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Protests at COP26 Climate Summit Call on U.K. to Block Massive Cambo Oil Field Off Scotland’s Coast

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Image Credit: Greenpeace UK

As the U.K. government tries to claim the mantle of climate leadership at the U.N. Climate Change Conference, we speak with Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland. She describes how activists are calling on U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to block the development of the giant Cambo oil field off the coast of Scotland, which would run counter to the U.N. goals of phasing out fossil fuels. “We know that fossil fuels need to be phased out long, long before 2050, but this proposal is to keep on drilling oil until 2050,” says Church, adding that the extraction of 800 million barrels of oil would be “the equivalent of 10 years of Scotland’s annual emissions.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Although you may see this oak table here in New York, it is very expansive today. We wanted to link everyone, people around the globe who can’t make it to the summit, people who are not accredited at the COP and so they’re outside the summit walls and can’t go in these extremely long security lines, and people at the center of the COP.

And that’s where we’re going to go right now, to join Dipti with her colleague Mary Church. You see, as Scotland is hosting the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, plans for a huge oil field off the coast of Scotland are set to go ahead. And we’re continuing our coverage of the two-week U.N. climate summit inside the COP with Mary Church, head of campaigns. She’s in the same organization as Dipti Bhatnagar, Friends of the Earth. And she heads Friends of the Earth Scotland.

You can say hi to Dipti, Mary. You’re separated by, to say the least, many miles, but certainly not by your concerns for the planet. Place us in Glasgow, Scotland, where many have never been in their whole lives.

MARY CHURCH: Yeah. So, I mean, Glasgow is the biggest city in Scotland, and it’s got a long history of social movements and really, yeah, powerful movements. And we’re seeing that growing. We’re seeing that coming to life, really, around this climate summit in a really fantastic way.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about what it means that Dipti can’t come, that this climate summit, unlike last year, when it was canceled, is being held in the midst of a pandemic, and then what you’re trying to bring into the COP from outside, from Scotland, and the struggles you’re dealing with there?

MARY CHURCH: Yeah. So, the U.K. government was talking up this COP as being the most inclusive COP ever, despite going ahead with it while the pandemic, while the COVID-19 pandemic rages around the world. And far from the most inclusionary summit, we’re seeing the opposite of that, right? So, we’re seeing absolutely the most exclusive climate summit ever, the most white, the most privileged climate summit.

So, we, in civil society movements and Friends of the Earth and in the COP Coalition, we called for the COP to be postponed, because we didn’t think it was safe to go ahead, given the really quite high rates of COVID here in the U.K., right here in Scotland, here in the Central Belt of Scotland, but also around the world, and obviously also to do with the COVID vaccine apartheid, so, you know, seeing the very, very unequal rollout of the COVID vaccine globally. You know, the continent of Africa, for example, has less than 5% coverage of vaccination. And yeah, people in the U.K., people here in Scotland, we’ve got quite a high level of vaccination, but the virus is still circulating at really high rates. So, we don’t think it was safe to go ahead with the conference. The U.K. government has pushed ahead with it anyway. The preparations for the COP, the logistics for the COP — I mean, I think Dipti and Asad have touched on this — the preparations have been last-minute. They’ve been chaotic and shambolic. They’ve been ever-changing. It’s almost as if, you know, as Dipti says, they didn’t really want the peoples of the Global South to be able to make it, to be able to have their voices heard.

So, part of what we’ve been doing in Scottish civil society, in U.K. civil society, we’ve been organizing as part of this broad, diverse movement of movements that’s coming together under the COP26 Coalition. We’ve been organizing over the two last years, actually, because the COP was announced two whole years ago, right? So we’ve had a good run up to this to get together, to get to know each other, to do learning within our movement. So we’ve been organizing together to make sure that, A, we can support as many people as possible to come to Glasgow in as safe a way as possible, so we set up a visa support service and a sort of travel support service, and we have helped many hundreds of people to come to Glasgow that way, but we also know of many hundreds, if not thousands, of people, so civil society delegates, people who would have been inside the talks, people who would have come to be making their voices heard on the streets outside of the talks, as well, as well as party delegates who have been unable to come to Glasgow and attend these talks.

And one of the ways we’re trying to mitigate against that through our work here in Glasgow and around the U.K. is we’re doing all of our work, the civil society activities that we’re planning — so we have an alternative summit, you know, a counter-summit, a people’s summit, planned for the middle Sunday to Wednesday, so Sunday the 7th to Wednesday the 10th. That summit will be run in a hybrid way — right? — so that people who haven’t been able to travel to Glasgow from the Global South can still get their voices heard through that summit, yeah? So, we’ll be doing everything that we can in this dual sort of in-person and hybrid way.

AMY GOODMAN: So, on Sunday, climate justice activists interrupted COP25 President Alok Sharma at the closing ceremony of the youth summit. This is what he said and what happened.

ALOK SHARMA: And on every occasion —

PROTESTER 1: Alok Sharma, you are a hypocrite. What do we want?

PROTESTERS: Climate justice!

PROTESTER 1: When do we want it?


PROTESTER 1: What do we want?

PROTESTERS: Climate justice!

PROTESTER 1: When do we want it?


PROTESTER 1: What do we want?

