Nigel Lawson's climate-change denial charity 'intimidated' environmental expert

Academic claims that the former chancellor's foundation complained to his employer

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A think-tank that has become the UK's most prominent source of climate-change denial is embroiled in a row about its charitable status. There are also claims that one of its trustees tried to exact "retribution" on the person who complained about it to the charities watchdog.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), set up by the former chancellor Lord Lawson, a Conservative, was accused of publishing "inaccurate and misleading" information about climate science in a formal complaint to the Charity Commission in June last year.

In his submission to the commissioners, Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said the "continual activity has damaged the public interest" and was a breach of the rules governing charities.

After receiving advice from the commission, GWPF announced on Friday that it would create a non-charitable company that would be able "to conduct campaigns and activities which do not fall squarely within the educational remit of the charity".

Mr Ward, well known for his attempts to hold climate-change deniers to account, said he had submitted the complaint in a private capacity. But he revealed that a trustee of GWPF had written to his employer, the London School of Economics, earlier this year accusing him of making "unacceptable", "ill-informed" and "ranting" comments in the media about global warming and energy policies despite not being an academic.

In one letter, the trustee said the LSE should be aware that a "distinguished Oxford scientist" had told him: "It's appalling that the LSE employs people like Bob Ward." The trustee, whose identity Mr Ward requested be kept anonymous, did not mention his own link to the GWPF.

Mr Ward, who is a fellow of The Geological Society, said he had informed the Charity Commission about the letters, only to be told they could not investigate.

He has now written to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, which oversees the Charity Commission, to complain about the length of time it has taken the commissioners to act and its failure to look into the letters. He noted in his complaint that he believes the letters were "intended, at least partly, as a form of retribution against me for having raised concerns about the foundation with the Charity Commission".

"This is the way in which the foundation goes about its business, trying to intimidate its opponents into silence," he told The Independent on Sunday. "For someone in a less secure position than [me], this could be extremely damaging."

Benny Peiser, a social anthropologist who is director of the GWPF, said the foundation was not involved in the actions of the trustee.

"I don't know anything about this letter …. This has nothing to do with the GWPF, which is unaware of any of this," he said.

Dr Peiser confirmed the changes to the foundation were made following advice from the Charity Commission, but dismissed the role of Mr Ward, claiming that he "didn't feature at all" in their discussions with the watchdog.

And he said that setting up the new non-charitable body "just makes us more effective and allows us to be a little bit more outspoken because, under charitable law, you cannot really campaign".

The GWPF does not dispute the physics of climate change – such as the warming effect of greenhouse gases – but argues that the Earth's atmosphere is less sensitive than thought by the vast majority of scientists and that humans should simply "adapt" to the new conditions, rather than trying to prevent them from occurring by switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The Charity Commission said that Mr Ward's complaint was still an active case.

"The commission has been engaging with the trustees of the charity [GWPF] since we received a complaint relating to some of its statements and published material," it said.

"We advised the trustees that we did not consider that all the contents of the website advanced education, as required of a charity. In addition, we had raised a question with the trustees about whether all the content of the website was in line with our guidance on campaigning and political activity by charities."

It said it had suggested that parts of the website should be "separated from the charity and hosted by an independent organisation" and the GWPF had submitted its proposals to do this.

The Charity Commission added that it hoped the plans would be finalised by the end of July.

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