Government refuses to sack Australian trade advisor Tony Abbott for joining climate-sceptic think-tank

‘Talking tough on climate action while filling your Board of Trade with people like Abbott is a dismal signal to the world about Britain’s climate leadership.’

Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott, the former Australian prime minister, who once compared global warming action to ‘primitive people once killing goats to appease volcano gods,’ announced this week that he has joined the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). The think-tank has campaigned against net zero and has denied the scale of the climate crisis.

Abbott said he was pleased to join the foundation “because it’s consistently injected a note of realism into the climate debate.” Following the announcement, the UK government has been urged to sack Abbott as a trade advisor to Britain. Abbott advises the government on post-Brexit trade deals as Australia has become a key trading partner of Britain since departing from the EU. Abbott, who was prime minister in Australia from 2013 to 2015, was made a member of the UK government’s Board of Trade in 2020.

The Board of Trade is headed by trade secretary Kemi Badenoch, who has consistently voted against policies to counter climate action and has previously questioned net zero.

According to a report in the Guardian, sources at the Department for Business and Trade said Abbott would not be dismissed.

The decision comes despite outrage from climate campaigners and parliamentarians at the news Abbott has joined the GWPF, and calls for him to be sacked.

Mel Evans, of Greenpeace UK, commented: “Talking tough on climate action while filling your Board of Trade with people like Abbott is a dismal signal to the world about Britain’s climate leadership. Tony Abbott is free to continue his journey into unreality, but the government shouldn’t allow us to be dragged along behind him.”

Shaun Spiers, the executive director of Green Alliance, warned against having a Board of Trade advisor who is sceptical and net zero and climate change. “Ninety percent of the world’s GDP is generated in countries that are committed to net zero. That brings lots of trading opportunities for progressive UK businesses, who will be looking to the new Department for Business and Trade for support. Meanwhile, one of its key advisers is trying to undermine support for climate action. It’s not a good look,” said Spiers.

Green MP, Caroline Lucas, said: “In May last year, the government claimed it was ‘leading the way on green trade’. How time flies, now that nine months later the trade department has a secretary of state who rejects net zero, and an adviser who openly supports climate denial. Our climate leadership on the world stage takes yet another pounding.

“Fundamentally, all trade agreements must meet the UK’s own climate and biodiversity targets; be aligned with Paris agreement targets to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees; and deliver the sustainable development goals. If government figures can’t, or won’t, deliver those objectives, they should not be in post.”

The controversial GWPF was founded in 2009 by former Tory chancellor Nigel Lawson. Since its launch, the group has become known for its consistent attacks on climate science, and – more recently – policies to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions. In May 2022, it was reported that the lobby group had received hundreds of thousands of pounds from an oil-rich foundation with large investments in energy firms. The think-tank, which resides at the notorious 55 Tufton Street in London, has close links to Tory MP Steve Baker. It refuses to disclose its donors in the UK and insists it does not take money from fossil fuel interests.

In November, Britain’s former chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost was criticised for joining the climate sceptic lobby group.

Tony Abbott has a long history of making offensive comments. As well as controversial remarks that climate change was “probably doing good,” as his country burned, he has been criticised for sexist comments and opposing same-gender marriage.

In a speech in London in 2017 to the GWPF, Abbott likened climate change policies to “primitive people once killing goats to appease the volcano gods.” He also repeated his comment made in 2009 that the “so-called settled science of climate change” was “absolute crap.”

Left Foot Forward reached out to the Department for Business and Trade for commentary on their decision not to sack Tony Abbott as a trade advisor to the UK. A government spokesperson said:

“The Board of Trade is an advisory panel who serve in personal capacities, do not speak on behalf of Government and do not set government policy.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Image credit: Creative Commons – Global Panorama

Comments are closed.