Lord Lawson’s climate-sceptic think-tank is under review by the Charity Commission, it has emerged, as one of its leading advisers was revealed in an undercover sting to have offered to write an academic paper casting doubt on global warming on behalf of a sham oil company.
The review, which is looking at a range of “potential concerns” about the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), was launched within the past few months after complaints from environmentalists that the group is a campaigning – not an educational – organisation. The Charity Commission confirmed its review will look at new information that emerged from a Greenpeace investigation this week.
Investigators found that Professor William Happer – a Princeton University physicist, prominent climate sceptic, and member of GWPF’s Academic Advisory Council – was willing to write a report highlighting the benefits of carbon emissions after being approached by an investigator posing as a consultant for a Middle Eastern oil and gas company. In emails sent to investigators, Professor Happer said he could write the paper if a fee of $8,000 (£5,270) was donated to the CO2 Coalition, a group set up to “shift the debate from the unjustified criticism of CO2 and fossil fuels”.
He also said that any paper would be likely to undergo “major changes” if submitted to a peer-reviewed, scientific journal, and suggested it be reviewed under a process used by the GWPF, whereby the group’s own advisers and selected external experts carried out the peer review.
Lord Lawson, a former Conservative Chancellor, stood by Professor Happer and said the GWPF, which he chairs, has a “very thorough peer review process … in many ways better than the standard peer review system in most academic magazines”.
However, the GWPF director Dr Benny Peiser acknowledged the think-tank’s trustees should “review” Greenpeace’s findings and “decide how to handle advisers”.
John Sauven, Greenpeace UK’s executive director, said the organisation had “serious questions to answer”. “Does it condone a member of its academic council agreeing to be secretly sponsored to write a report by a group purporting to be from a Middle Eastern oil company? Have reports by senior figures in Lawson’s foundation been secretly paid for by the fossil fuel industry?
“Does it accept that the foundation’s so-called ‘peer-review’ process is flawed?”
Dr Peiser said the GWPF had “never taken a commission from outside” and had “no corporate donors or any donors to do with energy interests whatsoever”.
Peer review by a scientific journal is considered the gold standard for academic publication. Sense About Science, the group which campaigns for unbiased reporting of scientific findings, states that research findings can be considered valid when they have been “peer reviewed and published in a scientific journal”.
The group has warned that organisations which claim to have papers peer reviewed but “have only shown it to some colleagues” show themselves to be “biased”.
However, Dr Peiser defended GWPF’s peer-review process. “Peer review cannot only happen through peer-reviewed journals. There have been reports of serious problems within the conventional peer-review process,” he told The Independent. “Can you imagine if every report we submitted went to a scientific journal – all the protests of people saying ‘we would never accept that for publication’? Not because it’s right or wrong, just that they do not want it to be published.”
Climate change around the world - in pictures
Climate change around the world - in pictures
Calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers are seen floating on the water in Qaqortoq, Greenland
2/17 Coastal systems and low-lying areas
Flood damaged streets in Queens, New York where the historic boardwalk was washed away due to Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The report predicts that by the end of the century “hundreds of millions of people will be affected by coastal flooding and displaced due to land loss”
3/17 Food security
Widespread drought devastated a corn crop on a farm near Bruceville, Indiana in 2012. The report forecasts that climate change will reduce median yields by up to 2 per cent per decade for the rest of the century
4/17 The global economy
The Evening Standard headline board showing the words 'Black Friday Shares Crash' in London in October 2008 in London. The report warns a global mean temperature increase of 2.5C above pre-industrial levels may lead to global aggregate economic losses of between 0.2 and 2.0 per cent
5/17 Human health
A child suffering from malnutrition and diarrhoea is seen at the Banadir hospital in the Somalian capital of Mogadishu in 2009. Climate change will lead to increases in ill-health in many regions, with examples including an increased likelihood of under-nutrition.
6/17 Human security
A Muslim migrant holds his son as they are detained at the Immigration Police Office on the Thai-Malaysian border in March 2014. The report states that climate change over the 21st century will have a significant impact on forms of migration that compromise human security
7/17 Freshwater resources
A villager walks through a parched paddy in Tianlin county, China in 2012. The report finds that climate change will “reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources significantly in most dry subtropical regions"
8/17 Unique landscapes
Machair, a grassy coastal habitat found only in north-west Scotland and the west coast of Ireland, is one of the several elements of the UK’s “cultural heritage” that is at risk from climate change
A boat navigates among calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers in Qaqortoq, Greenland. Boats are a crucial mode of transportation in the country that has few roads. As cities like Miami, New York and other vulnerable spots around the world strategize about how to respond to climate change, many Greenlanders simply do what theyve always done: adapt. 'Were used to change, said Greenlander Pilu Neilsen. 'We learn to adapt to whatever comes. If all the glaciers melt, well just get more land
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is seen after being inaugurated in Longyearbyen, Norway. The 'doomsday' seed vault built to protect millions of food crops from climate change, wars and natural disasters opened deep within an Arctic mountain in the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard
A technician preparing to drain a vast underground lake at the Tete Rousse glacier on the Mont Blanc Alpine mountain, to avert a potentially disatrous flood. Some 65,000 cubic metres (2.3 million cubic feet) of water have gathered in a cavity, dangerously raising the pressure beneath the mountain, a favourite spot for holiday makers in Saint-Gervais-les-Bains
Oroumieh, one of the biggest saltwater lakes on Earth, has shrunk more than 80 percent to 1,000 square kilometers in the past decade. It shrinks mainly because of climate change, expanded irrigation for surrounding farms and the damming of rivers that feed the body of water
Cracked mud is picture at sunrise in the dried shores of Lake Gruyere affected by continous drought near the western Switzerland village of Avry-devant-Pont. A leading climate scientist warned that Europe should take action over increasing drought and floods, stressing that some climate change trends were clear despite variations in predictions
Cattle graze on grassland that remains dry and brown at the height of the rainy season in south of Bakersfield, California. Its third straight year of unprecedented drought, California is experiencing its driest year on record, dating back 119 years, and dating back as far as 500 years, according to some scientists who study tree rings
An aerial view shows tents of flood-displaced people surrounded by water in southern Sehwan town. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Christiana Figueres met with people displaced by last year's devastating floods. Catastrophic monsoon rains that swept through the country in 2010 and affected some 20 million people, destroyed 1.7 million homes and damaged 5.4 million acres of arable land
An aerial view of flooding in North Wagga Wagga. Climate change is amplifying risks from drought, floods, storm and rising seas, threatening all countries but small island states, poor nations and arid regions in particular, UN experts warned
Damages caused by a landslide on the Pan-American highway near La Moramulca, 55 Km south of Tegucigalpa. International highways have been washed out, villages isolated and thousands of families have lost homes and crops in a region that the United Nations has classified as one of the most affected by climate change
He said the GWPF was “discussing with [the Charity Commission] how to handle complaints” against it.
A spokesperson for the Charity Commission said: “I can confirm that we have a case open assessing a number of potential concerns about the charity. While that case is open, we cannot comment in detail on it. I should make clear that this is not a formal investigation (statutory inquiry). We are assessing potential concerns that have been identified. We have not drawn conclusions as to what, if any, regulatory role there might be for us.”
Lord Lawson said: “We have a large number of people on our advisory council. They’re not part of the staff of the GWPF. They’re distinguished academics. Happer is a distinguished academic.”
Professor Happer has not denied the veracity of emails obtained by Greenpeace. He said he had only responded to the undercover inquiries “for an opportunity to get more publicity” for his views on the benefits of CO2. “I considered this an opportunity to try to educate more people on what I think is the truth about CO2,” he said.Reuse content