Britain’s charity watchdog has been criticised after dismissing calls from 70 leading scientists, including a former chief scientific adviser, to remove the charitable status of a high-profile climate change denialism group.
In a letter sent to the Charity Commission, Sir David King and 73 other experts said the activities of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) “are detrimental to the general public from both an educational and health perspective”, and urged the watchdog to remove the group from the Register of Charities.
The GWPF, a lobbying group first founded by Lord Nigel Lawson, has long been accused of spreading misinformation about climate change “with little or no regard” for scientific fact and seeking to slow progress on necessary action.
It has been described as the country’s most prominent source of climate change denialism and has previously been admonished by the House of Lords Charity Committee for breaking rules on impartiality.
However, in response to the scientists’ letter, the Charity Commission said it “does not have the ability to assess the scientific accuracy of the Foundation’s reports.” Nor is it “within the Commission’s remit to do so,” the watchdog added.
Professor Ben Sheldon, head of the department of zoology at the University of Oxford and a signee of the letter, said it was “disappointing to see the Charity Commission fail to grasp the issue”.
Mark Maslin, a professor of Earth System Science at University College London, said he was “deeply concerned” that GWPF is continuing to be recognised as a charity “even though their aim is to undermine meaningful action on climate change.”
The 74 scientists said the foundation, which is also registered as an educational charity, was failing to meet its self-declared objective of advancing “the public understanding of global warming and of its possible consequences”.
“Education should have the goal of furthering the general public’s knowledge and understanding of a given topic,” the scientists write. “But it is clear that the foundation’s work does not do this. The foundation’s reports consistently fall out of line with the scientific literature on the topics they comment on.”
Earlier this week, a new survey of 88,125 climate-related studies, published between 2012 and 2020, revealed that over 99.9 per cent of peer-reviewed scientific papers concur that humans are the major cause of climate change and global warming.
The GWPF falsely claims that there is no scientific consensus on climate change, describing the facts as “contested”. It campaigns against renewable energy and says it is “deeply concerned about the costs” of climate action.
It says it does not officially take a view on climate climate science and that its members “cover a broad range of different views, from the IPCC position through agnosticism to outright scepticism”.
The authors of the letter said the foundation’s “publication and promotion of misleading information means they are not working for the public benefit.”
“This sets a dangerous precedent for what is acceptable from an educational charity,” the scientists added. Their views and reports “wouldn’t be acceptable at school and so it shouldn’t be acceptable for an educational charity.”
The experts urged the Charity Commission to revoke the GWPF’s charitable status “with immediate effect” and employ a “pro-science policy when advising and regulating” the sector.
Pete Smith, a professor of soils and global change at the University of Aberdeen who signed the letter, said the intention of the group was “to confuse and slow progress on necessary climate action”, adding that its activities “do not seem to me to be consistent with charitable status”.
Lord Lawson first established GWPF in 2009 and has steadfastly refused to name the funders behind the foundation. In 2014, two men linked to the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), which has admitted taking funding from fossil fuel companies and has also argued against climate change mitigation, were revealed to have donated to the GWPF.
A spokesperson for the group said: “The Global Warming Policy Foundation is providing a platform for educational research and informed debates. In order to make progress and advance effective policy assessments, it is essential to cultivate a culture of open debate, tolerance and learning.”
A spokesperson for the Charity Commission said is not open to the Commission to remove charitable status as a sanction, adding: “We recently contacted the trustees of the Global Warming Policy Foundation about the content of its website. In response, the charity reviewed and made changes to its website and we did not identify a need for ongoing engagement at this time.
“Trustees must ensure their activities always further their charitable purposes and we expect the charity to continue to comply with its duties and act in accordance with charity law. Should further concerns come to light we would assess them.”