The Guardian appears to have developed an obsession this month with the Net Zero Scrutiny Group. Obsession doesn’t seem to be too strong a word, given the number of articles (nine including a podcast, by my calculation) that have appeared on that newspaper’s website in the last few weeks apparently seeking to discredit the Group.
A new Tory faction is ‘scrutinising’ net zero – with tactics learned from Brexit – The Net Zero Scrutiny Group is blaming the cost-of-living crisis on green policies. Its potential influence shouldn’t be ignored
The eariesti of the articles I have noticed appeared on the first of the month, bearing the above headline. Written by Eleanor Salter, the last words of the headline are really the bedrock of the article – “Its [i.e. the Net Zero Scrutiny Group’s] potential influence shouldn’t be ignored”. The Guardian has identified what it sees as a threat to the agenda it has been pushing so relentlessly for so long:
We underestimate the Net Zero Scrutiny Group at our peril. These seemingly small configurations can hugely influence policy. Tiny cracks of “climate scepticism” have the ability to activate huge rifts in attempts to limit temperature rises to 2C.
Worse still (from the Guardian’s point of view):
This is all compounded by the current fragility of Boris Johnson’s position. The prime minister’s perceived proximity to the net-zero strategy could mean MPs (such as those in the 100-strong Conservative Environment Network) are nervous to come out and make a strong case for net zero, lest it appear to be a vote of confidence in Johnson at this febrile time.
A week later, on 8th Februaryii, the ante was very definitely upped, as the Guardian sought in a single headline to invoke the spirit of opposition to Brexit, culture wars and fears for the UK’s green agenda. Quite a heady mix for the average Guardian reader, I imagine:
Tories fighting net zero plans are dragging climate into new culture war, experts say
More than half members of Net Zero Scrutiny Group were also in group that promoted Brexit vote, as fears grow for UK’s green agenda
The headline should have caught readers’ interest (and shock and horror). The article really went for it, even bringing Michael Mann in to the fray:
A group of Conservative politicians and their allies are on the “frontline” of a new climate war and are attempting to derail the government’s green agenda, according to claims by leading climate scientists…
…Michael Mann, one of the world’s leading authorities on the climate and author of The New Climate War, said the group appeared to be attempting to drag climate policies into a culture war, which he described as a “dangerous new tactic being used by those opposed to addressing the ecological emergency”.
“This is where the frontline of the battle is now, and yes, we do have to push back fiercely on this sort of pernicious disinformation,” he told the Guardian.
Speaking of disinformation, the article also contained this:
Two leading members have links to an organisation, often described as “climate-sceptic”, that was founded by the long-term climate denier Nigel Lawson.
I have read Nigel Lawson’s book “An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming” and have watched him on TV and listened to him on BBC Radio (before he was banned at the behest of the climate concerned) and consider the labelling of him as a “climate denier” (whatever one of those is – who denies climate?) to be tawdry and risible. However, it is an indication of the level of concern at the Guardian that so early in this month’s campaign, they resorted to such tactics.
On the same day, another articleiii apeared under the following headline:
‘It’s all a bit cynical’: the politicians behind the Tory attack on net zero agenda
Amid fears about the cost of living crisis, those opposed to government’s climate agenda appear to have sensed an opportunity
Struggling for anything new to say, perhaps, but apparently determined to continue the work of denigrating the campaign of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, the article again brought up connections to Nigel Lawson:
Baker is a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a prominent publisher of material questioning the consensus on climate science in the UK since it was launched by the former cabinet minister and long-time climate denier Nigel Lawson in 2009.
The GWPF is characterised by opponents as a source of climate science denial – a claim it denies.
During the Cop26 climate summit last year, Lord Lawson wrote an article arguing that “global warming is not a problem”, defended burning fossil fuels, and said carbon dioxide’s “principal effect” is the growth of plants.
Clearly, in the eyes of the Guardian, connection with the GWPF and Lord Lawson (again bizarrely castigated by the meaningless phrase “climate denier”) has put this organisation and all associated with it beyond the pale. How dare Lord Lawson tell some home truths, anyway!
Again, we find laid bare what lies at the heart of this attack by the Guardian:
There are tentative signs that the attack on the net zero agenda appears to be taking root. Members of the group have regularly surfaced across the media over the past few weeks to question the government’s plans.
