Climate justice, refugees and human rights

We're joining a protest at the Home Office this Saturday 4th November, following Suella Braverman's inflammatory speech at the Conservative Party Conference where she suggested that the UK was facing a 'hurricane' of migration and that the government's policy on immigration had been hampered by being 'far too squeamish about being smeared as racist'.

What are the links between refugees and climate change?

An obvious connection is that people are forced to leave their home by climate breakdown. Most starkly, the very existence of Pacific island states is at risk from rising sea levels. In recent years, we have seen a regular series of climate disasters around the world, extreme weather events which would have been unlikely or impossible without fossil-fuelled climate breakdown. These can force thousands, or even hundreds of thousands from their homes temporarily. But the destruction of homes and livelihoods mean not all can return. Changing weather patterns also cause less visible changes: repeated crop failures from drought, floods or both; rising sea levels causing salinisation of farmland. 

Some areas, such as the Sahel region of Africa, face both climate change and armed conflict. Exacly how resource scarcity and conflict are linked is debated, but one thing is clear: this is a deadly combination. From Honduras to Afghanistan, from South Sudan to the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar now in Bangladesh, climate breakdown exacerbates situations of violence and inequality. And consistently, those who have done least to cause the climate crisis are suffering worst from its impacts.

Another link is that both immigration and climate action are being used by this government to in an attempt to stoke a 'culture war' ahead of the 2024 general election. This has led to complete abandonment of rational policy-making. Braverman's plans for asylum-seekers, including deportation to Rwanda, combine cruelty with sky-high costs to taxpayers and as a whole are widely considered unworkable. On climate change Sunak is wooing backbenchers and right-wing media by taking a wrecking ball to the political consensus on the UK's legally binding climate targets, ignoring not just climate scientists but industry experts, businesses and public opinion polls.

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.