Anti-tar sands campaigners claim Canada and Shell are ‘strangling climate action’
Today at a high-level conference on climate change at Chatham House, London, two activists interrupted first Peter Kent, Canada’s Environment Minister, then Shell’s UK Chairman Graham van’t Hoff, as they got up to make speeches. The conference attendees included EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres and Professor Thomas Stocker from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. There was laughter at the tongue-in-cheek speeches which referred to Kent as an “agent from a rogue petro-state” and Shell as “world-class greenwashers”, and the audience listened attentively for several minutes, before the activists were removed by security.
The first activist, Danny Chivers, used the Canadian Government’s own words against them, calling them ‘foreign radicals’ who were ‘interfering with the regulatory structures’ of Europe to pursue their ‘radical ideological agenda’ of tar sands expansion, and asked for Kent to be removed from the stage.
During the interruption, Mr Chivers told the audience that Kent had got into the climate change conference under false pretences. He said Kent was “part of a dangerous anti-environment group called the Canadian Government, who were committed to wrecking the climate by handing over vast swathes of indigenous people’s land to oil companies, for them to rip up and extract some of the most polluting fuel on earth”.
The second activist, Sophie Preston, then rose as Graham van’t Hoff was about to speak. She accused Shell of trying to gain green kudos by sponsoring the conference, while lobbying against effective national and international climate action. Shell is one of the largest operators in the tar sands and plans to double its production despite a legal challenge from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation who claim their treaty rights have been violated. She too was removed by security.
Earlier that morning, campaigners from the UK Tar Sands Network staged a dramatic piece of street theatre outside Chatham House. Conference attendees, including Peter Kent himself, were greeted by the disturbing spectacle of black-clad masked figures representing Canada and Shell literally ‘strangling’ climate activists. The campaigners handed out flyers and spoke to the conference attendees, questioning whether genuine solutions to climate change that would end our dependence on fossil fuels, promote climate justice and penalise highly-carbon-intensive companies could really be on the table for discussion at an event sponsored by Shell and featuring Peter Kent as a keynote speaker.
The protest follows a series of damaging revelations about how closely the Canadian government, oil companies such as Shell and BP, and some British politicians are working together to further the highly-polluting tar sands industry’s aims. Earlier this year the Fuel Quality Directive – a key piece of EU climate legislation that would discourage tar sands imports to Europe – stalled after intensive lobbying by Canada and the oil industry resulted in key member states, including the UK, not supporting it. Two weeks ago, Vince Cable, formerly Shell’s chief economist, was revealed to be ‘Contact Minister for Shell’ within the UK Coalition Government, following a Freedom of Information Request.
Danny Chivers, who is the author of ‘The No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change: the Science, the Solutions, the Way Forward’, said ‘Inviting Peter Kent and Shell to speak at a climate change event is like asking the Cookie Monster and Homer Simpson to address a conference on healthy eating. We know that in order to have a chance of preventing runaway climate change, we need to leave the tar sands in the ground, yet Canada and Shell are intent on heavily promoting this insanely destructive industry. They are part of the problem and certainly should not be held up as experts in a discussion about effective climate solutions.’
Sophie Preston, who is a Climate Change and Policy student, said: ‘I have been to Canada and seen first-hand the devastating effects of tar sands oil extraction on the local environment and Indigenous communities whose rights are being violated. So I am very distressed to find that lobbying by Canada and Shell is now also scuppering attempts to make effective climate policy in the EU and internationally. Until it has halted all plans to expand the tar sands, Canada should be treated as a climate pariah, not invited to the table to skew the debate.’