Facts about fossil fuels - ahead of Shell's AGM

This Tuesday, it's Shell's AGM in London. If you can, do come and join the protest:

When: 23 May, from 9am
Where: ExCel London, Royal Victoria Dock, 1 Western Gateway, London E16 1XL

They will be celebrating their obscene profits - £7.6 billion over the first three months of 2023, almost £1000 every second - and obscuring the truth about the impact on people and the planet with greenwash.

So lets get our facts straight about Shell and their corporate cronies:

1. We can't afford any new fossil fuel infrastructure 

Climate scientists have been warning for years that we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. In 2021, even the International Energy Agency did the maths and concluded there could be no new fossil fuel infrastructure. But fossil fuel companies and governments never got the memo. They continued drilling, building pipelines and exploiting new fossil fuel fields. Analysis last year found just eight oil and gas companies to be involved in over 200 expansion projects

2. Shell and other companies are making record-breaking profits because the rest of us are getting poorer

Last year, the West’s five largest oil and gas companies, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and TotalEnergies made $134 billion in excess profits, (profits in addition to what they would normally expect). These profits came from higher energy bills, taken from households and from businesses which then passed on the higher costs to consumers. The cost of living crisis in the UK is part of a wider global crisis caused in large part by energy companies profiteering from the war in Ukraine.

3. The UK's planned North Sea oil and gas expansion would be a climate disaster

The UK government is on the brink of approving Rosebank, a massive potential North Sea field. It has the potential to produce 500m barrels of oil, which when burned would emit as much CO2 as running 56 coal-fired power stations for a year. The UK's carbon budgets can't even accommodate the emissions from getting the oil out of the ground.

4. Fossil fuel expansion doesn't help workers or those of us struggling with the cost of living.

Can North Sea oil and gas help with UK energy bills? No - the vast majority of what will be produced is oil, not gas, and will be owned by the companies extracting it and exported. Longer explanation here.

But will it help the UK economy? Also no. The windfall tax ('energy profits levy') which Rishi Sunak brought in last year came with a giant loophole - a tax break for oil companies opening up new fields for drilling. For Rosebank, this would mean UK taxpayers handing back £3.75 billion.

A just transition is possible. Recent research by Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland with oil and gas workers sets out their concerns about working conditions, fears for the future, and what they need for a just transition: making it easier for oil and gas workers to move into the renewable industry; ensuring safety, job security and fair pay across the energy industry; new public owned energy companies and a tax regime that works for the public good.

5. Greenwash enables destruction.

Companies like Shell and BP produce a barrage of advertising on social media and elsewhere, with prominent photos of wind turbines and solar panels. But in 2021 Shell invested just 1.5% of its total capital expenditure ($244 million out of £19.7 billion) in wind and solar. 

So what makes up the rest of its so-called 'Renewables and Energy Solutions' expenditure ($2.4 billion in 2021)? Analysis by Global Witness revealed this included not just 'solutions' such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), hydrogen and carbon offset projects but also marketing and trading of fossil gas.

Government subsidies are also being diverted to false solutions. A recent leaflet produced by our trade union group sets out the facts behind the greenwash around carbon capture, hydrogen and biomass in the UK.

We have also increasingly seen the capture of UN climate negotiations by fossil fuel interests and consequent greenwash - a huge concern for this year's COP28 to be held in UAE. (more detail here)

Photo credit: Flickr user fotdmike

Support Imprisoned Protesters

There is a long history of juries acquitting activists in criminal cases on the basis that they are acting to prevent a greater wrong. But the right for defendants to tell the truth and give the context for their actions is under threat.

In an outrageous decision, Judge Silas Reid has instructed climate protesters facing criminal charges not to refer to climate change as a motivation for their actions. When, in his defence statement, David Nixon mentioned the subject of insulation and its relation to climate change the judge jailed him for eight weeks for contempt of court.

In March 2023, despite the substantive case against them collapsing, Dorset councillor Giovanna Lewis, 65, and horticultural worker Amy Pritchard, 38, were jailed for seven weeks for contempt of court for talking about fuel poverty and climate change in court. Judge Reid told the defendants they had sought to "set themselves above the law" by mentioning aspects of their motivation in carrying out the October protest that were not relevant to jury deliberations. He concluded that the defendants had either set out to "manipulate" the jury into acquitting them even if they were sure of the pair's guilt, or to use the trial to continue their protest within the courtroom.  

