A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH: Doctors for Extinction Rebellion block HM Treasury on World Health Day 

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BREAKING: This morning at 7am on World Health Day, Doctors for Extinction Rebellion have blocked the road outside HM Treasury in London, calling for an end to the UK government’s financial support for fossil fuels. Six of them locked onto oil barrels in the road, whilst others held banners saying ‘For Health’s Sake: Stop Financing Fossil Fuels’ and ‘Clean Energy, Less War”.

The emergency medical intervention took place in response to the release of the latest IPCC report this week. Each doctor wore a sign that said ‘Protesting For Public Health’.

A group of 50 health professionals have also gathered outside HM Treasury today requesting the removal of UK financial support for fossil fuels.

They delivered a letter to the Treasury saying they would not leave until either: they commit to ending the estimated £10 billion/year worth of financial support which the government gives to fossil fuels, due to the significant and growing harms they cause to the physical and mental health of their patients; or that they meet with a delegation from Doctors for Extinction Rebellion at a mutually convenient time to discuss this as a matter of urgency.[1]

Nurse Maggie Faye, who is locked onto an oil barrel said:All government departments should prioritise the reduction of fossil fuel use by maximising energy efficiency and the use of clean energy sources, but where is the leadership, where is the urgency? Rich countries like ours have to cut oil and gas out completely by 2034 to give the world just a 50% chance of staying at a safe temperature. We don’t want to be here protesting, but continued fossil fuel dependence threatens all of our futures, particularly the most vulnerable, including my patients, so what else am I supposed to do?”

In their letter the doctors referenced recent criticism of the Spring Statement’s fuel duty cut, which according to Carbon Brief ‘disproportionately benefits the rich and runs counter to energy security and the UK’s climate goals [2].’ They also referenced the Lancet Commission’s report showing the significant harm caused by fossil fuels to lungs, hearts, brains and especially children’s health [3], McKinsey’s research showing a quadrupled risk of significant global harvest failure by 2050 in a ‘business as usual’ scenario [4], and the 2021 press release by the International Military Council on Climate and Security, which states ‘major and urgent global emissions reductions are necessary in order to avoid significant, severe or catastrophic global security consequences in the future [5].’

The demands of the group are similar to those of the UK’s leading medical institutions, with a combined membership of over 250,000 health workers, who recently called for the UK government to ‘end subsidies for oil and gas extraction and redirect funds to green industry’, as well as ‘immediately end the issuing of new [fossil fuel] licences’ and ‘make a plan to deliver a managed and equitable UK energy transition in line with 1.5C [6].’ This echoes the statement recently delivered by the UN Secretary General upon the release of the IPCC’s report on Climate Mitigation: ‘We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5-degree limit agreed in Paris…Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness…I am appealing directly to you. Demand that renewable energy is introduced now – at speed and at scale. Demand an end to coal-fired power. Demand an end to all fossil fuel subsidies.‘[7]

Former Mental health nurse Ali Rowe, stated: “We are here today protesting for public health. We have reached a place where we have no choice –  the IPCC report out this week demands it of us. We are not radical, we are health professionals exercising our duty to protect our patients. We need to find the courage to face some difficult conversations, coming together to take the populations health seriously, like their very lives depend on it – which current air pollution levels show us is true.”

The group will deliver letters to various government departments calling on them to end their subsidies for polluting businesses, and ask them to consider oil demand reduction in line with the 10-point-plan called for by the International Energy Agency [8].

They will call at the Department for Transport asking them to make less polluting forms of transport more attractive than higher polluting forms such as single occupancy cars and air travel; the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy asking them to decarbonise the energy mix much faster, and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ask them to commit to higher standards for new buildings and the retrofit of all existing buildings, which has been shown to reduce energy demand for heating by around 50% [9][10].

Dr Lynne Jones OBE, a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, delivered the letter. She said: “Fossil fuels produce air pollution that kills more people per year than smoking, and are the main cause of the greatest threat to health that humanity has ever known – the climate crisis. Antonio Guterres says “Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals  but the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing production of fossil fuels.”  That would be the UK Government, who have indicated that they intend to torch the Paris agreement and lead us on a path to catastrophe. I am horrified and terrified. Guterres goes on to say, “It is time to stop burning our planet, and start investing in the abundant renewable energy all around us.” I completely agree.That’s why I am here.

