The Conservative party and its MPs have registered £1.3m in gifts and donations from climate sceptics and fossil fuel interests since the 2019 general election, an investigation by the Guardian can reveal.
Oil companies, petrostates, airports and businesses linked with Russian energy tycoons are among this set of donors, who have either made money from fossil fuels or stand to lose economically or politically from cutting emissions.
Their donations, all legally given and declared to the Electoral Commission or in the House of Commons register of interests, are overwhelmingly to the ruling party.
In the past two years combined, they have given about £812,000 to the Conservative party, compared with £18,400 registered by the Labour party.
Conservative MPs also received about 99% of the £479,000 these donors gave to individual politicians, a far higher share than their 56% of the seats in the House of Commons.
The research highlights the legitimate lobbying activities of outside organisations who give money in return for access or influence, or to support policies and ideologies.
Several Conservative MPs have received donations from sources linked to a climate-sceptic thinktank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).
Chief among the donors is Australian hedge fund manager Michael Hintze, who has given between £2,000 and £3,000 each to Priti Patel, Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mourdant, Mark Garnier, Robert Halfon and Brandon Lewis.
Norman also received £2,000 from another GWPF backer, Neil Record. GWPF trustee Terence Mordaunt, who is co-owner of the cargo handling business Bristol Port Company, has donated £2,000 to Conservative MP James Gray.
In addition, two other MPs have unpaid positions on the Global Warming Policy Foundation: Steve Baker, the most outspoken critic of climate action in the lower house, and Labour MP Graham Stringer, who has also been critical of action on climate breakdown.
A handful of MPs received money or gifts in kind directly from fossil fuel companies or their owners. The head of the Conservative party in Scotland, Douglas Ross, was supported in his leadership campaign by a £20,000 donation from Alasdair Locke, who has extensive North Sea interests and chairs Motor Fuel Group, which owns more than 900 petrol stations across the UK.
Other MPs do paid work for energy interests. Alexander Stafford, who represents Rother Valley, was paid £5,158 by Shell for communication services. John Hayes earns £50,000 per year as a strategic advisor for BB Energy, a major trader in crude oil and other petrochemical products.
The biggest donor is Aquind, an energy cable company that has donated £108,000 to individual Conservative politicians since the last general election, including £10,000 to Cop26 president Alok Sharma and £40,000 to former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt. The organisation also donated £92,000 to the party’s coffers in the same period.
Although stronger energy transmission networks are necessary for decarbonisation, Aquind has close links with two former Russian oil oligarchs who have become British citizens. Its ultimate owner was revealed last summer to be Viktor Fedotov, while director and shareholder Alexander Temerko was an oil and arms executive in Russia and worked for the Yukos oil company.
Temerko, who has also been involved in offshore wind turbine installation, is among the Leader’s Group of super-rich donors to the Conservative party who have high-level access to senior figures, including Boris Johnson. He has given the party more than £1m over the past decade, but says he has “zero influence” on MPs.
Since 2019, he has made substantial donations at a national and regional level, as well as £22,000 to four MPs, including Liam Fox, the chief secretary to the treasury, Simon Clarke, and David Morris. Andrew Percy, the MP for Brigg and Goole, received three donations worth a total of £17,000 from Aquind or Temerko. He has donated a further £12,000 to the Conservative party since the last election.
Ten Conservative MPs have been treated by petrostates – UAE, Qatar and Bahrain – to a total of £25,000 in expenses-paid overseas trips or hospitality at sporting events, such as the Qatar Goodwood festival.
In the aviation sector, Heathrow airport has provided its luxury Windsor suite to the value of £67,200 for Theresa May, and £3,060 for Boris Johnson. London City airport has treated one MP to football tickets and hospitality.
The findings confirm the close links between parts of the Conservative party and fossil fuel businesses and climate sceptics. It follows a similar 2019 study by the Guardian, which found fossil fuel interests, climate-contrarian thinktanks and businessmen had given at least £5m to MPs over the previous 10 years in the form of donations, expenses-paid trips, salaries and gifts – the bulk of which went to the Conservative party.
For both studies, each individual’s record of interests published since the last general election was compared to a list of more than 400 search terms, including but not limited to organisations and individuals listed on DeSmog’s Climate Disinformation Database. Interests received before 12 December 2019 but first registered after that date are included in the analysis.
Compared to the US, British politics has not suffered major political divisions over climate policy. The vast majority of Conservative MPs accept the scientific consensus and while in power, the party has enacted net-zero legislation and the House of Commons has declared a climate emergency. However, critics say there are contradictions in the government’s stated climate goals and its continued support for North Sea oil and gas, airport and road expansion, cuts in overseas aid and mixed signals over plans for a new coal-fired power plant. The previous Guardian survey in 2019 showed Conservative MPs were much less likely to vote for climate action than politicians from other parties.
While evidence of political donations having a direct impact on policy is hard to come by, Rich Collett-White of the environmental investigations outlet DeSmog International said there is an incentive for a party not to take ambitious action on climate change if its finances partly depend on keeping high-carbon donors happy. “The government can – and does – act against the interests of these donors with some of its green policies, but you have to ask why they see the Conservatives as the most deserving of their support.”
Collett-White cited the example of the US, where the Democratic senator Joe Manchin, who has been blocking Biden’s green infrastructure plans, is backed by the fossil fuel industry. “One reason for the lack of progress in cutting emissions globally is the capture of political systems by powerful vested interests – and this looks like a prime example,” he said.
Outright climate denial is now politically unacceptable but a growing movement that casts doubt on the solutions and exaggerates their costs has emerged in its place. “There’s every possibility donors who want to fight back against the push for more serious climate action will start throwing more cash at that effort,” Collett-White said.
The Conservative party has yet to respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.