Wednesday, August 22nd 2012, 7:44 AM EDT
A former Tory Minister set to provide the Government with crucial advice on climate change is at the centre of a new conflict-of-interest row after it was revealed he is chairman of a consortium bidding to build one of the world’s biggest offshore windfarms.
John Selwyn Gummer, who was Environment Secretary under John Major and Agriculture Minister in Margaret Thatcher’s Government, is the newly designated chairman of the powerful Committee on Climate Change (CCC). It was set up to provide David Cameron with independent advice on energy policy and climate change.
But a Mail on Sunday investigation has learned the former MP – who became Lord Deben in 2010 – is also chairman of Forewind, a consortium trying to build thousands of turbines in the North Sea’s Dogger Bank.
The revelation follows the news that Tory MP Tim Yeo earns almost £140,000 a year from directorships with ‘green’ energy companies. He holds the posts despite chairing the influential Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee, which is supposed to take a neutral view of renewable energy policy. Lord Deben was named by Mr Cameron last month as his preferred candidate to be the new CCC chairman. The body recommends targets for reducing carbon- dioxide emissions and subsidies for the ‘renewable’ energy industry.
Lord Deben already chairs Sancroft, a lobbying and consultancy firm based in Queen Anne’s Gate, Westminster. One of its specialities is advising businesses on how to make money from policies enacted to combat global warming.
Its website states: ‘Climate change will be the most disruptive influence on business. The risks it poses are immense; the potential rewards are considerable ... We show our clients how to ... make the most of quickly evolving market opportunities.’
Last night, Lord Deben insisted there was no conflict of interest. His spokeswoman said: ‘The appointment will be the subject of a parliamentary pre-appointment scrutiny hearing in September.
‘Lord Deben has provided the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Cabinet Office with a full list of his interests. If appointed, Lord Deben will put in place arrangements to avoid a conflict of interest.’ Asked whether that meant he would resign from his directorships, she said she could not comment.
The logo of the CCC states that its purpose is to act as ‘independent advisers to the UK Government on tackling and preparing for climate change’.
This much-vaunted independence is the main reason its recommendations are so influential in Whitehall.
Welcoming Lord Deben’s nomination, Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said: ‘The CCC plays a critical role in advising the Government on the direction and progress of its energy and climate-change policies.’
The CCC has championed subsidies for wind and other renewable energy sources, stating that it should be possible for renewables to account for 45 per cent of power generation by 2030, compared with three per cent now.
Subsidies and ‘green’ levies mean domestic consumers pay on average about £100 extra a year for their energy, a figure set to increase as Britain seeks to reduce CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Forewind is a consortium comprising the German renewable energy firm RWE, Norwegian company Statkraft, the multinational Statoil and UK-based energy firm SSE. If its Dogger Bank plans come to fruition, the wind turbine array there will cost billions of pounds.
The Mail on Sunday has established that the independence of at least three of the CCC’s six other members is also open to question.
Professor Samuel Fankhauser, an academic at the London School of Economics branch of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, is a director of Vivid Economics, a consultancy firm offering commercial advice on the effects of climate policies.
A spokesman for Prof Fankhauser refused to disclose how much he is paid by Vivid, adding that his role was ‘entirely in line with Government rules’ and there were ‘good safeguards in place to manage any possible conflicts of interest that may arise during the work of the CCC’.
The Grantham Institute is funded by Jeremy Grantham, a British-born American billionaire who runs the £100 billion hedge fund GMO. He also funds green groups such as WWF, and has strongly supported measures also advocated by the CCC, such as carbon trading.
A CCC spokeswoman said that any possible conflicts of interest would be considered by the DECC. A Department spokesman added: ‘Lord Deben has made a full declaration of his interests to the DECC and the Cabinet Office. The appointment is now subject to scrutiny by the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee.’
The committee’s chairman, Mr Yeo, holds paid directorships with AFC Energy, which makes fuel cells, the biofuels company TMO Renewables, and ITI Energy, which converts waste into biofuel. Asked whether he was the best person to judge whether Lord Deben had inappropriate conflicts of interest, he said only that the appointment would be ‘considered’ by his committee. As to his own interests, he said: ‘They were all disclosed when I was elected chairman.’
However, senior Conservative MP David Davis said last night: ‘Any public body set up to provide independent policy advice should be absolutely clear of any possible commercial interest in that policy. Ed Davey should look at the composition of the committee again and, if not, he should cease to claim it is independent.’
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