By the next day, having set the scene with the three earlier articles, it was apparently time to go on the offensive and attempt to downplay the Net Zero Scrutiny Group by seeking to reinforce the view that there is pretty much complete consensus about net zero across all political parties, incluing the Conservative Party. I imagine that is why the next articleiv appeared with the following headline:
Most Conservative MPs support net zero, says Tory environment group
Body representing MPs and peers insists vast majority support climate plans despite vocal backbenchers
The article started as the Guardian meant to go on:
The “vast majority” of Conservative MPs support the government’s net zero climate plans despite increasingly vocal opposition from a small number of backbenchers, according to a Tory environment group…
…the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), which represents 123 MPs and 15 Tory peers, insisted the party’s rank and file remained committed to the government’s climate agenda.
Other than seeking to bolster morale among Guardianistas worried that Boris might go cold over the net zero agenda, it’s difficult to see what the point of yet another article was, especially given its repetitive nature:
More than half of its [Net Zero Scrutiny Group] members were involved in the European Research Group (ERG), which successfully pushed for the Brexit referendum inside the Tory party. This has led to fears of a similar “culture war” campaign around net zero and the end of the cross-party consensus on the need for climate action.
Yes, yes – you’ve already told us that. Anyway, the vital message was reiterated at the end of the article, and the usual suspects were brought on board to reinforce it:
Greenpeace’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, said the government should ignore the “small minority of misinformed” backbenchers.
“The vast majority of the country, young and old, Labour and Conservative, gets that the climate crisis is an existential threat and supports the idea of acting fast if we want to avoid the worst … Any government that’s committed to protecting people from extreme weather, creating jobs and a thriving economy should have no time for this nonsense. [sic]”
One might have thought that the job was, by now, well and truly done, but no! Two days later, on 11th February, the need to reiterate the last message was obviously just too much for the denizens of King’s Place. Thus, another day, another articlev, and another headline:
Tory group fighting net zero ‘a small minority’, say parliamentarians
Chairs of eight all-party parliamentary groups pledge to support the UK’s green agenda
Support had by now been gained by the great and the good of green politics, and Guardian readers needed to know:
MPs not fully behind net zero are “a small minority” and the government should stay committed to its goal, a cross-party group of parliamentarians has said.
Chairs of eight all-party parliamentary groups, including on climate change, net zero, clean air and fuel poverty, have written a letter to the Guardian , vowing they will “continue to support and promote ambitious environmental leadership in parliament”. …
…The signatories to the letter, which include the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, Anthony Browne, chair of the Environment APPG; the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, chair of the Sustainable Finance APPG; and the crossbench peer Lady Hayman, co-chair of Peers for the Planet, write that they hope to “reassure your readers and the public that parliamentarians who are not fully behind net zero are a small minority”…
In case that wasn’t enough, the article also continued with fairly lengthy quotes from Ed Miliband and Caroline Lucas.
Speaking of Caroline Lucas, on 16th February an articlevi written by her appeared at the Guardian under this headline:
Tory MPs fear that net zero is hurting poor people. Ignore their crocodile tears
Crocodile tears – who knows? I happen to agree with them, and I am certainly not shedding crocodile tears. I am angry that politicans (who claim to be left-wing) can write stuff like this:
There is something deeply confused about the Baker-Mackinlay attack on green levies as a burden on poorer people, when those levies have played a significant part in keeping energy bills down [sic]. Wind and solar generators in the last quarter of 2021, far from being a charge on bills, actually contributed £160m to lowering them[sic]. Furthermore, the MPs’ supposed concern for the least well-off in society didn’t stop them voting this month for a new “green” levy to finance nuclear power stations that will put bills up.
In any case, as has frequently been pointed out by energy experts, global gas prices are overwhelmingly responsible for the spike in energy bills, not green levies [sic]. Baker and Mackinlay and their ilk are paying more attention to energy lobbyists than the markets. Why else would they be arguing for more fracking or further North Sea gas investment, supposedly to drive bills down, when they know that any gas produced would sell at today’s global gas prices and simply feed windfall profits?
Anyway, the reason for the ongoing written onslaught again becomes apparent:
But there is a growing risk that in his efforts to keep his job the prime minister will be tempted to add green levies or Britain’s climate targets to the “red meat” being thrown to the Baker-Mackinlay groupuscule, to the concern of the climate diplomats such as the architect of the Paris agreement, Laurence Tubiana.
