John Ashton

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Global warming.jpg This article is part of the Climate project of Spinwatch.

John Ashton is a former diplomat and the founding director of environmental think tank E3G. From 2006 until 2012 he was the UK Special Representative for Climate Change (Climate Change Ambassador) of the Foreign Secretary. He carried out the latter role on secondment from E3G, where he had been chief executive since its inception. [1]

After the UK coalition government took office in 2010 Foreign Secretary William Hague announced Ashton's reappointment in June 'for the year ahead'. Ashton worked closely with Hague in the negotiations in the build-up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC) meeting in Cancun, Mexico, at the end of 2010.[2]

From 2013 Ashton had a one-day-a-week role as a policy fellow at Imperial College's Grantham Institute for Climate Change [3] and is an independent commentator on the politics of climate change.


According to his E3G biography in 2009:

John is one of a new generation of diplomats equally at home in the worlds of foreign policy and green politics. Before moving outside government to establish E3G, John had a distinguished career in the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including founding and leading its Environment Policy Department.

Member of the Green College Centre for Environmental Policy and Understanding. He is a steering committee member of Climate Care and serves on the Advisory Boards of the Climate Institute, Washington DC; the UK Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research; the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara; and Climate Change Capital.[4]

From government diplomat to anti-fracking activist

FrackWell.png This article is part of the Spinwatch Fracking Portal and project

Ashton has spoken vociferously against the Coalition government's relentless push for the development of shale gas in the UK. In January 2015 he took part in a protest rally outside the Houses of Parliament at Westminster while MPs voted on the Infrastructure bill. He is a regular visitor to protest sites such as Cuadrilla's Preston New Road.

A deep political contradiction between climate policy and 'drill baby drill' approach

In an impassioned letter to rally fracking activists together ahead of the crucial vote Ashton accused the government and fracking industry of having 'so far proceeded by stealth'.

All – My impression is that, all of a sudden, things have become fluid. But we must seize the moment because they will probably get stuck again after the INFRASTRUCTURE BILL votes. It’s important that the rally turns out to be bigger than people inside the bubble expect. Friends of the Earth have just told me that they hope to get up to 200 people out for this on Monday. I really hope we can all do a lot better. Here’s why.
Those who want to turn our country into a fracking playground have so far proceeded by stealth. They have got much closer than would have been possible in a healthy democracy to turning their dystopic fantasy into reality. The votes coming up on the Infrastructure Bill will be the first opportunity to make a political choice at national level to apply the brakes.
At the top of their Party machines, each for different reasons and reflecting different combinations of negligence and intent, all three establishment parties have, as it were, been putting Cuadrilla first not people first. But finally more and more MPs are realising either that fracking really is a bad idea and/or that the political cost to them of welcoming it could be much higher than they thought. All of a sudden things are more fluid inside the Palace of Westminster than they have ever been. That is true to an extent for the Conservatives and Lib Dems; but the stresses seem to me to be even greater inside the Labour Party. Now is the moment to strengthen the hand of those in all parties who want to stop the bandwagon.
With luck and effort we could even emerge from the best few days with the beginning of a de facto moratorium on fracking. That would have been unthinkable until very recently. But a lot of effort is still needed.
So, for anyone who has been thinking about expressing themselves on fracking but has not quite found a voice, there will never be a better time. A few hours over the next few days, and especially on Monday, will almost certainly pay bigger dividends than days or weeks of effort later on.
I became drawn to this issue because there is a deep political contradiction between a two-degree climate policy and a drill baby drill energy policy, especially when the aim of the latter is to open up new resources, supply chains and vested interests. It is simply impossible to be in favour of fixing the climate and of fracking at the same time.
Meanwhile on the front line, up and down Britain, some of our real heroes and heroines have been risking everything to draw attention to the threat fracking poses to their communities, and to mobilise people against it. And the more I see of this the more it seems to me that this question is also at the centre of everything NEON stands for. Without wanting to put words in your mouths, I suspect we would all like to live in a country where people experience politics as something they are part of, not as something that is done to them against their will and interest. But for most people now facing a prospect of fracking in their community that’s exactly how it feels.
For that reason, victory on fracking will also be a significant victory in the wider struggle.
So if you can possibly spare the time, do please come on Monday, even for a few moments. Please also encourage others to come. If you can’t come but have a bit of time at the weekend, please do anything you can think of to bring people to the rally and get messages to MPs.
And I really hope, when we are there, in thousands not hundreds, in full accordance with the law, and with peace and grace in our hearts, we can make a noise that will be audible not only in Old Palace Yard but in the Chamber itself.
When I was a civil servant I was occasionally accused of being too passionate. I make no apology for being passionate about this. But I hope I have expressed myself in accordance with the values, rules and culture that we are trying to build together in NEON.

With best wises to all, John




  1. E3G John Ashton appointed UK Special Representative for Climate Change, press release, 8 June 2006] (accessed 14 September, 2010).
  2. Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Foreign Secretary appoints climate change Special Representative, press release, 22 June 2010,(accessed 14 September, 2010).
  3. Ros Donald, There's no such thing as domestic climate policy: An interview with John Ashton, The Carbon Brief Blog, 06 Aug 2013, 15:00, acc 17 October 2013
  4. E3G, John Ashton, Profile of John Ashton at E3G homepage. (accessed 13/02/09).
  5. We need to sieze the moment – stirring words from John Ashton, 25 January 2015