BP and Shell Funded Group Was Sunak Government’s Most Popular Think Tank in 2023

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Original article by Andrew Kersley republished from DeSmog.

An Onward event at the 2022 Conservative Party conference featuring Cabinet minister Michael Gove. Credit: PA Images / Alamy

Ministers met with Onward, accused of being “a fossil fuel dinosaur in new clothing”, more than any other think tank last year.

An oil and gas funded group had the most registered meetings with government ministers among all think tanks last year, DeSmog can reveal.

Onward describes itself as a think tank bringing “bold and practical ideas for the centre right”. Since its launch in 2018 it has gone through a meteoric rise, quickly becoming one of Westminster’s most influential think tanks.

DeSmog analysed the meetings of every government department in 2023 and found that ministers met with the group on 17 occasions across the year, an average of well over once a month and more than any other think tank.

Onward doesn’t disclose full details of its funding but unlike many think tanks it publicly shares the list of organisations that have donated “more than £5,000 twice a year” to the group.

Its list of funders in the first half of 2023 included several oil and gas giants, including Shell, BP, and Equinor. These three companies are also listed as members of Onward’s ‘Business Network’, which is open to those who donate £12,000 a year. In exchange, Onward says that it offers its members quarterly “invitations to private roundtables with senior policymakers and opinion formers”.

Onward offers other perks to its Business Network members, including the opportunity to see its reports before they are published, though it insists that donors are precluded from influencing the contents of its publications.

In the second half of the year, Onward also received funding from Lord Michael Spencer, a Tory mega-donor and former party treasurer who holds shares in oil and gas companies.

Onward’s corporate supporters included Drax, the UK’s largest single source of CO2 emissions. Drax is the operator of a major wood pellet burning power station in Yorkshire that receives billions of pounds in government environmental subsidies despite producing millions of tonnes of carbon emissions a year while burning trees from historic woodlands.

“Onward might sound progressive, but it looks suspiciously like a fossil fuel dinosaur in new clothing,” Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer told DeSmog.

“With so much fossil fuel money oiling the wheels of Westminster it is small wonder the Tories are maxing out oil and gas licences and have granted approval for Rosebank, the largest undeveloped oilfield in the North Sea.

“It’s time to break the links between government and fossil fuel funded think tanks and engage instead in a bit of blue sky thinking.”

Onward’s meetings in 2023 included two with ministers from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), which is responsible for the government’s climate policies. 

One of those meetings, held in June with Net Zero Minister Andrew Bowie, was to discuss the role of hydrogen in the transition to net zero.

Though it’s widely acknowledged that hydrogen will have a role in decarbonising some industrial processes, it has become the subject of growing controversy. Experts have warned that exaggerating the potential of the technology risks delaying climate action by distracting from the transition to renewable energies. Hydrogen is favoured by gas companies, as it is often made using natural gas and deploys existing infrastructure. 

As a result, hydrogen continues to be the subject of a major lobbying effort in Westminster.

Vested interests, including oil and gas companies, have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in recent years sponsoring political party conferences and parliamentary advocacy groups, advocating for the role of hydrogen in the clean energy transition. 

UK gas infrastructure operator National Gas hosted an Onward event at the 2023 Conservative conference on the UK’s “need” for hydrogen, entitled “Gassed up”.

An Onward spokesperson said that as a not-for-profit organisation the group relies “entirely on the generosity of our network to support our research programme”, which allows the group to “routinely meet and share our research with government and shadow ministers”.

They stressed that they “do not take commissions from companies or government for specific pieces of research” giving the group “complete editorial control over our priorities and conclusions”.

Onward and Tufton Street

Onward is currently led by former Financial Times journalist Sebastian Payne, who is attempting to become a Conservative parliamentary candidate. 

The think tank’s advisory board and board of directors are manned by Conservative MPs and peers, former Conservative Party treasurers, and business figures. Current Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho was a member of the Onward advisory board prior to her appointment to the Cabinet. 