After all, obviously British energy policy should be dictated by foreign climate diplomats rather than by duly elected British MPs.
On the same day, yet another articlevii appeared, under the following headline:
Constituents set up ‘Steve Baker Watch’ over MP’s climate stance
Campaigners say Tory MP for Wycombe is trying to ‘wreck’ government plans for environment
By now, I couldn’t help feeling that I was detecting a whiff of desperation regarding this ongoing campaign. What followed was desperately thin gruel:
Constituents of Steve Baker MP who are concerned about his environmental position have set up a “Steve Baker Watch” group and are launching a crowdfunding page to raise money. The constituents in Baker’s constituency of Wycombe in the rolling Chiltern Hills believe that Baker is trying to “wreck the government plans to improve the environment”…
…Last week the Guardian reported on fears that the group was trying to derail the government’s green agenda, linking it to the cost-of-living crisis and leading to fears of a “culture war” campaign around net zero. [Yes, we know, you already told us].
The campaigners told the Guardian: “Steve’s Net Zero Watch campaign will make people’s lives in Wycombe miserable. He wants to stop us getting cheaper [sic] clean energy, insulating our homes and creating a better future for our children. We’ve had enough!”
They plan to “educate” local people about their MP’s views on climate action, including doing leaflet drops, holding vigils outside his office and setting up a website.
We aren’t told who they are, whether they are members of XR and the like, nor are we even told how many people they are (given that we aren’t told, presumably not very many). All of which rather makes the implicit attempt to minimise the significance of Steve Baker and his fellow MPs rather smack of double standards:
The NZSG group, which has gained widespread media coverage in the past month despite being small in number…
The following day, and clearly the Guardian’s work was not yet done. Another day, another articleviii, another headline:
Staff from climate sceptic group recruited by Tory MP behind net zero attacks
Further links emerge between Craig Mackinlay’s Net Zero Scrutiny Group and Global Warming Policy Foundation
This really strikes me as a non-story, given that so far as I am aware the links between Steve Baker, Craig Mackinlay, NZWG and the GWPF have never been hidden or denied. It does get the Guardian very excited, however:
A Tory MP who leads a group which campaigns against the government’s net zero measures has recruited two members of staff from a controversial organisation that questions climate science.
Those last words included an embedded link. I thought I should check it out, as I was interested in the Guardian’s evidence for its claims that the GWPF is a controversial organisation that questions climate science. It turned out to be a link to an earlier Guardian articleix with quotes from the likes of DeSmog UK and Bob Ward. However, back to February 2022:
After the Guardian revealed links between members of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, run by the MP Craig Mackinlay, and the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), further ties between the two organisations have been found.
Politico reported that Mackinlay, an outspoken critic of the government’s net zero policies, has taken on Harry Wilkinson, the head of policy at GWPF’s campaigning arm, Net Zero Watch, in addition to Ruth Lea, a former trustee of the arm, to work in his parliamentary office.
It appears that the involvement of Wilkinson, and his connections with Nigel Lawson, are just about the final straw for the Guardian:
Wilkinson is a critic of consensus on global heating, and has tweeted: “The ‘climate crisis’ is a religious belief, nothing to do with science.” He previously worked for Nigel Lawson, who founded the GWPF and makes claims such as: “I think that climate change is not a threat, it is happening very gently at a fraction of a degree per decade which is something we can perfectly well live with.”
I can’t say I have a problem with Nigel Lawson’s quoted “claim”.
And finally (for now) on 18th February 2022x:
The Tories attacking the UK’s net zero plans
The Net Zero Scrutiny Group insists it accepts the facts of the climate emergency. But as the cost of living crisis deepens, they see an opportunity to push back against the government’s climate agenda.
This time we are treated to a podcast of 24 minutes and 15 seconds duration. I confess I haven’t listened to it. I’ve read enough already.
It seems the Net Zero Scrutiny Group is achieving a great deal of publicity and traction, as will be obvious from a perusal of newspapers and media sites this year. That traction is likely to increase when massive energy price rises start affecting people in a couple of months’ time, and as it becomes apparent that as regards Ukraine and Russia, the west in general and the UK in particular have spectacularly check-mated themselves.
The fact that the Guardian has been sufficiently concerned as to run such a concentrated campaign this month suggests that the net zero advocates are severely concerned by this development. Long may they have cause for concern.