ONLY seventy-two hours into Liz Truss becoming the Prime Minister she had lifted the ban on fracking. The last time the Conservatives were actually elected into power was 2019 and they said they would not support fracking. Such a policy U-turn already exemplified Truss’ contempt for the general public and embrace of climate change scepticism.

Truss’s election as Conservative leader represented a shift towards climate change sceptic policies. Truss filled her Cabinet with climate change sceptics such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Suella Braverman. Jacob Rees-Mogg as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), stated he wanted to extract every last cubic inch of gas from the North Sea.

Previous Conservative governments banned fracking and set a legally binding target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. A climate change sceptic group of Tory MP’s set up the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) to criticise the net zero target and promote fossil fuels.

In January, the NZSG announced themselves by endorsing increased fossil fuel production in an open letter published by The Telegraph. Five days later Conservative MP Chris Skidmore announced the formation of the Net Zero Support Group. The group aims to maintain support for net zero policies within the Conservative Party. There is an ideological split taking place in the Conservative party over climate change and energy policy.

When interviewing Lord Lilley, a member of the NZSG, he said that Truss becoming Prime Minister: “May help achieve what they want.”

The two most prominent members of the NZSG, Craig Mackinlay MP for South Thanet and Steve Baker MP for Wycombe, both publicly backed Truss in her campaign to become the new Conservative leader. The policies that the NZSG campaigned for were then implemented by Truss as Prime Minister of the UK.

Who are the Net Zero Scrutiny Group?

FORMER UKIP leader Craig Mackinlay is Chair of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group. Many members like Steve Baker were a part of the pro-Brexit lobby group, the European Research Group. The Net Zero Scrutiny Group represent the hard right of the Conservative Party.

In March, Politico reported that the NZSG had grown to 58 members.

The group has close ties with the climate change denial think tank, Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). Craig Mackinlay who is chair of the NZSG, hired Harry Wilkinson, head of policy at the GWPF, as a political aide. Another aide to Mackinlay, Ruth Lea, is a trustee at the GWPF.

Lord Peter Lilley said: “I used to be a member of the Global Warming Policy Foundation and Steve Baker is a member of their committee. I’m still supportive of them in principle. There is good relationship between that group [Global Warming Policy Foundation] and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group.”

Steve Baker recently stepped down as a member of the GWPF so that he could take his position as Minister of State for Northern Ireland.

What is the Net Zero Scrutiny Group campaigning for?

THE pro-fossil fuel rhetoric of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group shares the same rhetoric as the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). A report by the GWPF, titled ‘A Saviour Spurned: How Fracking Saved Us From Global Warming’, argued that fracking will prevent worst-case scenario climate change because natural gas is only slightly more polluting than wind turbines.

Lord Lilley argued in favour of fracking because he believes it will cut down on the UK’s emissions. “It is better to produce gas in the UK than buying it from abroad because then there are fewer emissions”, he said.

Last October, the Global Warming Policy Forum which is the campaigning arm of the GWPF, rebranded itself as Net Zero Watch. Steve Baker and Craig Mackinlay are regularly interviewed for ‘Net Zero Watch’ articles which is further evidence of the close collaboration between the NZSG and GWPF. In a "Net Zero Watch" article which argued for renewing fracking, Steve Baker is quoted as saying: “The sooner we supply UK shale gas to our European partners, the sooner they can be free of this monstrous dependency on a criminal Russian regime.”

The National: FORMER UKIP leader Craig Mackinlay is Chair of the Net Zero Scrutiny GroupFORMER UKIP leader Craig Mackinlay is Chair of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group

Lord Lilley said he is not sceptical of climate science but went on to say: “49 out of 50 climate models from around the world have been incorrect. The Russian model is the only accurate one”.

Climate scientist and expert on climate models, Zeke Hausfather, said that the study Lord Lilley quoted was produced by John Christy. Christy compared climate models to temperatures taken at the tropic mid troposphere, which is one mile up in the sky. The study by Christy left out surface level temperatures and Hausfather described it as a ‘classic example of cherry picking’.