Dr Chris Newman, a General Practitioner and group spokesperson was locked onto the oil barrels. He said “The UK is the most profitable place in the world for offshore Oil and Gas, and companies like Shell and BP are being encouraged to drill through perverse incentives. Those who will suffer the most are children, through poisoned air that stunts their lungs, and climate change that robs them of a decent future. It is time to end fossil fuel subsidies.”

The action comes following almost a week of blockades at oil facilities across the UK from Extinction Rebellion and the Just Stop Oil coalition, calling for an immediate end to all new fossil fuel investments.[11] On April 9th onwards, Extinction Rebellion is inviting everyone to join them in London’s Hyde Park from 10am to go into civil resistance and take a stand against the fossil fuel economy.[12]

Notes to editors

Fossil Fuels air pollution kills more (99,000/year) than smoking does (82,000)

99,000 statistic:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/air-pollution-fossil-fuels-deaths-b1799380.html
https://www.express.co.uk/news/nature/1395765/Green-Britain-Pollution-fossil-fuels-linked-17-percent-deaths-UK

82,000 statistic: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/statistics-on-smoking/statistics-on-smoking-england-2020

UK is the most profitable country for Oil and Gas

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/jan/20/net-zero-plan-uk-energy-industry

Rich countries to cut oil and gas completely by 2034

Tyndall centre report: https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/phaseout-pathways-for-fossil-fuel-production-within-pariscompliant-carbon-budgets(c7235a8e-e3b1-4f44-99de-c27958c03758).html

References

(1) Letter to Treasury

(2) Carbon Brief policy analysis. Spring statement 2022: Key climate and energy announcements | 23rd March 2022

(3) Lancet Commission impact report: Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health | June 23rd 2015

(4) McKinsey & Company report . Will the world’s breadbaskets become less reliable | May 18 2020

(5) International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) Press Release | June 7th 2021

(6) Stop Cambo press release: Medical leaders urge ministers to end UK’s dependence on fossil fuels

(7) Video message by UN Secretary General at the WGIII AR6 press conference | April 4th 2022

(8) IEA report: A 10 point plan to cut oil use | March 2022

(9) Centre for Alternative Technology report | Zero Carbon Britain: Rising to the Climate Emergency | November 28th 2019

(10) Posters, leaflets and letters to other departments

(11) https://extinctionrebellion.uk/2022/04/01/end-fossil-fuels-now-extinction-rebellion-and-just-stop-oil-block-oil-facilities-across-the-uk/

(12) https://extinctionrebellion.uk/next-uk-rebellion/

————————————————————————-

LETTER TO TREASURY

The Rt. Honourable Rishi Sunak MP           Doctors for Extinction Rebellion
Chancellor of the Exchequer                         admin@doctorsforxr.com
HM Treasury
1 Horse Guards Road
London
SW1A 2HQ

April 7th 2022 – World Health Day

Dear Mr Sunak

A group of 50 health professionals have gathered outside HM Treasury today, on World Health Day. We are requesting the removal of UK financial support for fossil fuels. We will not leave the road outside the Treasury until either:

1) You commit to ending the estimated £10 billion/year worth of financial support which the government gives to fossil fuels, due to the significant and growing harms they cause to the physical and mental health of our patients.

Or

2) You agree to meet with a delegation from Doctors for Extinction Rebellion at a mutually convenient time to discuss the above.

Why end financial support for fossil fuels?

The UK government gives financial incentives that promote the production and consumption of fossil fuels which amount to around £10 billion/year according to the 2019 EU Commission report1. We are well aware the UK does not officially classify these as subsidies, but regardless, these tax structures lead to the UK taking just $2 (£1.47) a barrel in tax revenue, compared with more than $20 a barrel for Norway2. More importantly they make oil, gas and coal – which are harmful to human health – artificially cheap, and thus promote their use. The harms that oil, gas and coal produce are extensive and complex, but can be broken into direct and indirect harms.

Fossil fuels cause direct harms through the release of toxic gases and particulate matter – which lead to significant damage to our lungs, heart and brains3, especially when this exposure happens in the womb. Air pollution caused by fossil fuels is now thought to cause more deaths per year than smoking4,5.

Fossil fuels cause indirect harms through climate change. Some of these are individual effects – such as heatstroke, vector borne diseases (dengue, malaria, zika), and physical trauma from floods and storms3. Some are societal effects – such as drought, famine, poverty, displacement of people, and the almost inevitable results – conflict and war3. This is why climate change is considered to be a ‘threat multiplier’.

