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Activists are taking the UK government to court

An image from a climate protest. In the centre, a cardboard hand-painted sign reads "fighting for our future".

“Billions of pounds of public money have been wasted propping up the oil and gas industry. We say no more. We’re taking the Government to court to pull the plug on public payments for big polluters. And we need your help.”

This week Paid to Pollute, a new UK activist group, have announced their intention to take the UK government to court over their funding of oil and gas extraction in British seas. Headed by Jeremy Cox, Kairin Van Sweden and Mikaela Loach, they plan to hold the government accountable to the Paris Agreement they signed in 2016.

So, what’s the UK government done? Well, since signing the Paris accords, they have paid £3.2 billion in public money to private oil and gas companies operating in the North Sea. It’s part of a strategy to ‘maximise the economic recovery’ of the oil and gas industries in the UK – which it’s claimed would be unprofitable without such subsidies.

As the lawyer from Leigh Day who represents the three claimants’ adds, “the OGA’s [Oil and Gas Authority’s] new strategy encourages companies to produce oil and gas without considering the economic repercussions of that on the public purse and the UK as a whole.”

“This means that, in some circumstances, such production is not ‘economic’ for the UK as a whole, but the OGA is still seeking to maximise it. The case argues that is unlawful, having regard to the terms of the OGA’s legal duty, and also irrational, because it will result in increased levels of oil and gas production, in conflict with the UK’s legal duty to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.”

The group further claim that the government pay outs aren’t leading to benefits for the British people, nor the climate. For example, they quote that in January 2021 Shell announced it was cutting 330 North Sea jobs – when the year before it had paid its CEO $7 million. This is all whilst having paid negative $99.1 million in tax to the UK government during the height of coronavirus pandemic. What do we mean here by negative tax? Well simply that the UK government paid them nearly $100 million in 2020.

In brief, the planned expansion of gas and oil extraction would mean the UK was using 3 times the amount it agreed on in the Paris Agreements with very little benefits to British workers or the overall economy.

However, the Paid to Pollute campaign is working to change this. They ask for this money to be invested into green jobs and energy that would better benefit the British public. If you ask why now and why in the UK they argue, “it’s vital that a country like the UK—which has the resources, the skills and a booming renewables industry—demonstrates leadership on this agenda, showing how you can transition away from oil and gas while reskilling workers and creating thousands of decent, well paid jobs in the process.” This is especially poignant when you consider that the UK has decried fossil fuel developments in other countries and is now in a position to be rebuilding and redesigning an economy in the wake of coronavirus.

In the first day they had over 7,300 signatures on their petition and the video on Mikaela Loach’s Instagram had over 500,000 views. An exciting campaign, it’s building momentum and could prove to be one of the biggest climate cases of a generation.

If you want to learn more or sign the petition head over to paidtopollute.org.uk.

By LTTS writer Daisy Everingham


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