The GWPF published a report quoting Christy arguing that climate models cannot be trusted. There is a strong correlation between the work the GWPF publish and the views of NZSG members.

An investigation by Open Democracy revealed that the GWPF received over $200,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation which has $9 million in Exxon shares and $5.7 million in Chevron shares. Over seventy people signed a letter to the Charity Commission arguing GWPF’s charitable status should be removed as it is effectively a ‘fossil fuel lobby group’. The very arguments being used by the GWPF, and by extension the NZSG, are directly financed by groups with ties to the fossil fuel industry.

The fossil fuel industry is still controlling the agenda around climate change through financing climate change denial think tanks to publish material that influences the policies of politicians.

How climate change scepticism reached Number 10

As part of her plans to deal with the cost of living crisis, Truss reversed the ban on fracking and announced a new round of oil and gas licensing.

Truss has long been an opponent of green policies. In 2014, when she was Environment Minister, she cut subsidies to solar farms. She has consistently voted against measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, such as voting against the need for new homes to have lower carbon emission levels.

Truss wanted to scrap green levies. Green levies are a charge added to electricity bills that goes towards funding renewable projects and social schemes such as Warm Home Discount. Robert Halfon, an NZSG member, wrongly claimed green levies make up 25% of the cost of an energy bill when it only makes up 8%.

Truss has met with climate change denial think tanks, Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation.

Out of the £420,000 Truss raised for her leadership campaign, £100,000 came from the wife of a former BP executive.

Without her history of close ties to fossil fuel industry executives, climate change denial think tanks and opposition to renewables and lowering carbon emissions it is unlikely Mackinlay or Baker would have backed Truss’s campaign. The NZSG knew if Truss could get into Number 10 the policies they’ve campaigned for would be implemented.

Once in power, Liz Truss filled her Cabinet with fellow climate change sceptics. Suella Braverman was appointed as Home Secretary. Braverman promised to scrap the net zero target as part of her failed Conservative leadership election campaign. Her campaign to become Tory leader received £10,000 from a company owned by Terence Mordaunt, who was Chair of the GWPF between 2019 and 2021.

The National: Jacob Rees-Mogg has a history of climate denialismJacob Rees-Mogg has a history of climate denialism

Truss’s appointment of Jacob Rees-Mogg to Secretary of BEIS meant that Rees-Mogg was in charge of the UK’s energy policies. Rees-Mogg has a history of climate denialism. Writing for The Telegraph in 2013, Rees-Mogg questioned the reliability of climate models.

The Independent revealed that Somerset Capital Management, a firm Rees-Mogg founded, held investments worth about £3 million in mining firms and £2.4 million in oil and gas producers. Personal financial gains might be one reason for Rees-Mogg’s support of fossil fuels.

By putting climate change sceptics in her Cabinet, Truss ensured she had the support necessary to pursue climate change sceptic policies such as reversing the ban on fracking.

The effects of this shift in views on climate change and energy policy is evident even amongst ‘green’ Conservative groups. The Conservative Environment Network (CEN) are a group of Tory politicians who claim to support the net zero target and nature restoration.

Lord Howard is a member of the CEN but he supports fracking, saying: “If there is gas to be provided from fracking in this country, I couldn’t see any reason for not having it.” This is indicative of how widespread support for fracking is within the Conservative Party. Lord Howard justified his support of fracking by arguing that the gas shortage has made increased domestic fossil fuel production necessary. However, he did say: “The worry is, as a result of short-term action to deal with the problems caused in Ukraine, we might find ourselves with a long-term problem.” The problem is that these short-term solutions aren’t even short term, with the average oil and gas field taking between five and ten years before it starts producing fossil fuels.