A number of climate activists have been held for long periods on remand, in prison ahead of being found guilty for months at a time. Louis McKechnie was one of them. The JSO activist was held for 7 months without a trial after tying himself to a goalpost at a Premier League football game and participating in other actions. the cases of many more Just Stop Oil activists can be seen here.

Keeping legal courts and judiciary separate from political decision-making is a pre-requisite of a democratic state. The human right to manage your own defence at law, and sum up your case as you see it has been enshrined in UK law but is now at an end. To prevent an explanation of intent on the basis that it may influence the jury is a political action by the court. 

Climate activists, and anyone concerned for the state of democracy in Britain today should be concerned and activated by these decisions. Political censorship inside the judicial system has now effectively created political prisoners.

The Campaign against Climate Change has long called for support for climate protesters facing court action or sentenced for protesting. We are calling on all campaign groups and individuals to challenge the judgements of Silas Reid, raising the issue with MPs and human rights organisations.

The right to protest, and the very basis of democracy is under attack.

In 2021, then Home Secretary Priti Patel said: "The right to protest is a fundamental principle of our democracy but we will not tolerate guerrilla tactics that obstruct people going about their day-to-day business". Boris Johnson, Prime Minister at the time, added: "This government will always stand on the side of the law-abiding majority and ensure the toughest penalties possible for criminals who deliberately bring major roads to a standstill. We will give the police the powers they need to stop their reckless and selfish behaviour." See more here

The UK government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman have expanded those pledges, now curbing the right to strike as well as identifying asylum seekers as illegal human beings who may be deported to Rwanda without being allowed to present their case for refugee status.

The striking climate: If emissions get up your nose, picket

The information below, provided by our trade union group, is intended as a guide for climate activists on supporting striking workers. Of course, 'climate activists' and 'workers' are not mutually exclusive! Join a union

Quick links: How do I support a picket line? - Dos and Don'ts - If you can’t physically get to a picket line (inc hardship fund links)

Strikes - what, where, when

On 1st February, teachers were joined by university lecturers, civil servants and train and bus drivers in the biggest day of industrial action in a decade.

Upcoming strike dates (BBC website)

Why climate activists should support the strikes

Workers on picket lines are challenging the power of their employers, showing bravery and determination and deserve respect. The long days of picketing, cold and wet through the winter, allow plenty of time to build comradeship, find common interests, explore ideas and discuss issues of the day. For millions of trade unionists in the UK, the issue of the cost-of-living crisis is forefront in current struggles. For climate activists the costs to people and planet of the current fossil fuel economy is urgent. For both, we need system change.

As the climate catastrophe deepens, the need for cheap renewable energy to end reliance on fossil fuels will require radical action to ensure people's homes are insulated and transport is electrified using wind and solar energy generation. The fight of workers to be able to afford to heat their homes and travel to work becomes a fight to end the super-profits of oil and gas corporations and stop investment in new coal mines and oil fields when the money should be used for investment in renewable energy and climate jobs.

Whilst the cost of living crisis involves a rate of inflation at above 11%, the current price inflation of staple foodstuffs is running at between 18-30% a year in the UK. The extreme weather events this year alone, caused by accelerating heating of the planet from gases emitted from current methods of production, has seen food harvests severely affected and some completely destroyed, here and across the world leading to food-price hikes and, in the worst cases, famine. 

In the media, public sector strikes are often presented as being solely about pay. In fact they are broader than that, and are a fight against cuts damaging public services which provide the essential social infrastructure of this country. And in some cases these services play a key role in reducing emissions, for example public transport. 

In the short term, rail unions have basic demands like safe staffing levels being maintained. In the long term they generally call for renationalisation of rail. This links directly with climate action: to cut emissions we need investment in electrification of rail, bus and coach services and an integrated not-for-profit public transport system, affordable and dependable to move passengers and freight out of polluting cars and lorries. The strike action is therefore directly linked with environmental issues, and that discussion can encourage trade unionists to take-up climate demands inside their union and with the employer.