I recently spotted an article posted on the BBC website on 24th May 2021, and headed “Climate change: Carwyn Jones defends his record as he leaves Senedd”. Reading on, I discovered that this was an issue, because he has just been appointed as chair of Size of Wales (perhaps that should be “Sighs of Whales” or “Sighs and Wails”?), a “climate charity”.
Apparently his record as Welsh First Minister is an issue for some people, because although during his time in power the Senedd passed the Environment Act and the Well-being of Future Generations Acts, Wales consistently failed to meet tree-planting targets, and in some years Welsh CO2 emissions went up, rather than down. His explanation is that the Welsh government had to respond to the challenge of the 2008 financial crash. Disgracefully:
“[p]eople were more interested in the need to prop up our economies, making sure people have money in their pockets and are secure.”
But now things are different, it seems:
“The two things are not contradictory, and I’m glad to see now that climate change is going back up the agenda across the world.”
I disagree, on both points.
I had a quick look at Size of Wales’ website, and very swish it is too. It’s a bit ironic that tree-planting targets were missed while their new Chair was Welsh First Minister, given that “Size of Wales provides funding and expertise to local and indigenous communities in tropical regions to support them to secure and sustain their precious forests, grow more trees and establish sustainable livelihoods.”
They also employ quite a lot of staff – a Director; a Forest Projects and Community Outreach Manager; a Policy and Education Manager; a Head of Programmes; an Education and Youth Engagement Manager; a Communications and Marketing Manager; a Finance and Grants Manager; an Advocacy and Outreach Manager; and five Education Outreach Managers.
That’s a lot of wages. So I wondered where they get their funding. There is quite a list of funders, including (to name a few only) the Waterloo Foundation; Scottish Power Foundation; Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation; Natural Resources Wales; Public Health Wales; Sustain Wales; and the Welsh Government directly. Given the identity of their new Chair, funding from the Welsh Government seems, well…maybe just a little incestuous?
And that funding from the Welsh Government reaches Size of Wales in several different ways, given that, according to its own website:
“Natural Resources Wales is the largest Welsh Government Sponsored Body – employing 1,900 staff across Wales with a budget of £180 million. We were formed in April 2013, largely taking over the functions of the Countryside Council for Wales, Forestry Commission Wales and the Environment Agency in Wales, as well as certain Welsh Government functions.”
That is to say it is in effect a directly-funded arm of the Welsh Government which is diverting some of its own funding to a charity which supports forests that are not in Wales. The same is true of Public Health Wales, whose website says:
“We work to protect and improve health and well-being and reduce health inequalities for the people of Wales.”
What has that got to do with foreign forests, and why is it a valid use of their public funding to divert some of it to the Size of Wales charity?
All this set me to wondering about the whole idea of climate charities. A separate, but related, thought is what it means to be charitable, and how can a charity be regarded as such when it is heavily reliant on Government funding.
What is charity?
In 1601 the English Parliament passed the Charitable Uses Act, also widely known as the Statute of Elizabeth. It provided an early official definition of charity, even if the definition was contained in the preamble to the statute, and so wasn’t technically the legal definition. As the official commentary on the clauses of the then Charities Bill 2005 put it:
“It was, in effect, a list of purposes or activities that the State believed were of general benefit to society, and to which the State wanted to encourage private contributions.”
Note that the state wanted to encourage private contributions. Now the state seems to be one of the main funders of many charities.
Broadly speaking, the Preamble to the Statute of Elizabeth read as follows:
“Relief of the aged, impotent, and poor people; maintenance of sick and maimed soldiers and mariners, schools of learning, free schools, and scholars in universities, repair of bridges, ports, havens, causeways, churches, seabanks, and highways, education and preferment of orphans, for or towards relief of stock, or maintenance for houses of correction, marriages of poor maids, supportation, aid, and help of young tradesmen, handicraftsmen, and persons decayed, relief or redemption of prisoners or captives, aide or ease of any poor inhabitants concerning payments of fifteens, setting out soldiers and other taxes.”
Nevertheless, during the centuries that followed, the Courts tended to bear it in mind when considering whether an activity qualified for charitable status.
The Times They Are a’Changing
Despite being repealed in 1888, the Statute of Elizabeth cast a long shadow, and thanks to the case law that had developed prior to its repeal, the basic ideas it contained remained relevant even after its repeal. But all that has now changed. In the UK the definition of charitable purposes is now contained in the Charities Act 2011, and falls into two parts. Firstly, it has to be for the public benefit, and secondly, it has to be for a purpose set out in section 3(1) of the Act. Section 3 (1) contains a long list, so long that most things could be brought within its terms if a little imagination is used:
- The prevention or relief of poverty;
- The advancement of education;
- The advancement of religion;
- The advancement of health or the saving of lives;
- The advancement of citizenship or community development;
- The advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or science;
- The advancement of amateur sport;
- The advancement of human rights, conflict resolution or reconciliation or the promotion of religious or racial harmony or equality and diversity;
- The advancement of environmental protection or improvement;
- The relief of those in need because of youth, age, ill-health, disability, financial hardship or other disadvantage;
- The advancement of animal welfare;
- The promotion of the efficiency of the armed forces of the Crown or of the efficiency of the police, fire and rescue services or ambulance services.
