of flagship net zero policies in recent months, since Coutinho was appointed as energy security and net zero secretary in August 2023. The party has announced that a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles will be pushed back from 2030 to 2035, while it has also watered down schemes to phase out gas boilers and scrapped new energy efficiency regulations on rented homes.
Through the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, which is set to be voted on by MPs in the next fortnight, the government is also attempting to bind future governments to annual North Sea oil and gas licensing rounds.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak used his address at the COP28 climate summit in December to claim that “climate politics is close to breaking point”, while stating that the UK will meet its net zero targets, “but we’ll do it in a more pragmatic way, which doesn’t burden working people.”
However, a 2023 court case found that the government’s plans only added up to 95 percent of the reductions needed to meet its net-zero targets.
DeSmog has previously revealed that the Conservative Party received £3.5 million in donations from fossil fuel interests and climate science deniers in 2022, while two-thirds of the directors in charge of the party’s multi-million-pound endowment fund have a financial interest in oil, gas, and highly polluting industries.
— Rishi Sunak and Claire Coutinho in Number 10.
Hintze and the GWPF
Official records show that Hintze, who has given more than £4 million to the Conservatives since 2002, has donated £19,000 to prominent Conservative MPs in recent months, including to Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, Defence Minister Tom Tugendhat, Conservative deputy chair Lee Anderson, former Tory chair Jake Berry, and former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith.
Hintze has said that he believes “there is climate change” caused “in part due to human activity over the past century”. However, he has said that “all sides must be heard” on climate change “to reach the right conclusion for society as a whole”.
A number of climate consensus studies conducted between 2004 and 2015 found that between 90 percent and 100 percent of experts agree that humans are responsible for climate change. A study published in 2021, which reviewed over 3,000 scientific papers, found that over 99 percent of climate science literature says that global warming is caused by human activity.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s foremost climate science body, has stated it is “unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”.
Jolyon Maugham, executive director of the Good Law Project, told DeSmog that: “If you want to know why the Charity Commission is so reluctant to take any action against the global heating deniers at the Tufton Street Global Warming Foundation, we would suggest you look at the donations one its key funders has given to Tory cabinet ministers – which now includes both our net zero secretary and our environment secretary.”
The GWPF is based in 55 Tufton Street, in Westminster, which acts as a focal point for several opaquely funded pressure groups that have campaigned against net zero policies. The Conservative Party has received at least £600,000 since Rishi Sunak became prime minister from board members at leading Tufton Street groups. The Good Law Project is campaigning for the Charity Commission to open a formal inquiry into the GWPF’s “one-sided research attacking net zero policies”.
The GWPF has gained a number of high-profile directors over the last two years. Its trustees now include Tory peer Lord David Frost, the UK’s former chief Brexit negotiator, Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns, Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson, and former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott.
Michael Hintze, Claire Coutinho, and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero were approached for comment.