When Rishi Sunak became prime minister in October 2022, it was reported that Onward alumni had taken up several advisory posts in his government – the second highest number of any think tank. Sunak’s deputy chief of staff Will Tanner, who leads on policy, is the co-founder and former director of Onward. 

Onward alumni were only outnumbered by former staff members of Policy Exchange, a right-wing think tank that formerly employed Sunak. Policy Exchange has received funding from fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil, and has been credited by Sunak for helping to draft laws that have cracked down on climate protests. DeSmog has also revealed that Shell and BP were allowed “ample opportunity” to shape a Policy Exchange report on carbon taxes that was later endorsed by Sunak’s government. 

Over the last year, the prime minister has also overseen a row-back of several key climate pledges. In July, Sunak confirmed that his government planned to issue hundreds of new oil and gas licences, a move condemned by opposition MPs and charities. Oxfam’s climate policy adviser Lyndsay Walsh said the move “will send a wrecking ball through the UK’s climate commitments”.

Sunak has said his government intends to “max out” the UK’s oil and gas reserves, and has legislated to introduce annual North Sea licensing rounds. This is despite the International Energy Agency stating that new fossil fuel exploration is “incompatible” with the Paris Agreement target of limiting global heating to 1.5C. 

Regulators also approved government plans for the development of the controversial Rosebank oil field, operated by Equinor, even though the project has been dubbed a “carbon bomb” by environmental law charity ClientEarth.

In September, the government scrapped a number of net zero pledges, including pushing back a ban on the sale of combustion engine vehicles, and weakening plans to phase out gas boilers.

Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss had close ties to a number of “free market” think tanks based in and around 55 Tufton Street, Westminster. This included the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), a think tank that was funded by BP for at least 50 years. Former IEA director general Mark Littlewood said that Truss had spoken at IEA events more than “any other politician over the past 12 years”, and the pair have now launched the group Popular Conservatism to lobby for more libertarian policies.

DeSmog found that the IEA met with ministers on nine occasions in 2023, almost half as many as Onward.

Original article by Andrew Kersley republished from DeSmog.

Continue ReadingBP and Shell Funded Group Was Sunak Government’s Most Popular Think Tank in 2023

Shell is suing Greenpeace for a peaceful protest.

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Shell is suing Greenpeace – threatening a multi million dollar lawsuit and a protest ban. We need your help to fight in court.

Earlier this year, six Greenpeace International activists managed to board and occupy a moving Shell oil platform. The platform was making its way towards the North Sea to unlock new oil wells.

Our demand was clear: Shell must stop drilling for new oil and gas, and start paying up for causing decades of climate damage.

The protest continued for 13 days and almost 4,000km. During this time, Shell reported record annual profits of nearly $40bn. But they won’t pay a penny towards fixing the climate chaos they’ve caused.

Like so many of us, the activists who occupied Shells’ platform all experience the climate crisis in different ways – from rising energy bills and flooding to heatwaves and typhoons. This protest took the fight for climate justice straight to Shell, in a way they couldn’t ignore. Standing with millions of people worldwide, who are losing their lives, loved ones and homes to climate breakdown caused by fossil fuel giants.

Well, we got Shell’s attention. Now they’re suing Greenpeace UK and Greenpeace International, threatening a multi million dollar lawsuit and a protest ban.

These bullying tactics threaten the global fight for climate justice. Will you help us stand up to Shell and donate today to the Stop Shell Appeal?

Article continues at https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/shell-suing-greenpeace-legal-fund/

Continue ReadingShell is suing Greenpeace for a peaceful protest.

‘Climate Arsonists’: 8 Major Oil Companies Fail to Align With Paris Agreement

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Original article by OLIVIA ROSANE republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

An ExxonMobil oil refinery is pictured in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo: Barry Lewis/InPictures via Getty Images)

“We cannot trust fossil fuel corporations to do anything but line the pockets of their CEOs and investors at the cost of our climate and communities,” one campaigner said.

The eight largest U.S. and Europe-based oil and gas producing companies are failing to align their plans with the Paris agreement goal of limiting global heating to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels and avoiding ever more catastrophic climate impacts.

