European climate contrarian Think Tanks share neoliberal ideology and US rhetoric

by Jose A. Morena

A study recently publish in the academic journal Climate Change shows that the climate countermovement (CCM) formed by think tanks that deny climate change has also been active in Europe in the last decade. The eight think tanks identified in the paper as the most prominent regarding global warming denial in Europe share a neoliberal ideological profile. Also, their discourse resembles that of the contrarian think tanks in the United States.

The research has been led by Núria Almiron from Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona) within
the framework of the THINKClimat research project. The eight climate contrarian think tanks
identified by this research are the most important ones that publish in English, Spanish, German and French in Europe. The study analysed all the texts on climate change published on think tank websites until 2018 (1,669 texts over a period of 24 years).

This study fills an important research gap on the CCM in Europe, a very well known topic in the US but still under researched in Europe. Among the eight think tanks identified as disseminators of climate contrarian ideas in Europe, we have organizations from six countries:

These think tanks share a neoliberal ideology and most of them have been founded
in the 2000s. All  of them have been active  in the last decade. Although the first text analyzed in the paper is from 1994, there is no relevant negative content until 2007 and most of the texts were published between 2014 and 2018. Since both peaks of denialist publications (2007 and 2014) correspond to the appearance of the last two major reports of the IPCC (the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), this might indicate a reaction to them.

Research conducted over decades in the United States has revealed the main arguments used by climate change deniers in that country. This study has confirmed that these arguments appear repeatedly in the climate contrarian think tanks in Europe. They use the same rhetoric and ideas as the American CCM. These are the denialist claims found in the texts on climate change of the eight think tanks analysed:

  • 63.93% of texts criticised activists & politicians fighting climate change (ad hominem attacks)
  • 49.43% of texts included mentions contesting scientific dissemination.
  • 38.83% of texts included the idea “It is happening, but any policy will be worse than warming”.
  • 37.30% of texts included the idea “It is happening, but it is not us or it is not only us” being responsible.
  • 29.24% of texts included mentions contesting the legitimacy of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC).
  • 27.38% of texts included mentions contesting scientific consensus & legitimacy (not IPCC).
  • 22.23% of texts included the idea that “Climate change is not happening”.
  • 10.90% of texts included the idea that “Climate change is happening, but it is good, not bad”.

In addition, the eight European organizations identified as deniers reflect an ideology aligned with neoliberalism and conservatism. The arguments against climate action based on this ideological stance appear in 39.25% of the texts of the sample. These arguments include economic growth as a solution to global warming, market self-regulation, non-intervention by governments and non-taxing of polluting products, among others.

This neoliberal bias is similar to that shown by the US CCM, although the European one is more modest in number of organizations and resources. Despite this, the European countermovement cannot be considered a light version of that of the United States, since it proclaims the same arguments, which are defended with the same belligerence.

Núria Almiron, Maxwell Boykoff, Marta Narberhaus. Francisco Heras. 2020. “Dominant counter-frames in influential climate contrarian European think tanks” In: Climate Change . Retrieved: October, 13, 2020, from