The National: A ban on fracking in England has been lifted as the Government pushes for an increase in domestic energy productionA ban on fracking in England has been lifted as the Government pushes for an increase in domestic energy production

Backlash to the removal of the fracking ban

Green Tories have pushed back against the rise of climate change scepticism in the Conservative Party. Former Conservative Environment Secretary John Gummer and Sir John Armitt, who chair the Committee on Climate Change and the National Infrastructure Commission, wrote to Truss warning: “The UK cannot address this crisis solely by increasing its production of natural gas… our gas reserves – offshore or from shale – are too small to impact meaningfully the prices faced by UK consumers.”

Graham Stuart, a Tory known for his support of net zero targets, was made junior Minister for Climate Change. Stuart’s appointment came a day after Rees-Mogg was made Secretary of BEIS in a move believed to be due to pressure put on Truss by green Tories over Rees-Mogg’s appointment.

Rees-Mogg proposed designating fracking sites as nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIP) which would allow them to bypass local planning requirements. Mark Menzies, who is the Conservative MP in the constituency where the Preston New Road fracking site is situated, said that using the NSIP system would breach Truss’ campaign promise to gain local consent for fracking. Mark Fletcher, the Conservative MP for Bolsover said: “It seems to come back to local communities being bought off rather than having a vote.”

In an interview on BBC Radio Lancashire Truss could not answer how she would gain local consent for fracking. She also admitted to having never visited the fracking site.

At the Conservative Party conference, Greenpeace disrupted Truss’ speech to protest the lifting of the moratorium on fracking. The protesters held up a sign saying: “Who voted for this?”.

The National: Anti-fracking protestersAnti-fracking protesters

Claire Stephenson from Frack Free Lancashire said: “Fracking is a failed technology in the UK and should absolutely be confined to the past. We’ve witnessed more than ten years of attempts to jack gas out of the ground of Lancashire, with no progress. There have, however been uncontrollable earthquakes and structural damage – almost 200 reported claims.”

Mary Church from Friends of the Earth Scotland said: “It’s welcome that the Scottish Government has reaffirmed its fracking moratorium, but it must go further and do everything it can to oppose the UK Government’s reckless plans to expand fossil fuels and hand out permits for oil and gas companies to explore and drill in the North Sea. It must also end its support for existing extraction plans by cutting its own subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.”

Truss might be gone but climate change scepticism remains

I interviewed Lord Lilley just days after Truss was appointed Conservative leader and asked him whether the NZSG’s influence is growing within government. Lord Lilley said: “Events are influencing things in a direction we would like to see.”

Truss being PM was advantageous for the NZSG as they had a leader that shared their views. Both the NZSG and Truss had a history of ties to climate change denial think tanks. They both used talking points that came directly from groups funded by the fossil fuel industry. Truss represented the rise of climate scepticism to the very top of Conservative Party and UK politics. Truss might have failed to reintroduce fracking but that doesn’t mean another Conservative leader won’t successfully start up the fracking industry.

On Wednesday, MPs voted on a Labour motion to ban fracking. Conservative MPs out voted the Labour motion. In total 326 Tory MPs voted in favour of not banning fracking. This vote demonstrates clearly the widespread support fracking has in the Conservative Party.

Instead of the fall of Truss representing the end of climate change scepticism in the Conservatives, it could just be the beginning of a long-sustained attack on the environment and the net zero target by the Tories.

Rishi Sunak, came second in the last leadership race and is seen as the favourite to become the new Conservative leader. Rishi Sunak supported reintroducing fracking in his last failed leadership bid. Sunak also announced he would make it harder to build onshore wind farms.

Sunak wrote a report in 2015 for the think tank, Centre for Policy Studies, which has previously published reports questioning the seriousness of climate change.

Sunak, like Truss, has ties to think tanks that spread climate change misinformation and supports the very same climate sceptic policies Truss advocated for. If he is to replace Truss, Sunak will represent the continuation of climate change scepticism within the Tories. Ultimately, until the Conservatives are removed from power, we are likely to see climate scepticism dominate climate change and energy policies for years to come.