PROTESTERS: Climate justice!

PROTESTER 1: When do we want it?


PROTESTER 2: Alok Sharma and the U.K. government are hypocrites! They are opening the new Cambo oil field. They subsidize billions into fossil fuels, yet won’t look after the workers who need a just transition. Where is the support for countries in crisis as a result from our colonial history?

AMY GOODMAN: The interruption of Alok Sharma, the COP president, while he was speaking. And they’re saying, “Alok Sharma and the U.K. government are hypocrites. They are opening the new Cambo oil field. They subsidize billions into fossil fuels, yet won’t look after the workers [who] need a just transition.” Mary Church, can you explain what exactly they’re talking about?

MARY CHURCH: Yeah. So, the Cambo oil field is a big new find off the west coast of Shetland. So, it’s an oil field that would be planned to be running until 2050, right? We know that fossil fuels need to be phased out long, long, long before 2050, but this proposal is to keep on drilling oil until 2050. Over the lifespan of the development, it would be 800 million barrels of oil. Now, that’s the equivalent of 10 years of Scotland’s annual emissions, yeah? And this is a proposal by Shell and Siccar Point Energy. And it’s seeing an awful lot of opposition. So, yeah, there’s a really strong movement growing to stop Cambo.

This is a U.K. government decision. So, the oil field is based off the coast of Scotland. It’s a U.K. government decision. You know, it’s had an initial exploration license, and now the decision that needs to be made is as to whether the proposal, the project, can go forward into development — right? — into actual extraction of the oil. So, that’s the decision that the U.K. government ministers are sort of poised to make. As we understand it, they’re poised to greenlight that, right? They haven’t made the decision before COP, perhaps understandably, because of all the criticism, if they were to go ahead with it, that would come with that. And, you know, only yesterday we saw the Scotland secretary — so, that’s a U.K. government post, but we saw the Scotland secretary, Alister Jack, saying, “100%, the Cambo field needs to go ahead,” which is, you know, absolute hypocrisy.

So, U.K. government claims this mantle of climate leadership. And, you know, even the IEA, the International Energy Agency, has said — you know, they’re not exactly the most sort of radical organization on the planet, but even the International Energy Agency have said, you know, “No more fossil fuels. No more investment in fossil fuels,” if we want to have any chance of limiting warming to that critical 1.5 threshold. So, I mean, it’s almost unthinkable that the presidency, you know, the U.K. as presidents of this COP, this COP that’s pitted as — you know, being pitted as the last chance to turn things around and avoid 1.5, is even contemplating greenlighting a project of this scale.

And I would like to also say, you know, the Scottish government — you know, it’s not a Scottish government decision to give the go-ahead to Cambo. But, you know, our first minister here in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, she is perhaps a more credible voice on the climate than Boris Johnson, for example. But even Nicola Sturgeon hasn’t actually said no to the Cambo oil field, right? We’ve seen some welcome moves from the Scottish government recently. So, last Monday, the first minister signaled that the Scottish government could no longer support this U.K.-wide policy of maximizing economic recovery of oil and gas, right? That is written into U.K. law, right? Maximizing economic recovery of gas, squeezing every last drop out of the North Sea, right? And finally, the Scottish government have stood up and said, “OK, that is incompatible with meeting our climate target.” So, that is a, you know, small but important, really welcome move from the Scottish government.

But what we need to see now is Sturgeon going further and supporting a ban on all new fossil fuel infrastructure, all new fossil fuel projects, saying no to Cambo, being really outright in opposition to Cambo, and moving on — you mentioned just transition earlier, so really moving on from the rhetoric on just transition and actually delivering on a just transition for the workers and the communities whose livelihoods are really dependent on the oil and gas industry, you know, at the U.K. level, but particularly in Scotland, right? The North Sea oil and gas industry is a hugely important part of the national economy. So, how do we make sure that those workers and communities, you know, that their experiences, their skills, their knowledge is at the center of how we move away from fossil fuels to a renewable energy economy, and also that they’re protected — right? — their livelihoods are protected as we do that transition? Because, you know, we’ve seen energy transitions in this country before, right? We’ve seen the closure of the coal mines, you know, in the '80s and over the ’90s and all the rest of it. And we've seen the way that those communities were treated, right? They were abandoned. They were left to sort it out for themselves. And we’ve seen the impact of that over many decades, yeah, in terms of social dislocation and all the problems that have come with that. So we absolutely need to not do that this time, you know, get it right and deliver a real just transition.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth International Scotland, and Dipti Bhatnagar, speaking to us from Maputo, Mozambique, climate justice energy coordinator at Friends of the Earth International, two women environmental leaders. So many women leaders of the climate movement, from Greta Thunberg in Sweden to Vanessa Nakate in Uganda, we must forefront those voices and so many others, as inside the COP Mary stands in front of a moving globe.

Next up, we’re going to look at the shocking torture of a former U.S. resident in CIA black sites and how military jurors who heard him speak at Guantánamo say that his treatment is a “stain on the moral fiber of America.” Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Calm Before the Storm” by World Beat. I’m Amy Goodman. This is The War and Peace Report. And remember, you can turn to us for so many of the climate actions that will be taking place over the next two weeks. And if you go to, we will link to today’s opening ceremony inside the COP.

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