UK Election 2024: Tories Have Received £8.4M from Fossil Fuel Lobby and Climate Deniers Since 2019

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As the UK gears up for another election, an investigation shows the Conservative Party has accrued £8.4M in donations from fossil fuel interests and climate deniers since winning the last election in 2019.

July 4 is a big day for the west – the US will be celebrating its independence, while the UK will likely be voting to end the Tory dependence.

After five years in power (fourteen as the primary governing party), three prime ministers, and one fateful lettuce, the Conservative Party could be on the ouster this year. Polling shows that Labour is expected to emerge with a landslide victory (which would be its first in 14 years) in what is being termed the year of climate elections. And, while no party is perfect, a new investigation into Tory donations makes for grim reading for the incumbents.

Climate media outlet DeSmog analysed donations to all major Westminster parties since December 12, 2019 (the date of the last election), and found that the Conservatives have received £8.4M from the fossil fuel sector, highly polluting industries, and climate deniers. This amount is 160 times more than the polluting cash received by the Labour Party (£41,600), and 80 times more than the Liberal Democrats (£132,600).

The right-wing populist party Reform UK, meanwhile, obtained £2.5M in such donations since the 2019 election, which account for 92% of its funding.

“This investigation is yet more evidence of the stranglehold the oil and gas industry has on our politics,” Georgia Whitaker, climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK, told DeSmog. “And it’s billpayers and the climate that will continue to suffer because of it.”

She added: “We already have the solutions to cut bills, increase energy security and cut emissions, but the government has ignored them in favour of pandering to vested interests at the expense of the rest of us. Dirty money from fossil fuels, highly polluting industries, or climate deniers should have no place in our politics.”

uk climate change policy
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/CC

Fossil fuel and carbon-intensive donations

DeSmog’s analysis found that the Tories received £2.35M from fossil fuel interests and £5.7M from highly polluting industries, with donations coming from some of the highest-ranking party members.

Lord Michael Spencer, a Tory peer (eligible for a seat in the House of Lords and serve as a minister if called upon), has given £548,500 to the party since December 2019. He holds an 18.8% stake in Deltic Energy, the oil and gas exploration company that has been awarded multiple North Sea licences by the government. He has a stake in another British oil exploration company, and previously in an African company too.

Similarly, fellow Tory peer Lord Michael Farmer has donated £317,000 to the party in this period, and until April held shares in Shell and BP. He still has a stake in the BHP Group, which has mining and oil assets. And Alasdair Locke, chairman of the petrol station operator Motor Fuel Group, has given £280,000 – he is the founder and former executive chairman of Abbot Group, a major North Sea oil and gas services company.

Petrochemicals executive Amit Lohia delivered the largest polluting donation in this period, with a £2.3M contribution in March 2023. The party received more than £1.7M from construction giant JCB, which also sells diesel-powered generators and is chaired by Tory peer Lord Anthony Bamford. The built environment makes up a quarter of the UK’s GHG emissions, while the construction industry is responsible for 30% of particle pollution in London alone.

Christopher Harborne, owner of aviation fuel supplier AML Global and CEO of private jet trader Sheriff Global Group, has injected £1.6M into the party. The aviation industry accounted for 8% of the country’s emissions before Covid-19. “I am not a climate science denier,” he wrote in response to the story. “I do not seek to influence any government through donations or lobbying regarding their policies on climate change or in favour of corporate interests.”

airport pollution
Courtesy: Dade72/Adobe Stock

Climate deniers fuelling money into politics

Speaking of climate deniers, this group of people have given £404,000 to the Tories since they last got elected. Denying factual evidence on human-caused climate change and the importance of net zero has become a divisive practice “co-opted into the culture wars”, according to the Climate Action Against Disinformation coalition.

Hedge fund manager Lord Michael Hintze – another Conservative peer – was one of the early backers of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), Britain’s leading climate denial group. It has claimed that carbon dioxide is actually a “benefit to the planet”, and has been misrepresented as pollution. While Hintze has said he believes climate change is partly caused by human activity, he has suggested that “all sides must be heard” on climate change “to reach the right conclusion for society as a whole”.

Since December 2019, he has donated £294,000 to the Conservative party and several of its MPs, including energy security and net-zero secretary Claire Coutinho this January.

Likewise, the party has received £90,000 from First Corporate Consultants, which is owned by Terence Mordaunt, a director and former chair of the GWPF. He has previously said that “no one has proved yet that CO2 is the culprit” of climate change – but the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has suggested that carbon dioxide “is responsible for most of global warming” since the late 19th century.

First Corporate Consultants has also donated £200,000 to Reform UK, the second-largest recipient of polluting donations since December 2019. A large chunk of this sum (£1.1M) came from businesses run by its leader Richard Tice, a prominent climate science denier. He has claimed that “there is no climate crisis”, calling CO2 “plant food”. Reform UK has further received £1.4M in loans from Tisun Investments, another Tice-owned company, since the start of 2020.

“Climate change is real, Reform UK believes we must adapt, rather than foolishly think you can stop it,” a Reform UK spokesperson told DeSmog, although the party has called for the UK’s net-zero plan for 2050 to be scrapped and held up to a referendum. “We are proud to be the only party to understand that economic growth depends on cheap domestic energy, and we are proud that we are the only party that are climate science realists, realising you can not stop the power of the sun, volcanoes or sea level oscillation.”

rishi sunak net zero
Courtesy: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

Tory policies leave UK in breach of climate targets

The Labour Party has received £9,600 from the aviation firm Airbus, and £12,000 from biomass company Drax, the UK’s largest single source of carbon emissions. It has also obtained sizeable donations from green tech entrepreneurs, including Ecotricity founder Dale Vince.

Labour has promised to make climate policies a key tenet of its election campaign, partly to draw focus on the Conservatives’ mishandling of the situation. Over the last year, the Tories have softened their support for the national net-zero target, and brought in policies to increase fossil fuel extraction.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak, who arrived at COP28 in an individual private jet (separate from King Charles and David Cameron, who each had their own jets too) for a stay that lasted 11 hours, laid out plans to issue hundreds of new oil and gas licences in July 2023 to help “max out” the UK’s fossil fuel reserves.

He even launched his current election campaign by claiming he had “prioritised energy security and your family finances over environmental dogma”. Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries are supposed to be reducing their GHG emissions by 68% by 2030 (from a 1990 baseline), but the UK’s current policies would achieve just half the reduction required. This is a gap that has widened under Sunak’s reign, according to Friends of the Earth.

“The governing party we’ve had for the last 14 years is clearly in bed with the fossil fuel lobby. We’ve seen rowback after rowback on climate policy, as well as highly damaging rhetoric from political leaders. It’s clear that the Conservatives can’t be trusted to make the right decisions about energy policy,” said Greenpeace’s Whitaker.

“No political party should be taking any money from fossil fuel interests whatsoever,” Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, told DeSmog. “To have the Conservative party of government in their pocket to the tune of £8.4 million is simply outrageous and unacceptable. Is it any wonder they’ve adopted so many reactionary and dangerous policies to prop up planet-wrecking fossil fuels? He who pays the piper, calls the tune.”


  • Anay Mridul

    Anay is Green Queen's resident news reporter. Originally from India, he worked as a vegan food writer and editor in London, and is now travelling and reporting from across Asia. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, food tech, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford comma.

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