On The Impact Of The GWPF

  • Date: 21/08/17
  • Andrew Montford

Amelia Sharman, a researcher at the LSE (although now moved on to pastures new) has written a number of papers about climate scepticism and, rare among people working in this area, is professional enough not to lard her papers with derogatory references to “deniers”. Her papers have attracted quite a lot of attention in the past.

Her latest publication is a comparative review of the impact of sceptics on climate policy in the UK and her native New Zealand, based on interviews with policymakers, civil servants, and academics. While it’s quite heavy going in places there are some fascinating insights. For example, one unnamed civil servant is quoted speaking darkly about

a highly-organised, very well-funded group…whose job it is to try and undermine everything the climate science community is doing.’

Does he mean us? Little old GWPF? They cannot be serious! The stories of a kind of Machiavellian fifth column, run with military precision on a limitless pot of big-oil funding, began in 2009 when GWPF was launched with two guys working out of a broom cupboard in Westminster. So it’s perhaps not surprising that now, with three full-time staff and an office that boasts windows, the idea of the great oil-funded conspiracy has taken hold in Whitehall (and this despite the fact that GWPF has repeated ad nauseam that it doesn’t accept funding from the energy industry or people with interests in it).

This is no doubt something to do with the fact that GWPF has had an impact. In fact, some of Sharman’s interviewees are convinced that GWPF is having a devastating effect both on government…

…most cabinet ministers remain unconvinced about climate science and warm to the GWPF’s position rather than the IPCC Fifth Assessment report

…and on public discourse…

[Groups such as the GWPF]  are loud and they get a lot of airtime

I suppose if you can think that three staff is a global conspiracy, then no doubt Nigel Lawson’s once-in-a-blue-moon appearance on the Today programme might look like “a lot of airtime”. And the policy machine seems quite put out that GWPF keeps mentioning the negative effect climate policy is having on the economy – or as some call it: “ordinary people’s livelihoods”.

It’s a fascinating look behind the scenes in Whitehall: there seems to be paranoia about a small group of dissidents,  and a certain amount of grumbling that anyone should care about Britain’s national economic interest. It’s actually rather disconcerting that people like this should be anywhere near the levers of power. You can’t help but feel that your future is not in the safest of hands.

Full paper: Sharman A and Perkins R. Post-decisional logics of inaction: The influence of knowledge controversy in climate policy decision-making. Forthcoming in Planning and Environment A. Preprint.


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