Just Stop Oil. Are they getting it right or are they getting it wrong? I have a view from inside the oil industry. Can protest and free speech survive in the face of new laws, and legal procedures which can bankrupt protesters without even taking them to court? And a minister resigns just before the PM sacks him, but he claims it’s for a completely different reason
No New Licences
The objective of Just Stop Oil is to persuade the British government to stop permitting the exploitation of new fossil fuel resources, predominantly in the North Sea. They do this by causing disruption. They’ve caused traffic chaos by walking slowly along London streets or by blocking motorways. They held up the start of London’s Gay Pride March. They’ve disrupted high-profile sports events, such as snooker, and last week there were pictures in the papers of a burly cricketer who bundled a protester under his arm and hauled him off the pitch at Lord's Cricket Ground.
This week the Wimbledon Tennis Championships started, and to prevent disruption the security staff at the gates have been instructed to carry out meticulous searches to ensure that no cable ties, locking on devices or coloured powders can be taken in. The result of this has been enormous queues at the entrances, allegedly of up to 10 hours in some cases. Arguably, Just Stop Oil could claim this as a triumph, because these searches and delays are likely to continue throughout the two weeks of the tournament, and everybody will know that it’s about Just Stop Oil. If they do decide to disrupt play, it would surely make more sense to do it in the second week, the finals week, when far more people will be watching on television across the world. Which is worse, a disrupted match or two weeks of angry spectators standing in line in the hot sun or pouring rain? I think the All England Tennis Club has over-reacted.
As I start to record this episode, I learn that Just Stop Oil have actually got into Wimbledon and scattered orange confetti over court number 18. So much for meticulous searching. Just Stop Oil have made their point and may will do so again before the end of the tournament. It's a non-violent protest.
Government Stands Firm
The government is adamant that they will continue to authorise new exploration licences in the North Sea and have specifically eliminated clauses in new legislation, which would have prevented them from authorising new coal mines. As you remember, they have already authorised a new mine in Northwest England.
On the other hand, the Labour Opposition has said that it would impose a moratorium on new exploration, although they would permit exploitation of existing wells. The Labour Party has received campaign donations from Dale Vince, founder of green energy supplier Ecotricity. Vince also supports Just Stop Oil, leading Conservative politicians to claim that the Labour Party also supports Just Stop Oil. Which it says it doesn’t.
When snooker was disrupted by protesters pouring orange powder on the tables Dale Vince spoke about the injustice of the floods which drove millions of people from their homes in Pakistan last year, saying, "I find it ironic that we can tolerate this climate crisis, but not a bit of disruption to snooker.” When protests took place at the cricket he said a 'few minutes' disruption was nothing in comparison to the four million deaths allegedly caused by the climate crisis and the 20 million people made homeless because of it.
Right or Wrong? A view from the Oil Industry
I told you recently about a conversation with somebody who claimed that Just Stop Oil was completely misguided, because if the government gave in to their demands, and no new resources were exploited in the North Sea then the country would have to depend on oil from places like Russia, and be indirectly subsidising their attacks on Ukraine. I promised to find out whether this was in fact true, and I've recently been in contact with an oil industry insider. This is what he said:
Getting It Right
“I actually think Starmer / Labour has probably got it about right on the North Sea exploration piece.
“It’s ludicrous to think that oil fields could just shut down overnight – the impact on jobs and levels of corporate compensation would be off the scale. Nor should we unwind already agreed licenses.
“At the same time however, if you’re serious about trying to deal with climate change, then at some point you have to bring an end to business as usual. By formally announcing that no more exploration licences will be allowed from a set date, then no jobs nor investment are affected.
“Sadly, it does mean that the UK will be forced to take oil and gas from (often) unpalatable regimes, with considerably poorer emission and environmental standards than the North Sea. That unfortunately will be the case until demand for those products declines, which is easily the most tricky part of the equation. Nonetheless, by taking a clear lead on oil and gas exploration, it sets a very powerful and tangible example in the decarbonisation process. Without it, how on earth can we preach to developing nations on why they should slow / cease their own exploration activities? Plus of course, if you don’t start the process somewhere, you will never start it.
How much in the North Sea?
“In terms of the question on how much oil can be extracted from the North Sea without new exploration projects, I don’t know the answer. Much depends on price in that if the oil price falls below $50, then I suspect the answer is very little. If it stays high or goes higher, then producers will be able to eke out a great deal more product. It is as much a question of using (costly) technology, as it is about at what point reserves are fully depleted.”
Government Not Listening
Sounds like a reasonable argument to me. On the other hand, the government’s attitude appears to be to shut down protest at all costs without considering in any way what the protest is about. We have seen changes to legislation making protest more and more difficult. When clauses have been deleted from legislation, they have been brought back in new legislation until the police have almost absolute discretion as to what is a protest and what is criminal behaviour. Just before the coronation, the police arrested people miles away from the procession route on the basis that they might be going to protest. They even locked up an innocent spectator until after it was all over, just because she was standing next to some people who might have been going to protest. As far as I know, she has no recourse or compensation.