Oil Change International’s Big Oil Reality Check report, released Tuesday, concludes that the plans of BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Eni, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Shell, and TotalEnergies would actually put the world on track for more than 2.4°C of warming and burn through nearly one-third of the global carbon budget for hitting the 1.5°C target.

“It’s clearer than ever that oil and gas companies—the climate arsonists fueling climate chaos—cannot be trusted to put out the fire,” David Tong, report author and global industry campaign manager at Oil Change Internationalsaid in a statement. “There is no evidence that big oil and gas companies are acting seriously to be part of the energy transition.”

The Big Oil Reality Check report reveals that oil and gas corporations are more interested in looking like they are acting on climate change than actually acting on climate change.”

For its fourth annual Big Oil Reality Check, Oil Change International judged the oil companies’ climate plans and pledges against a set of minimum standards for alignment with the Paris agreement. The standards were divided into three main categories: ambition, integrity, and people-centered transitions.

Under ambition, the companies were assessed on whether they had plans to stop oil and gas exploration, stop approving new extraction projects, decrease production every year through 2030, and stop extraction on a certain date while outlining a long-term plan to end production.

Under integrity, the companies were assessed on whether their emissions-reduction plans included their entire supply chain, whether they relied on carbon capture or offsets, whether their methane-reduction plans were really in line with climate goals, and whether they lobbied or advertised against climate action.

For people-centered transitions, they were assessed on whether they had just transition plans for employees and members of frontline communities and whether they respected human rights overall and the rights of Indigenous peoples, including to free, prior, or informed consent to any fossil fuel activities.

The companies were then rated from “fully aligned” to “grossly insufficient” for how well their plans complied with the Paris goals within the assessment’s framework, but all eight companies scored “insufficient” or “grossly insufficient” for a majority of the criteria.

Only one company—Eni—scored above “insufficient” in any category, earning a ranking of “partially aligned” for having greenhouse gas-reduction plans that included its supply chains. The three U.S.-based companies—Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil—scored “grossly insufficient” for all 10 criteria.

“American fossil fuel corporations are the worst of the worst,” Oil Change International’s U.S. program manager Allie Rosenbluth said. “Chevron, ExxonMobil, and ConocoPhillips perpetuate harm in frontline communities not only across the U.S. but worldwide.”

Oil Change found that six out of the eight companies have official plans to increase oil and gas production. The only two that did not were BP and Shell; however, these companies employ a misleading strategy. They compensate for new oil and gas projects by selling off polluting assets. While the emissions from the sold operations no longer count toward company emissions, they still count toward the planet’s total. This practice is out of line with the GHG Protocol on corporate emissions accounting and may violate the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Four of the companies assessed in the report—BP, Shell, Exxon, and Chevron—were also the subject of a recent U.S. House investigation and Senate hearing detailing how the fossil fuel industry playbook has shifted from outright denial of climate science to greenwashing its activities by presenting itself as part of the solution to the climate crisis while its day-to-day operations continue to raise global temperatures.

“The efforts of climate and social movements have forced oil and gas companies to acknowledge that fossil fuels are dirty and dangerous, leading to a variety of climate pledges and ‘plans,'” said Oil Change campaigner Myriam Douo. The Big Oil Reality Check report reveals that oil and gas corporations are more interested in looking like they are acting on climate change than actually acting on climate change.”

“They spend billions on smoke and mirrors to try to fool us into believing they have solutions for a livable planet when, in reality, they are perpetuating harm to the climate and local communities while trying to suck every last ounce of profit out of their dirty fossil fuel business,” Douo concluded.

All told, Rystand energy data suggests that the combined production of the eight companies will be 17% by 2030 than they were last year.

“Such an increase in production on a global scale would put the world on a path towards global heating well beyond 2°C, locking in destruction of vulnerable communities and ecosystems,” the report authors wrote.

