#PaidtoPollute – suing the government to end public money for fossil fuels

The #PaidToPollute claimants are taking the UK government to court to answer for giving billions to the oil and gas industry.

To keep global warming at 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and avoid the direst consequences of climate change, the world‘s fossil fuel production needs to decline rapidly. Yet, despite this immediate need to act and embark on a global transition to renewables, governments are still paying big polluters with public money that could be spent on a fair transition and on building a green economy that centres workers and communities.

In fact, according to “The Production Gap: 2021 Report,” since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, G20 countries have directed USD 300 billion of new funding into fossil fuels, which is more money than they have invested into clean energy. In the United Kingdom, three claimants are taking the government to court to stop the public payments to fossil fuel companies.

fossil fuel renewables
G20 countries are still funding fossil fuels more than renewables © Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

Amid a climate crisis, the UK government is investing in oil and gas

The United Kingdom, a G20 nation with more than enough resources to speedily carry out a just transition, is sadly still supporting the domestic production of fossil fuels. This maximization of oil and gas extraction would almost quadruple the Mt CO2 emissions from the British oil and gas industry. What’s more, by burning its 5.7 billion barrels of oil and gas in already-operating fields, the United Kingdom would already exceed its share of the Paris Agreement climate goals, as illustrated in the Sea Change report by Platform, Oil Change International, and Friends of the Earth Scotland.

The report also highlights how oil and gas companies have received big tax giveaways from the UK Government, so much so that in the tax years 2015-16 and 2016-17, the government gave more money to oil companies than it received from them in taxes. Unsurprisingly, according to the energy research company Rystad Energy, the United Kingdom offers the best profitability conditions to the operators of big offshore fields due to its fiscal regime.

Brent oil platform
Shell and BP have avoided paying corporation tax in the UK © Shell

In March, the UK government announced the North Sea Transition Deal stipulated between the government and the fossil fuel industry. Through this deal, the government has agreed to a joint investment of up to £16bn to continue to allow new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. Even though those fossil fuel companies are already taking from the British people by not paying taxes. In fact, between 2018 and 2020, Shell and BP paid zero corporation tax or production levies on their North Sea gas and oil operations.

The UK government taken to court over these investments

The three claimants in the case against the government are climate justice activist and medic Mikaela Loach, SNP Common Weal organizer and daughter of a Scottish oil worker Kairin van Sweeden, and former oil refinery worker and Extinction Rebellion activist Jeremy Cox. The claimants are represented by Leigh Day, Merrow Golden, and David Wolfe QC. The law firm has applied to the High Court on behalf of the campaigners for the judicial review of the state-owned Oil and Gas Authority’s (OGA) new strategy.

In their legal case, the three campaigners argue that the state-owned Oil and Gas Authority’s (OGA) new strategy is unlawful as it encourages the production of oil and gas, which is in conflict with the country’s legal duty to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and uneconomic, as the UK has spent billions of public money to support the industry. The claimants are supported by the environmental non-profit Uplift, which coordinates the Paid to Pollute campaign with the support of environmental groups such as Greenpeace UK, Friends of the Earth Scotland, and 350.org.

Getting involved and supporting the claimants

Those who wish to support the claimants and their case can donate to it  or sign the petition. A #PaidToPollute rally was also held in London on December 7, 2021.

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