Later this month, supporters of XR will get together in central York and tie themselves together and link themselves to trees with paper chains. Locking on, to other people or to trees, street furniture or other objects - even linking arms - is now illegal, and the purpose of the event is to demonstrate how onerous the legislation has become.
More worrying is the use of the civil law to suppress protests. Apparently people can be bankrupted for the costs of civil action without the actions actually having taken place or judgements entered. I will bring you more on this when I've tracked down another expert.
And in Other News
Last week, the government was strongly criticised by the Climate Change Committee and accused of losing its position as an international leader in the fight against the climate crisis. They are not the only ones to accuse the government, and particularly the PM, of losing the climate plot.
I try and avoid the mess of politics in the Sustainable Futures Report, but you will no doubt be aware that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned from Parliament in response to an excoriating report from the Parliamentary Privileges Committee which found him to have lied repeatedly. A number of Conservative politicians, including Lord Zac Goldsmith, a member of the government, openly criticised the committee and allegedly harassed some of its members.
Many considered that Goldsmith’s position as a member of the government was untenable in view of his actions and called upon the prime minister to sack him.
Before that happened, Goldsmith chose to resign. To resign not because he accepted that his behaviour against the committee was unacceptable, but because he believed that the prime minister was simply uninterested in environmental issues and his, Goldsmith’s, role as Minister for International Environment had become impossible. Goldsmith does have a reputation as a dedicated environmental campaigner. Here are a few quotations from his resignation letter, which runs to some 1400 words.
“Before you took office, you assured party members,
that you would continue implementing
the action plan, including the kept animals bill and
measures like ending the live export of animals for slaughter, banning keeping primates as pets, preventing the import of shark fins and hunting trophies from vulnerable species.
“But I have been horrified as, bit by bit, we have abandoned these commitments – domestically and on the world stage…
“More worrying, the UK has visibly stepped off the world stage and withdrawn our leadership on climate and nature. Too often we are simply absent from key international fora. Only last week you seemingly chose to attend the party of a media baron rather than attend a critically important environment summit in Paris that ordinarily the UK would have co-led…”
That’s a reference to the Paris Finance Summit that I spoke about last week, to discuss aid from the wealthy North to the impoverished South. A number of heads of government attended, but PM Rishi Sunak preferred to go to a party instead.
“Worse still, we have effectively abandoned one of the most widely reported and solemn promises we have made on this issue: our pledge to spend £11.6bn of our aid on climate and environment.”
And that's been making headlines in the papers today.
“The problem is not that the government is hostile to the environment, it is that you, our prime minister, are simply uninterested. That signal, or lack of it, has trickled down through Whitehall and caused a kind of paralysis.
“I will never understand how, with all the knowledge we now have about our fundamental reliance on the natural world and the speed with which we are destroying it, anyone can be uninterested.”
He warns that by ignoring the problems of the developing nations the government risks losing their support at the United Nations, and by ignoring concerns closer to home the Tory party risks losing the votes of its supporters.
“..this government’s apathy in the face of the greatest challenge we have faced makes continuing in my current role untenable.”
Some quite worrying points here. Full marks for political manoeuvring. I bet you’ve forgotten all about Goldsmith’s behaviour towards the Privileges Committee and he’s saved the PM the trouble of firing him.
The full text of the resignation letter is available on the Sustainable Futures Report website at the end of this episode.
That's all for this week.
I’m off to look at ways of revitalising the Sustainable Futures Report and bringing it to a wider audience. Maybe I shall open a Threads account. Yes, that's the new app which has been set up in opposition to Twitter. Anyway whatever I decide we will see what it achieves and if it achieves nothing then I will indeed bring the Sustainable Futures Report to a close with episode number 500. Or possibly sooner, but let's not be pessimistic. I have a number of interviews already recorded or scheduled so there's quite a lot of content to share with you in the coming weeks.
Have a good week.
Thanks for listening.
Do stay in touch.
I'm Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report and there will be another one next week.
Zac Goldsmith Resignation Letter
Dear prime minister,
I became involved in politics above all because of my love and concern for the natural environment. We depend on nature for everything, and we are degrading the natural world at an astonishing speed. Logically, there is nothing more important.
So when you asked me to stay on as minister for the international environment, I of course accepted. I did so with a view to guarding the progress we had seen in recent years on the international environment, and to building on a record of international leadership that has been so warmly welcomed around the world.
The past four years have been an exhilarating experience for me, and I will forever be grateful that I was put in a position where I could do more for the environment than I thought possible in a lifetime.
I’m proud that in recent years the UK has played a critical, indeed defining role – leading powerful coalitions of ambition and securing world-changing commitments over a very wide range of environmental issues.
And even if in the highly polarised political environment here in the UK there is an unwillingness to acknowledge it, that leadership has been recognised and appreciated by civil society and governments around the world.
As a direct consequence of our environmental leadership, we have seen countries previously ambivalent towards the UK stepping up to support us on numerous unrelated issues. We often find ourselves invited to regional environmental summits as the only “outsider” country present.
It is the UK that civil society routinely turns to for help advancing their cause. In many respects, the UK has become the single most important voice for nature globally.
