Greenpeace demonstrators draped the country estate of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in black fabric Thursday to protest his plan to expand oil and gas drilling in the North Sea.
Video posted by the group showed a crew dressed in bright red jumpsuits, helmets, and safety harnesses carrying ladders and climbing onto the roof of the Yorkshire house. They slowly unfurled long black sheets of fabric over the front of the home and held a yellow sign on the roof that read “No New Oil.”
The prime minister was not home because he is vacationing with his family in California. North Yorkshire police said officers were at the location.
Sunak announced Monday that Britain will grant hundreds of new oil and gas licences in the North Sea to gain energy independence. The move was widely criticized by environmental groups that have accused the government of backsliding on its pledge to eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050.
As four Greenpeace members were on the roof of the British leader’s country house, two others stood on the front lawn holding a banner with the words “Rishi Sunak — Oil Profits or Our Future?”
“We desperately need our prime minister to be a climate leader, not a climate arsonist,” said Philip Evans of Greenpeace. “Just as wildfires and floods wreck homes and lives around the world, Sunak is committing to a massive expansion of oil and gas drilling.”
PM office defends drilling, climate policies
United Nations scientists and environmental groups have called on global leaders to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels after a summer of record high temperatures, drought and floods linked to man-made climate change. Burning oil and gas to power vehicles, factories and electricity generating stations releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide, the main driver of global warming.
A statement from Sunak’s office defended the prime minister’s climate policies.
“We make no apology for taking the right approach to ensure our energy security, using the resources we have here at home so we are never reliant on aggressors like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin for our energy,” the statement said.
The protest is one of dozens of high-profile demonstrations in the U.K. and across Europe by groups that have disrupted sporting events, caused massive traffic jams and performed shocking stunts to draw attention to the climate crisis and try to stop production of fossil fuels.
The plans announced by Sunak include a pledge to invest 20 billion pounds ($33.8 billion Cdn) in carbon capture and storage projects as he maintained the government’s commitment to eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050.
Britain began pumping oil and gas from the North Sea in the mid-1970s, a major source of jobs and tax revenue, particularly in Scotland. But production has been declining since around 2000, making support for the industry a major political issue.
British authorities have pledged to reduce net carbon emissions by 68 per cent by the end of the decade, on the way to reaching net-zero by 2050. Achieving net-zero means releasing only as much greenhouse gasses as can be pulled out of the atmosphere through natural or technological means.
But the government’s climate advisers say the pace of progress is “worryingly slow.” In a report last month, an advisory panel that tracks the U.K.’s decarbonization efforts slammed officials for backtracking on commitments and said Britain had “lost its clear global leadership position on climate action.”
The Climate Change Committee said backing for a new coal mine and new domestic oil and gas production undermined Britain’s “international messaging” on the need to stop developing fossil fuel projects.
The carbon capture and storage projects backed by Sunak aim to remove carbon dioxide from industrial emissions and pump it into old gas fields for permanent storage underground.
Stuart Haszeldine, a professor of carbon capture and storage at the University of Edinburgh, said Sunak’s cash injection could be “transformative” in expanding carbon capture and storage, but there is reason to be skeptical about the motives of the energy industry, which has traditionally been more focused on making money for shareholders than pursuing environmental targets.
“Unless the governments make carbon capture and storage profitable, oil companies tend not to be very interested,” Haszeldine told the BBC. “Their money can talk very loudly, but it doesn’t listen very well.”