As a hundred thousand people on the streets of London for Extinction Rebellion’s Big One have been reminding us of the existential threat of climate change and 1,300 oil workers have gone on strike because oil companies aren’t sharing their record profits, new research shows the reach of the fossil fuel industry into politics north and south of the border.
Friends of the Earth Scotland researched the extent of contact between the fossil fuel industry and the Scottish Government. Between March 2018 and December 2022 there were 212 meeting with Scottish Ministers – that’s meetings more than quarterly – including 12 with the First Minister herself. SSE, who want to build a new gas-fired power station at Peterhead, were the most frequent lobbyist but others included BP, Shell, INEOS, Centrica, Equinor and Total. You can be sure that groups calling for an end to fossil fuels did not get this kind of access to decision makers. FoE are calling for the Scottish Government to end this ‘open door ‘ for the fossil fuel industry.
Another investigation found that people linked to the free-market, climate-denying, pro-fossil fuels lobby groups based at the infamous Tufton Street offices in Westminster donated handsomely to the Conservatives. Supporters of the Global Warming Policy Foundation and the Centre for Policy Studies have given £630,000 to the Conservative Party and direct to Tory MPs just since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister. And more than half a dozen former employees of the Tufton Street network of groups are employed as Special Advisors in Sunak’s Government.
And yet a third investigation this week found that most of the backers of UK trials of hydrogen as a fuel for home heating are heavily invested in fossil fuels. These include the Governments of China and Qatar as well as a bank and a range of private equity companies. They clearly see the use of hydrogen made from natural gas as the way to prolong the life of their fossil fuel investments, even though climate change means the world instead needs to exit fossil fuels as quickly as possible.
In a bit of counter lobbying, Labour MSP Monica Lennon wrote to Humza Yousaf asking him to raise the proposed Rosebank oil development in his meeting on Monday with Rishi Sunak. She asked him to call for it not to go ahead since it would, on its own, break our climate change budget.
There have been long-standing concerns about the influence of fossil fuel interests on the UN and the European Union. At the UN climate talks in Egypt last year oil and gas lobbyists made up the second largest delegation. At the European level, a group of campaign organisations is calling for the European Commission and the European Parliament to impose the same kind of restrictions that apply to tobacco lobbying on oil and gas interests.
While parties and politicians are funded by the oil industry and that industry has regular, privileged access to our decision makers, there is little hope of the kind of emergency action we need on climate change. We need fossil-free politics.
A version of this blog appeared in the Scotsman newspaper on the 27th April 2023