Matt Ridley: Lord Deben Should Come Clean About His Ties To Business

  • Date: 05/02/19
  • Matt Ridley, The Times

The revelations cast doubt on every report the Committee on Climate Change has produced since 2012, when Lord Deben became chairman and made it vigorously partisan.

Imagine that a Conservative chairman of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), tasked with giving impartial advice to the government, had a consultancy firm, but he said there were no conflicts of interest. Imagine that it then emerged that nine of that firm’s clients were oil companies that had paid it more than £600,000 during his tenure as chairman of the committee.

Suppose the committee had recommended policies that were good for oil companies; and the chairman had been warned that a “clearly unethical” conflict of interest with one client would cause “embarrassment” if made public. Imagine that nevertheless the firm had since earned a further £37,000 from this client.

The scandal would be a top story, not least at the BBC, and there would be hollow laughter if the chairman claimed that his firm’s work involved matters unrelated to the decisions of the committee and that “I do not think anybody could properly say . . . that I have any interests that would pervert my views”.

It now emerges that Lord Deben, who actually is chairman of the CCC, and who tweets disapprovingly about other people’s vested interests, is in precisely this position, but with green energy clients rather than oil firms. For example, two weeks ago Lord Deben urged the government to bring forward its deadline for making electric cars mandatory without divulging that his firm, Sancroft, has received £292,699 from Johnson Matthey as it invested heavily in new technology for electric vehicles.

But the news has been wholly ignored by the Beeb and by most green pressure groups, normally so quick to accuse capitalists of greed. This double standard is known as noble cause corruption. So long as the ends are “good”, nobody wants to know if the means are not.

The CCC needs to ask itself how it allowed this to happen. The revelations cast doubt on every report it has produced since 2012, when Lord Deben became chairman and made it vigorously partisan. For instance, Drax power station gets £700 million a year in government subsidies for switching from burning coal to burning wood, even though this raises carbon dioxide emissions. Drax paid Sancroft £15,500 while the committee was writing a report approving wood burning as green.

Climate change policies provide a huge financial opportunity for investment funds and energy companies, because governments are skewing markets and loading consumers with the costs of subsidies. Inevitably, green businesses are keen to get close to decision makers. It is critical that the latter declare any clients. I declare my vested interest (in both coal and wood) whenever relevant. So should others in far more influential positions.

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