The report finds that all of the companies intend to rely on unproven carbon capture technology or offsets schemes to meet their claimed emission-reduction goals and have continued to spend money on lobbying against climate action and greenwashing their own activities since the agreement in Paris.

Further, no company has plans consistent with ensuring a just transition or protecting human rights. In one recent and urgent example, ExxonMobil, Chevron, TotalEnergies, BP, Shell, and Eni all continue to provide Israel with crude oil despite “the Israeli military’s ongoing assault on Palestinian civilians, ecosystems, and infrastructure in Gaza and mounting evidence of war crimes,” a March Oil Change investigation found.

The report comes nearly half a year after world leaders agreed to contribute to “transitioning away from fossil fuels” at the COP28 U.N. climate change conference in Dubai. In light of its conclusions, Oil Change called on governments to take action to further a just transition:

  1. Stop permitting or approving new fossil fuel projects or infrastructure;
  2. Set a Paris-aligned date for phasing out fossil fuel production;
  3. End subsidies and financing for fossil fuels and false solutions like carbon capture;
  4. Use tax policy to incentivize against investing in fossil fuels;
  5. Craft a just transition, including by making polluters pay for cleanup and reparations; and
  6. Passing laws to protect human rights and Indigenous rights and giving communities a legal mechanism to seek redress from corporate polluters.

Oil Change also argued that governments in the Global North should hold companies headquartered within their borders accountable for harm abroad and put money into funds to enable the Global South to transition to renewable energy, adapt to climate change, and pay for inevitable loss and damage.

“This year’s Big Oil Reality Check makes it clearer than ever—we cannot trust fossil fuel corporations to do anything but line the pockets of their CEOs and investors at the cost of our climate and communities,” Rosenbluth said. “People around the world are rising up to end the era of fossil fuels and build a just energy system that puts climate and communities first.”

Original article by OLIVIA ROSANE republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

Continue Reading‘Climate Arsonists’: 8 Major Oil Companies Fail to Align With Paris Agreement

Fifth of Shell investors revolt against its climate strategy during tense AGM

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Protesters gathered outside the hotel in London where the Shell AGM was being held (Rebecca Speare-Cole/PA)

More than a fifth of shareholder votes were cast against Shell’s climate strategy at a tense annual general meeting.

The board faced heated exchanges with investors and protesters throughout the three-hour event at the InterContinental O2 in London on Tuesday.

A resolution to approve the current strategy saw 21.8% of shareholder votes going against management, Shell said.

Meanwhile, nearly a fifth of the votes (18.6%) backed a resolution from Dutch activist group Follow This, which called on the board to align decarbonisation targets with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

But despite a record 27 institutional investors co-filing the resolution, the result came as a drop from 20.2% in 2023.

The AGM was the first since Shell scaled back several short-term and medium-term climate targets last year.

As the meeting moved on to shareholder questions, Mark van Baal, founder of Follow This, challenged the board about its environmental impact.

He said: “Dear shareholders, get a load of this. The world has pledged to halve emissions by 2030 and your company has no plans to further reduce emissions this decade.”


Continue ReadingFifth of Shell investors revolt against its climate strategy during tense AGM

BP and Shell ‘Shaped’ UK Carbon Tax Proposals, Private Emails Show

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Original article by Adam Bychawski republished from DeSmog

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the 2023 Policy Exchange summer reception. Credit: Policy Exchange / YouTube

Internal documents expose how oil and gas majors were given the chance to influence a report by the Policy Exchange think tank.

Fossil fuel giants BP and Shell were given “ample opportunity” to privately influence proposals for taxing oil and gas companies that were later backed by the government, new documents reveal.

Internal BP emails show that its UK executives were reassured by a controversial oil industry group that they could “shape [the] internal thinking” of a 2018 report on carbon taxes produced by the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange.

The emails were among hundreds of documents released by a powerful committee of U.S. politicians last week as part of its three year-long investigation into how the oil industry has worked to undermine efforts to tackle climate change.

Policy Exchange has been credited by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for helping to draft laws that have cracked down on climate protests, and has in the past received money from the oil and gas major ExxonMobil. 