And there’s a catch-all in case the above isn’t sufficiently comprehensive (recreational and similar trusts or recognised under the old law).
This isn’t the place to query the merits of any particular purpose stated in the list (though I may not be alone in raising an eyebrow at “the promotion of the efficiency of the armed forces”). Suffice it to say that the above list has given the world of climate change alarm a further opportunity to benefit from taxpayer largesse, in the form of the tax breaks that go along with charitable status, and in some cases in direct funding from the UK Government, devolved governments within the UK, or various arms of the state.
Other Climate Change Charities
There are websites you can visit to identify climate change charities. In fairness, the one I visited offers up a whole list of charities which are, at most, peripherally interested in climate change, and whose primary purpose is often to protect the local environment in the places where they are based. Others, though, are unashamedly about climate change and nothing else. One of the foremost will be very familiar to the our readers:
This is what they say about themselves:
“We exist because climate change doesn’t communicate itself, even with the increasing number of climate impacts. We help people understand this complex issue in ways that resonate with their sense of identity, values and worldview. Informed consent and support from people across society and around the world creates what we call a social mandate for climate action – and we believe it’s how real change happens.”
I would question the “informed consent” bit, given that in the UK all the main political parties are signed up to “net zero”, the public hasn’t been given a meaningful electoral choice, and nobody (least of all Climate Outreach) is telling the public what “net zero” will cost and the impact it will have on their lives.
The bit that intrigued me, though, is the section of the website that proudly thanks their funders:
KR Foundation; Samworth Foundation; Joseph Rowntree Foundation Trust; New Economics Foundation; European Climate Foundation; The World Bank; Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation; Climate-KIC; Marmot; Climate and Land Use Alliance; Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation; The National Lottery; King Baudoin Foundation; European Commission; Economic and Social Research Council; Natural England.
So this charity is supported by other charities, the European Commission, the UK government and numerous wealthy institutions. It’s a far cry from a flag day in the High Street on a Saturday morning. Their “core team” runs to 25 individuals, they have six trustees; a seven member Research Advisory Board; and seven associates, including a Diversity and Inclusion Specialist for Climate Visuals Countdown, a graphic designer, a climate visuals associate, and a strategic consultant on UK climate engagement.
I now turn the spotlight upon another charity that also probably needs little introduction:
Their website tells us that they’re an international organisation with offices in London, New York and Delhi. Since 2003 their network has grown to include over 300 multinational businesses in 140 markets worldwide. It is the Secretariat for the Under2 Coalition, which we are informed is made up over 220 governments, representing more than 1.3 billion people and 43% of the global economy.
Sounds like big business to me, yet it’s a UK registered charity, being supported, via tax breaks, by the UK taxpayer. (By the way, they’re also supported, so their website tells us, by the Energy & Climate Change Directorate of the Scottish Government).
In fairness to their ten trustees, they are unpaid (though one gets the impression that none of them need the money).
One of their trustees is Amber Rudd, former Cabinet Minister. Chair of Trustees is Joan MacNaughton, who their website describes as “an influential figure in international energy and climate policy.” Other trustees are an international and corporate finance lawyer; a senior chartered accountant who has worked with wind and solar farm developers; a climate change and international development specialist; and a former President of South Australia.
Many would regard these as the great and the good, and I am happy to credit them with the best of intentions. However, I am not happy personally at the use being made of charity law by unashamedly campaigning and highly profitable organisations.
Some Concluding Thoughts
Fings ain’t what they used to be, and the world of charities has changed out of all recognition. The fabulously-funded climate change blob has wasted no time in taking advantage of the very broad definition of charity contained in the UK Charities Act (and no doubt in similar statutes around the world). I’m not suggesting that anyone here is doing anything wrong – all this is perfectly in line with the law. I just wonder whether UK charities law needs something of a re-think. Multi-million charities, with lavish funding, including from world governments and international bodies (such as the European Commission) and from massive charitable foundations don’t shake tins in front of people anymore, because they don’t need to. They’re big businesses. And that being the case, is it really right that they enjoy additional tax breaks (and often state funding) by virtue of charitable status?
In my view, these big businesses might more appropriately register as community benefit societies, i.e. businesses that are run for the benefit of the wider community, re-investing profits in the community, under the Financial Conduct Authority. The Climate Psychology Alliance, for instance, has gone down this route, and I give them full marks for doing so, even though I find it extremely worrying that climate change propaganda has brought us to such a state that there is a place for an organisation for people “who want to engage in addressing the psychological aspects of the climate and ecological emergency.” What have the climate alarmists done?