Peers Attack Government Climate Scientists at Taxpayers' Expense - Official Memo

Lord Lawson’s climate denying Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) has been accused of wasting taxpayers’ money through the inappropriate use of parliamentary questions, internal government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show.

Lord Donoughue (pictured), a Labour peer and member of the GWPF board of trustees, bombarded the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) with a total of 25 questions over 15 months relating to obscure climate models.

The climate denying member of the House of Lords was relying on statistical analysis from a statistician named Doug Keenan, who claims to have worked on Wall Street and the City of London, even though it appears he can only boast of “studying independently” since 1995.

The impasse between the climate deniers and the government only came to light after senior officials at DECC conducted an internal review into a Freedom of Information application from Request Initiative on behalf of Greenpeace’s climate news portal Energydesk

Donoughue also appears to have been working with other supporters of the GWPF - which to this day refuses to name its funders. Peter Lilley, recently appointed to the advisory board, and David Davies, the only MP to attend the charity’s launch more than five years ago, have also asked questions in the House of Commons. 

Becoming Unreasonable

Baroness Verma, the then parliamentary under secretary of state at DECC, set up a meeting in January last year with the two men - the minutes of which have now been released. Officials hoped the meeting would “put a line” under the parliamentary questions as the “the costs of answering them was by then becoming unreasonable.”

Officials warned the minister prior to the meeting that the parliamentary questions were “part of a proactive campaign to attack climate science by lobby groups” and “an attempt to undermine the general recognition by the scientific community that the rise in global surface temperatures over the last century is significant”.

The officials still believed the meeting was worth holding. “It is unlikely that Keenan will be won over but we can try and steer Lord Donoughue away from relying on Keenan for his views on climate change,” they argued.

During the meeting, Keenan suggested that DECC ignore the work of thousands of scientists developed over decades on understanding global average temperatures and instead turn time to series models used by City slickers (who predicted the 2008 crisis so well).

The statisticians in academia and climate change are not qualified”, he is quoted in the official minutes as claiming.

The parliamentary questions took place alongside a sustained attack on the Met Office. 

Highly Inflammatory

Keenan was, at the same time, bombarding the Met Office with questions - and published a highly inflammatory report online. Yet, he repeatedly refused invitations to meet with senior government scientists to explain his claims in person.

Dame Julia Slingo, the chief scientific advisor at DECC, had responded as fully as time would allow, and the correspondence was amicable at first. However, Keenan’s missives soon took a “different tone, questioning the competence of Met Office scientists.”

The official minutes continue: “In one email which was particularly concerning, [Keenan] accused Professor Slingo of deliberately misleading Parliament. Having taken legal advice, Professor Slingo took the decision no longer to engage personally with Mr Keenan.”

Bernard Silverman, the Treasury’s chief scientific adviser, had warned Professor Slingo previously that “attacks on her were being promulgated in the paper authored by Mr Keenan that he has sent to DECC and has been circulating internationally and has also placed on his website.”

The paper makes unsubstantiated claims that there had been times “where chief scientist Slingo made statistical claims about the climate that she knew were highly misleading.” 

BBC Radio 4 recently broadcast a programme interviewing Lilley and fellow GWPF appointee Graham Stringer MP with the balanced, open question: “What is the point of the Met Office?”

@brendanmontague