According to McKinsey ‘probabilities of a multi-breadbasket failure occurring at least once within a 10 year period increase from 10 percent today, to 18 percent by 2030 and to 34 percent by 20506.’ According to the International Military Council on Climate and Security ‘major and urgent global emissions reductions are necessary in order to avoid significant, severe or catastrophic global security consequences in the future7.’

Reduction of financial support for fossil fuels must be done in a fair and equitable manner, unlike the recent cuts on fuel duty which according to Carbon Brief, ‘disproportionately benefit the rich and run counter to energy security and the UK’s climate goals8.’ Elsewhere in the Spring Statement we were pleased to see cuts to VAT on solar, heat pumps and insulation, but alone these completely fail to meet the scale of the challenge we face. Recent research showed that rich countries like our own must stop producing fossil fuels completely in the next 12 years for just a 50:50 chance of staying below 1.5°C9. If we fail it will be catastrophic for this country, and the world.

This week, with the release of the IPCC working group 3 report, the picture has become even starker. “It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C,” said IPCC Co-Chair Jim Skea10. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres stated ““A shift to renewables will mend our broken global energy mix and offer hope to millions of people suffering climate impacts today. Climate promises and plans must be turned into reality and action, now. It is time to stop burning our planet, and start investing in the abundant renewable energy all around us.”

Which financial support do we want you to stop?

On the producer side, we are asking you to stop the Ring Fence measures, which give tax relief for Oil and Gas exploration, field appraisal and decommissioning; and we want you to stop the Investment Allowance11. Decommissioning alone, it is estimated, will cost the UK taxpayer at least £24 billion unless the government intervenes12. At the same time we are asking you to enact measures to protect oil and gas workers through a just transition.

We are supported in this by the UK’s leading medical institutions, who also recently called for the UK government to end oil and gas subsidies. The British Medical Association, the Faculty of Public Health, the Royal Colleges of Physicians, Paediatricians, Obstetricians and Gynaeocologists and Psychiatrists, with a combined membership of over 250,000 health workers, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister in February calling for the government to13:

  • End subsidies for oil and gas extraction and redirect funds to green industry;
  • Immediately end the issuing of new licences
  • Categorically reject the Cambo oil field and all new oil and gas development
  • Provide emergency support for people facing fuel poverty;
  • Make a plan to deliver a managed and equitable UK energy transition in line with 1.5C;
  • End to the policy of Maximum Economic Recovery (MER) for the North Sea.

On the consumer side we are asking you to remove the relief of VAT on domestic heating, whilst at the same time, ensuring that the poor are not worse off financially. We recognise this removal will have a disproportionately large impact on lower income households, for whom spending on necessities such as energy, forms a large proportion of total spending; at the same time we recognise that VAT relief on domestic heating favours those with bigger houses. The richest 10% are known to spend twice as much on heating as the poorest 10%14. We suggest that a just and fair removal of VAT relief could be achieved by targeted support through the social security system11.

Other Government Departments

We appreciate that the Treasury alone cannot tackle the climate crisis. It has to be a government-wide focus. That is why we have also visited the other government departments today, calling for oil demand strategies, as proposed in the IEA’s ’10 point plan’15, efficiency strategies, which could reduce energy demand for heating by as much as 50%, as proposed in the Zero Carbon Britain report16, and a new drive towards clean energy independence. 

National Security

The Climate Change Committee and many others have pointed out that increasing domestic production of fossil fuels will make zero difference to UK consumers, given that our oil and gas prices are tied to the international market. However, some MPs are suggesting we produce more for national security reasons. This ignores the huge, long-term national security threat cause by the climate crisis. As the Director General of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Jagan Chapagain, said We must take a holistic view. The climate crisis affects national security, and this must take much greater priority for governments than it has done.

Thank you for reading, we await your reply.

Yours Sincerely

Doctors for Extinction Rebellion

ABOUT EXTINCTION REBELLION

Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the 6th mass species extinction, global pollution, and increasingly rapid climate change. If urgent and radical action isn’t taken, we’re heading towards 4˚C warming, and the societal collapse and mass loss of life that that implies. The younger generation, racially marginalised communities and the Global South are on the front-line. No-one will escape the devastating impacts.

Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their Government.

Extinction Rebellion’s key demands are:

  1. Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
  3. Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

What Emergency? | Extinction Rebellion in Numbers |This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook 

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