The UK’s chief spin doctor at the COP26 climate conference is on secondment from a PR company which works for fossil fuel firms, The Ferret can reveal.
Lynn Davidson, who is acting as press secretary for the COP26 unit, is also employed as a managing director of the public relations firm, Teneo. Among Teneo’s clients are LetterOne, a Luxembourg-based investment company which owns oil and gas assets, and BHP Billiton, an Australian-based mining, metals and petroleum producing multinational.
As well as providing services to companies with interests in fossil fuels, Teneo also represents a number of other big polluting companies. These include Jaguar Land Rover, The Dow Chemical Company, Natwest, Tata Steel and National Grid.
A UK Government COP26 spokesperson said that all officials seconded into the civil service are “bound by the Civil Service Code, reflecting the core values of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality”.
But former Labour Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, told The Ferret that the UK Government had left itself “open to charges of conflicts of interests” by leaving its communications “in the hands of individuals and organisations with such close ties to fossil fuel corporations”.
Westminster has also handed lucrative COP26 contracts to PR companies who represent companies, or governments, who have interests in oil and gas.
M&C Saatchi was awarded a £2.5 million deal for “development and delivery of a domestic climate change communications plan, including campaigns around COP26”. Saatchi also works with Origin Energy, an Australian fossil fuel company which owns oil, gas, and coal-fired power stations in the country.
SEC Newgate has been contracted to provide PR support for the Green Horizon Summit (GHS), a five-day event hosted in the Green Zone in the Glasgow Science Centre. The GHS, which is being co-hosted by the City of London and Green Finance Institute, is focussed on “mobilising private capital in the transition to net-zero”.
Newgate represents Cadent Gas, which operates the biggest natural gas distribution network in the UK, as well as Gatwick Airport and EDF, which runs eight UK nuclear power stations. The PR company’s Abu Dhabi arm has previously worked with the Qatari government, the world’s 15th biggest producer of oil.
There is no suggestion that any of the PR firms researched by The Ferret have done anything that breaches COP26 or UK Government rules.
Lynn Davidson was previously a special adviser to UK defence secretary Ben Wallace before leaving the government in March 2020. The departure came shortly after it was reported she had confronted Boris Johnson’s then de-facto chief of staff, Dominic Cummings, over his “unkindness” to aides.
Davidson’s Teneo profile described her as having connections “across the UK political lobby” and a “proven track record in crisis communications and reputation management”. She also previously worked as a journalist for the Daily Record, The Sun on Sunday and The Daily Mail.
Former UK Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was also recently on Teneo’s books, but moved to rival Finsbury Glover Hering ahead of COP26. She had been at COP26, in her capacity as chair of oil, gas and renewables company Equinor’s advisory board, and is part of the Global Wind Energy Council’s delegation.
One other Teneo employee, senior adviser Andrew Nicholas Liveris, is also at the summit according to the COP26 provisional list of participants (PLOP). Liveris, who is a senior adviser at the firm, is a current director of petroleum production company Saudi Aramco and a special adviser to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
PR companies are traditionally an important part of the lobbying apparatus at UN climate summits. At previous summits, including COP21 where the Paris Agreement was signed, PR firms have helped polluting countries and companies manage their climate message.
South Pole, which claims to “develop and implement emission reduction projects”, has sent representatives with delegations from the fossil fuel-sponsored International Emissions Trading Association and the central African country, Congo Brazzaville.
Four APCO employees have been deployed alongside the UAE congregation, including the managing director of its Abu Dhabi office. The UAE is the world’s eighth biggest oil producer and its climate targets are rated as “highly insufficient” by Climate Action Tracker.
Other PR professionals may also be inside the conference using ‘overflow’ passes. Delegates admitted with overflow accreditation are not named on the PLOP.
COP26 has so far been criticised for a lack of progress on tackling the climate crisis and keeping global heating to below 1.5 degrees, in line with Paris Agreement targets.
Earlier this week, Climate Action Tracker published a report which stated that the world was on track for 2.4 degrees of warming if current targets are achieved.
Scott Tully, a campaigner at Glasgow Calls Out Polluters argued that Davidson’s role is an “obvious and embarrassing conflict of interest” underlined by the fact that the “UK Government continues to peddle messaging in line with the clients represented by these PR firms”.
“This in part explains the UK Government’s fixation with industry-sponsored solutions like net zero by 2050 or the more unsubtle distractions from real action, such as encouraging us all to freeze our bread for the climate,” he said.
“That those responsible for decades of climate inaction get to shape the COP26 debate once again bodes badly for those experiencing the sharpest impact of this climate crisis. For these PR firms, it’s just business.”
John McDonnell MP said: “To have the government’s COP26 communications in the hands of individuals and organisations with such close links to fossil fuel corporations clearly not only opens up the Johnson administration to charges of conflict of interest but it also adds to the undermining of the UK Government’s credibility at this conference.”
The Cabinet’s COP26 unit said that the UK Government has “robust rules and processes in place for government contracts in order to ensure that conflicts of interest do not occur.”
A spokesperson added: “All officials seconded into the civil service are bound by the terms of the Civil Service Code, reflecting the core values of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality.”
Teneo has been asked to comment. “We are focused on being actively involved in both our local and global communities through a mix of partnerships, volunteer work and philanthropic giving, all with the aim of bettering our world for all,” said the company’s website.
“After decades of warnings from scientists and activists, the climate has finally become a major focus for governments and businesses around the world,” it added.
“Addressing the climate crisis will involve global collaboration across political, social, and economic activities.”
Teneo’s senior advisor, Lon Augustenborg, has argued that multinational companies are at the forefront of addressing climate change.
He said: “Global corporations now find themselves in a position where they must lead the way to develop solutions that can simultaneously stall — and, ultimately, reverse — global warming while maximising profits and growing the global economy.”
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