Health Professionals glue on outside Downing Street calling for an end to fossil fuels

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  • 10 health professionals have glued themselves, hand to hand, in front of the gates of Downing Street. 50 more joined protests at the Treasury and Trafalgar square
  • They call for an end to fossil fuel subsidies and licenses, in response to the recent approval of the Jackdaw gas field and the loophole in the Windfall tax which encourages more oil and gas drilling
  • This is an escalation, following 2 disregarded letters from major medical institutions with the same demands, and previous protests at the Treasury
  • The government has recently asked health professionals to respond to the climate emergency

At 2.30pm today, 60 health professionals sat down in front of the gates outside Downing Street. Some members performed an unsuccessful ‘resuscitation’ of a 4 foot Earth on a stretcher. Following this 10 health professionals remained in front of the gates and ‘glued on’, whilst their colleagues held banners saying ‘For Health’s Sake Stop Financing Fossil Fuels’ and ‘Fossil Fuels are a Dead End’. This protest comes as a response to the government’s approval of the new controversial Jackdaw gas field, and the Treasury’s creation of a deliberate loophole in the Windfall Tax which encourages more drilling for North Sea oil and gas. 

The health professionals, organised by Doctors for XR, Medact and Health for a Green New Deal, delivered a letter for the attention of Boris Johnson1 which includes recent government guidance for all health professionals. This guidance2 states that the UK is “particularly at risk of drought, flooding and extreme weather events, all of which threaten the water, food, infrastructure and supply systems we depend on.” It says that “Health and care professionals should recognise the climate crisis as a health crisis, and therefore climate action as a core part of their professional responsibilities.”

Despite this, the government has consistently ignored calls from the health community to stop funding and approving health damaging fossil fuels. Letters were sent to the government in October 20213 and February 20224,5 by signatories including the British Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Nursing, both requesting an end to new fossil fuel licenses and subsidies. On World Health Day, April 7th 2022, Doctors for Extinction Rebellion protested outside the Treasury to escalate this message,6 but HM Treasury’s response was considered insufficient.7

The government has ignored all these warnings from the UK’s most senior health professionals by approving the new Jackdaw gas field. This will not lead to lower energy bills,  and while doing next to nothing for UK energy security, it will produce the equivalent of more than half of Scotland’s annual emissions, or Ghana’s entire annual emissions. 8

The government has also continued fossil fuel subsidies and financing. Last week it introduced a deliberate loophole in the windfall tax, which means that whatever a company spends opening up a new North Sea field, almost as much will be discounted from their windfall tax bill. This is designed to encourage more North Sea oil and gas production, and means that Shell will pay £210 million less in windfall tax as a result of its investment in Jackdaw, despite recording profits of over £14 billion in 2021. As a result of this shortfall, the public purse will now have to cover the recently announced £400 energy bill discount for half a million UK households. 9

The health professionals are supported in person by Scientists For Extinction Rebellion, who recently blocked the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department, calling for an end to new fossil fuels10.

Dr Fiona Godlee, former Editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) spoke at the demonstration, saying: “The government has twice ignored the medical profession’s pleas to stop propping up the toxic fossil fuel industry with taxpayers money, so they leave us no choice. Our political leaders are neglecting their duty of care to the young people of this country whose futures are now at risk, so we as health professionals feel morally obliged to protest on their behalf.”

Dr. Asmamaw Sisay Yigeremu, a Family Practitioner attending the demo, said “The Global south is already suffering from the effects of the climate crisis  with repeated droughts and famines. Hundreds of thousands have died, more die everyday, millions are already displaced. A recent report from Save the Children and Oxfam estimates that one person is being killed every 48 seconds by unprecedented droughts in East Africa. (6) All of this is happening to those least responsible for causing this crisis, whilst high emitters like the UK are continuing to approve new fossil fuels. We cannot stand by and let this happen.”

Rhiannon Osborne, a medical student and Medact spokesperson , said “Right now the key question on the public’s mind is, ‘Can we trust our politicians?’. On the evidence of their recent support of the fossil fuel industry, through the gigantic get-out clauses in the so-called windfall tax and the licensing of the Jackdaw oilfield – no we can’t. It’s time that the government puts people over profit for the sake of public health. We need a just transition, not new fossil fuels.”

Jo Hindley, a Midwife, glued to the floor, said “The climate crisis multiplies pre-existing health and maternity risks for women and girls. Inadequate housing, fuel poverty, food insecurity, mental health stressors, intimate partner abuse and sexual exploitation endanger mothers and babies, worsening when social breakdown and war forces families to flee their homes. My continuing duty of care means I cannot stand by and let this happen.”

Maggie Fay, a Dementia Specialist Nurse, also glued to the floor, said “I am a dementia specialist nurse here today because my code of conduct states that I must “act without delay if you believe that there is a risk to patient safety or public protection “. I believe that the UK government , by granting licenses to further fossil fuel extraction, such as the Cambo and Jackdaw oil fields, is acting in a way that will cause harm to the public.”


References

  1. Doctors for XR: Letter to Boris Johnson 11th June 2022 (Will be online from 2pm on 11th June)
  2. Government guidance for health professionals: Climate and health: applying “All Our Health” 18th May 2022
  3. Healthy Climate Prescription Letter 
  4. Elaine Mulcahy: A healthy prescription for a cleaner future
  5. Press release: Medical Leaders urge ministers to end dependence on fossil fuels 
  6. Doctors for Extinction Rebellion block HM Treasury on World Health Day 
  7. Letters to and from HM Treasury and Doctors for XR 
  8. Friends of the Earth Scotland: UK Government “pouring fuel on the fire” as Jackdaw field approved
  9. The Times: Shell’s new North Sea gasfield could cut its tax bill by £200m
  10. XR scientists glue hands to business department in London climate protest


Notes to editors

Jackdaw is a relatively minor gas field and will not prevent the UK from needing to import gas. Its output will only meet around 1- 2% of UK gas demand on average over its lifetime. It would start producing gas in 2025 and production would drop by almost 60% within four years of its peak in 2026. Jackdaw’s gas reserves are also particularly polluting, with an unusually high CO2 content. Shell’s application to extract gas from Jackdaw was originally rejected by the regulator, OPRED, due to what it described as the “significant effect” it would have on the climate. OPRED has now attached conditions to Shell’s approved plans to mitigate its climate impact. However, it may still mean that Shell’s plans for Jackdaw do not align with the targets and objectives of the UK’s Carbon Budgets nor the industry’s decarbonisation commitments in the North Sea Transition Deal.

In February 2022, the President of the Royal College of Physicians commented5: “’It seems utterly wrong that at a time when the role of fossil fuels in climate change is better understood than ever, that anyone should think that drilling for oil is a good thing. The climate change we are witnessing is on a scale that is already harming health and will only get worse. Any short term profits will soon be forgotten by everyone living with the consequences.

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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.

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