Ohen Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng tweeted on the eve of the Jubilee long weekend that the government was giving the green light to a new oil and gas project in the North Sea, ministers were likely hoping the news would spread without too much noise.
But less than 24 hours later, hundreds of protesters, furious that the government was planning to expand fossil fuel infrastructure amid a climate crisis, took to the streets across the UK to voice their objections.
They blocked the entrance to government offices in Edinburgh, throwing red paint and scrawling messages – including ‘blood on your hands’ – on windows and walls. In London, campaigners chanted ‘we will win’ as they gathered outside the Business Secretary’s office in Westminster to demand the government reverse its decision.
The speed and scale of the response to the announcement provides insight into one of the most dynamic and diverse climate movements in the UK: the campaign to halt all offshore oil and gas expansion from North.
Lauren MacDonald, 21, one of the campaign’s leading figures, said when the announcement was made, a whole network of campaign groups sprang into action.
“It was at 4.45pm just before the start of a holiday weekend, and there were a few of us working together and someone said, ‘Oh, did you see that?’ – and that was it. There was so much action in the group chats and it all took off… people all over the country started to organize.
The campaign to stop further oil and gas extraction in the North Sea is made up of dozens of different groups, from young climate activists to energy poverty campaigners, Church of England figures to doctors and lawyers, from trade unionists to direct action environmentalists, large NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to small community and neighborhood organizations.
He has his work cut out for him. Last month the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s own statutory advisers, raised concerns that ministers were backtracking on the legally binding commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions. by 2050, noting “major policy failures” and “little evidence of delivery”. .
Tessa Khan, director of campaign group Uplift, who is one of those involved in the movement to stop new fossil fuel developments in the North Sea, said the fight was urgent and “unprecedented”. [in the UK] in its breadth and diversity. She added that a growing number of climate justice groups are now linking the climate crisis to broader issues of poverty and social justice.
“If you look at the range of voices and organizations, think tanks and others that are involved, it’s a real testament to the strength of this movement and the determination of the people involved,” she said. .
Last year campaigners from Stop Cambo, the precursor to the current campaign, called for a major scalp when Shell pulled out of the controversial Cambo oilfield off Shetland. At the time, it was seen by some as a likely ‘death blow’ to further oil and gas expansion off Britain’s coast.
But the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis have changed the political landscape. Fossil fuel companies backed by the British government are again pushing ahead with new extraction plans, arguing the move will help energy security and higher energy bills.
Many experts have dismissed these arguments, saying that the UK’s reliance on increasingly expensive fossil fuels is at the root of energy security issues as well as the cost of living crisis, without talk about climate degradation.
They also point out that any new fossil fuel generation will not come on stream for years – and even then it would be sold on international markets, making virtually no difference to UK energy bills.
Khan said more and more people were realizing the fossil fuel companies’ arguments and that the UK government was not piling up. “The industry seems to be in the limelight right now compared to last year due to this major geopolitical development but, in fact, I think it is more vulnerable than ever because people are waking up .”
Warnings about the climate impact of increased fossil fuel production are becoming increasingly urgent. A recent scientific study has found that far from opening up new fossil fuel production, almost half of existing sites need to be closed early if global warming is to be limited to 1.5°C, the internationally agreed target. to avoid climate catastrophe.
Last year, the International Energy Agency, considered a conservative institution, called for an end to all new oil, gas and coal development. And UN Secretary-General António Guterres said fossil fuel companies and the banks that financed them “have humanity at their throats”, telling governments there could be no expansion fossil fuels if the world was to avoid catastrophe.
Khan said it was against this backdrop that the movement to halt the British government’s plans for expansion in the North Sea was gaining momentum.
“The evidence is overwhelming for anyone who considers this … the next two years are crucial, and I think we are going to hear more and more voices acknowledging that there is something fundamentally wrong with our prioritization of oil and gas by relation to renewable energy at the moment.”
Steven Croft, the Bishop of Oxford, is one such disparate voice. Earlier this year, he was among more than 500 church leaders who signed a letter to the government calling for a halt to new fossil fuel developments and increased support for renewable energy and energy efficiency to combat against climate and cost of living crises.
Speaking to the Guardian, he said the church had an important role to play in the climate justice movement by bringing people together and offering moral leadership and hope. “We have to face the reality of where we are, but at the same time we have to realize that all is not lost and together we can still make a difference.”
Croft said Christians’ faith in God’s purpose and recognition of the potential of human beings to work together to solve huge problems offered comfort in the face of the climate crisis. “We are not defeated and overwhelmed by the problems we face. But in fact, we can stand up together to fight them. The church can provide the passion and commitment we need to face the reality we face.
The government-announced Jackdaw development is at the center of the campaign at the moment, but campaigners say the fight is much wider. A May study found that several large fossil fuel projects in the UK had been approved since Cop26 in November last year, with another 50 projects in the pipeline.
Overall, the picture is even more urgent. A Guardian investigation last month found the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies were quietly planning 195 ‘carbon bombs’ – huge oil and gas projects that would push the climate beyond internationally agreed temperature limits , with catastrophic global impacts.
But activists remain fearless. In the coming months, they plan to use a wide range of tactics, from direct action to church interventions, from legal challenges by large NGOs, to mass mobilizations by anti-poverty activists and trade unions.
MacDonald, a Stop Cambo campaign leader, says they are ready to fight and urges everyone to get involved.
“I want to implore everyone to take action against oil and gas. Whether your motivation is the impact it is having on poverty levels in this country, or the dire consequences people around the world are feeling at cause of climate change, you can act as an individual, as part of your local church, as part of a trade union… it doesn’t matter The next few years are absolutely crucial and we need everyone world.