I believe we can be proud of our record. At Cop26 we secured unprecedented commitments from countries, philanthropists and businesses that – if delivered – will put the natural world on the road to recovery. At the time, WWF said “Nature truly arrived at Cop26”.
The Tropical Forest Alliance said “we’ll look back and realise that this was the day we finally turned the tide on deforestation”. Forbes called it a “Paris moment” for forests. In Glasgow, with strong support from the then prime minister, we were able to achieve far more than any of us ever thought possible.
Since then, the UK has been the driving force behind successful global efforts. We led calls to protect 30% of the world’s land and ocean by the end of this decade, a goal that was agreed at the Biodiversity Cop in Montreal last year where the UK did more than almost any other country to make it a historic success.
Separately we helped galvanise agreement for a new global treaty on plastic pollution. And it was our team of negotiators who – more than any other – secured an agreement for the creation of new laws to protect the high seas.
Our G7 negotiators meanwhile persuaded the main donor countries to align their aid spending not only with the Paris goals, but with nature too.
We have created world-class funding programmes like our new biodiverse landscapes fund, which is creating vast wildlife corridors between countries, providing safe passage for wildlife and jobs for people living in and around the corridors; and our new blue planet fund, which is supporting marine protection, coral and mangrove restoration, and efforts to stop plastic pollution and illegal fishing.
These and other funds are world-class and have leveraged a wave of financial support from other countries and philanthropists.
It has been my privilege to grow our wonderful Blue Belt programme so that today it fully protects an area of ocean significantly larger than India around our overseas territories.
The UK has been able to win arguments internationally in part because we were taking action at home. I won’t pretend we have gone nearly far or fast enough, but there is no doubt that since 2019 we have made meaningful progress.
We strengthened our environmental laws, provided more funding for nature, committed to more protected areas, more action on plastic pollution, and the UK is one of the only countries with legal targets to reverse biodiversity loss.
We have committed to restore our peatlands and plant trees on an unprecedented scale and we are transforming our land subsidy system to support the environment. We have also taken steps to address our international environmental footprint, including new laws stopping the import to the UK of agricultural commodities grown on illegally deforested land.
We also made progress on animal welfare. The government signed off an ambitious action plan for animal welfare, which would have represented the biggest shake up of animal welfare in living memory.
As minister responsible I was able to translate it, bit by bit, into law. We increased sentencing for cruelty from six months to five years, we recognised in law the sentience of animals, enacted and extended the ivory trade ban, introduced measures to break the pet smuggling trade and banned glue traps.
Before you took office, you assured party members, via me, that you would continue implementing the action plan, including the kept animals bill and measures like ending the live export of animals for slaughter, banning keeping primates as pets, preventing the import of shark fins and hunting trophies from vulnerable species.
But I have been horrified as, bit by bit, we have abandoned these commitments – domestically and on the world stage. The kept animals bill has been ditched, despite your promises. Our efforts on a wide range of domestic environmental issues have simply ground to a standstill.
More worrying, the UK has visibly stepped off the world stage and withdrawn our leadership on climate and nature. Too often we are simply absent from key international fora. Only last week you seemingly chose to attend the party of a media baron rather than attend a critically important environment summit in Paris that ordinarily the UK would have co-led.
Worse still, we have effectively abandoned one of the most widely reported and solemn promises we have made on this issue: our pledge to spend £11.6bn of our aid on climate and environment.
Indeed the only reason the government has not had to come clean on the broken promise is because the final year of expenditure falls after the next general election and will therefore be the problem for the next government, not this one.
This is a promise, remember, that has been consistently repeated by prime ministers in the past four years, including by you, and for good reason.
It is the single most important signal of intend [sic] for the dozens of small island and climate-vulnerable states on an issue that is existential for them. These states, remember, have equal sway in the UN where we routinely seek their support on other issues.
That same promise was also used successfully by the UK as leverage to persuade G7 countries to follow suit, and breaking it would not only infuriate them, along with those small island states in the Commonwealth and beyond – it would shred any reputation we have for being a reliable partner.
Prime minister, having been able to get so much done previously, I have struggled even to hold the line in recent months.
The problem is not that the government is hostile to the environment, it is that you, our prime minister, are simply uninterested. That signal, or lack of it, has trickled down through Whitehall and caused a kind of paralysis.
I will never understand how, with all the knowledge we now have about our fundamental reliance on the natural world and the speed with which we are destroying it, anyone can be uninterested.
But even if this existential challenge leaves you personally unmoved, there is a world of people who do care very much. And you will need their votes.
Every survey and poll – without exception – tells us that people care deeply about the natural world, about the welfare of other species, about handing this world in better shape to the next generation. And as these issues inevitably grow in importance, so too will the gap between the British people and a Conservative party that fails to respond appropriately.
It has been a privilege to be able to work with so many talented people in government, in particular my private office, and to have been able to make a difference to a cause I have been committed to for as long as I remember.
But this government’s apathy in the face of the greatest challenge we have faced makes continuing in my current role untenable.
With great reluctance I am therefore stepping down as a minister in order to focus my energy where it can be more useful.