The think tank was commissioned to produce a report on carbon pricing by the Climate Leadership Council (CLC), a controversial U.S. non-profit whose “founding members” include BP, Shell and TotalEnergies, car manufacturers Ford and General Motors as well as multinationals like Unilever and Microsoft. 

The think tank’s recommendations largely mirrored the CLC’s proposal for a rising tax on carbon emissions, a controversial idea that has been accused of being a favoured policy of the fossil fuel industry. The report also proposed that several UK environmental regulations be phased out to reduce the “burden on business.”

The UK has taxed carbon emissions since 2005, first under an emissions trading scheme created by the European Union. 

The scheme works by setting a maximum overall cap on the amount of carbon emissions that the energy and manufacturing industry can emit. Polluters are given allowances that allow them to emit only a set quota of carbon; if they exceed their allowances they can be fined. To avoid being fined, companies can buy additional allowances from other companies who have excess allowances because their emissions are lower than their quota. 

Every year, the EU reduces the overall cap on emissions, meaning that the price of allowances – also known as a carbon price – rises, which the bloc says acts as an incentive to reduce emissions.

However, according to Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at UCL, the policy is popular among oil and gas companies.

“Paying a carbon tax is preferable to stopping all exploration, keeping fossil fuels in the ground and changing business models to embrace renewables – which is what is required – and they have obviously come to the conclusion that, given their colossal profits, this is something they can easily handle,” he said.

After the UK left the EU in 2016, the UK government began devising its own replacement trading emissions scheme, which the Policy Exchange report sought to influence. 

The report was cited last December in a policy paper for the government’s new, long-term emissions trading scheme, used to justify the claim that “Carbon pricing is an effective, market-based way of allowing businesses to make economically rational decarbonisation investment decisions.”

Policy Exchange acknowledged at the time that the report was financially supported by the CLC, which claimed to be a “strategic partner”. However, the think tank said it was “not intended to represent the views of the council or of its founding members on UK or EU matters.”

Internal BP emails reveal that the British oil company’s bosses were initially alarmed that the CLC had commissioned the report and sought a meeting with the council’s founder.

According to the emails, BP was able to use this meeting to lay out “various potential policy, political and commercial concerns” with the content of the report, given the firm’s “unique position in the UK and the timing.”

After the meeting, Paul Jefferiss, then BP’s head of group policy, reassured Andrew Mennear, BP’s director for UK government affairs, that “I don’t think there is immediate cause for concern.”

Jefferiss noted that, “There will be ample opportunity for UK-focused CLC members (BP, Shell, Unilever) to input perspectives and shape the internal thinking” of the report before it is published. 

BP also appears to have been offered the chance to collaborate with the council on a communications strategy around its release.

Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, said: “While the BBC launders Policy Exchange as ‘centre right’, and the charities so-called regulator sits on its hands, the revealed reality is that Policy Exchange is acting like a front for the oil and gas industry.”

Policy Exchange, the CLC, and BP have been approached for comment. 

‘Another Form of Greenwashing’

Climate experts are divided over whether the policy of taxing carbon is effective, and past scandals have led to accusations that it is being used as a smokescreen by the fossil fuel industry.

McGuire believes that a carbon tax is “ultimately just another form of greenwashing and a sop to the [oil] sector’s critics”.

However, other experts, like Adam Bell, director of policy at consultancy firm Stonehaven and a former head of strategy at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, believe that carbon taxing can be effective.

“Carbon pricing can only be part of a policy approach to tackling climate change, it can’t be the solution by itself. Fossil fuel companies will survive while there is demand for what they produce. You’ve got to eliminate that demand if you want to eliminate them”.

To do that, you should “focus on getting renewables built and heat systems and transportation electrified,” he said.

The CLC has led calls for a federal carbon price in the U.S. and has attracted criticism in the past for attaching conditions to its proposals that would be favourable to the fossil fuel industry. It has previously proposed the repealing of federal emissions regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) losing its authority to regulate carbon emissions, and legal immunity for companies from any prosecution over their role in climate change.

The CLC dropped the latter provision from its proposal in 2019 because it was “distracting focus away from the many economic and environmental upsides of the plan”, but critics have questioned whether it remains privately committed to the idea.

In 2021, the CLC “suspended” Exxon from its list of founding members after one of its lobbyists was caught on camera saying that the oil company had only pledged to support a carbon tax because it was unlikely to ever become law.

Policy Exchange’s report likewise proposed that some environmental regulations “be phased out thus reducing the regulatory burden on business” after the introduction of a carbon tax, though it claimed that “this will in no way reduce environmental protection”.

In an afterword to the report, CLC’s founder Ted Halstead, and Martin Feldstein and George P. Shultz, two economists who served under Ronald Reagan’s administration, wrote that the plan “will help free businesses from unnecessary regulation”.

Steve Tooze, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion said, “These emails are the smoking gun that blows fatal holes in Policy Exchange’s already-tattered and frankly laughable claims to be an independent research ‘think tank’”.

Policy Exchange

At the 2022 Conservative Party conference, Jacob Rees-Mogg, at the time serving as business, energy and industrial strategy secretary, said: “I believe that where Policy Exchange leads, governments have often followed.”

The think tank, which has charity status, chooses not to disclose its donors and was given the lowest possible rank by openDemocracy’s Who Funds You? project, which rates the funding transparency of think tanks.

OpenDemocracy previously uncovered that Exxon donated $30,000 to Policy Exchange’s American fundraising arm in 2017, the same year its UK carbon pricing report was being drafted.

The think tank would go on to author a report in 2019 that proposed tough new policing laws to crackdown on climate protestors. Rishi Sunak later credited Policy Exchange for helping the government draft what would become the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which explicitly targeted groups like Extinction Rebellion.

Sunak is an alumni of Policy Exchange, having worked there before his 2015 election to Parliament, as is Claire Coutinho, his energy security and net zero secretary. The think tank has significant access to ministers, having held more than a hundred meetings with the government since 2012.

DeSmog revealed in August 2023 that Policy Exchange engaged in a high-level influencing campaign over the UK’s North Sea oil and gas policies, and echoed the fossil fuel lobby by emphasising the importance of hydrogen power and carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) to the green transition.

The evidence unearthed by U.S. politicians has further demonstrated how fossil fuel giants have been downplaying the climate crisis and lobbying against green laws, despite being provided with academic research showing the scale of the problem.

BP was warned by Princeton University researchers in 2016 that climate change accelerated in part by new global supplies of shale gas could lead to catastrophic events such as “mass extinctions and unprecedented famine.” 

Yet, despite acknowledging internally the concern that “gas doesn’t support climate goals,” the firm embarked on a marketing campaign to “advance and protect the role of gas – and BP – in the energy transition.”

Original article by Adam Bychawski republished from DeSmog

Rishi Sunak on stopping Rosebank says that any chancellor can stop his huge 91% subsidy to build Rosebank, that Keir Starmer is as bad as him for sucking up to Murdoch and other plutocrats and that we (the plebs) need to get organised to elect MPs that will stop Rosebank.
Rishi Sunak on stopping Rosebank says that any chancellor can stop his huge 91% subsidy to build Rosebank, that Keir Starmer is as bad as him for sucking up to Murdoch and other plutocrats and that we (the plebs) need to get organised to elect MPs that will stop Rosebank.
Image of InBedWithBigOil by Not Here To Be Liked + Hex Prints from Just Stop Oil's You May Find Yourself... art auction. Featuring Rishi Sunak, Fossil Fuels and Rupert Murdoch.
Image of InBedWithBigOil by Not Here To Be Liked + Hex Prints from Just Stop Oil’s You May Find Yourself… art auction. Featuring Rishi Sunak, Fossil Fuels and Rupert Murdoch.
Continue ReadingBP and Shell ‘Shaped’ UK Carbon Tax Proposals, Private Emails Show