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blockade of Downing St

Greenpeace U.K. staged a protest outside Downing Street in London with a 12-foot statue of Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson to protest a new oil field on October 11, 2021. (Photo: Credit: Suzanne Plunkett/Greenpeace)

Ahead of UK-Hosted Climate Summit, Oil Critics Arrested for Blockade Outside Downing Street

"Johnson's failure to act has left us with petrol queues, energy companies going bust, offshore workers unemployed for months on end, and a deepening climate crisis."

Jessica Corbett

The Metropolitan Police arrested at least seven Greenpeace activists in London on Monday for disrupting traffic outside Downing Street by locking themselves to barrels and a 12-foot oil-splattered statue of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

"Johnson must stop Cambo, and instead prioritize a just transition to renewable energy to protect consumers, workers, and the climate from future shocks."

Though Johnson is not currently at his London residence—he is vacationing with family in Spain—the action comes less than three weeks before the United Kingdom is set to host a global climate summit known as COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Some demonstrators toted posters and banners that read "Stop Cambo," referring to a new oil field near Shetland that Greenpeace expects the government to approve "any day now," spokesperson James Hanson told Agence France-Presse.

A sign protesters propped up by the statue of Johnson declared the oil field his "monumental climate failure." The Conservative prime minister, Greenpeace U.K. highlighted Monday, "has said he backs 16 new North Sea oil and gas projects going ahead."

Greenpeace U.K. also pointed to recent comments from a fellow Tory. Secretary of State for Business Kwasi Kwarteng said last month that "the U.K. is still too reliant on fossil fuels. Our exposure to volatile global gas prices underscores the importance of our plan to build a strong, home-grown renewable energy sector to strengthen our energy security into the future."

The advocacy group explained Monday that "when it comes to Cambo, 80% of oil extracted is likely to be exported, and production won't start for a few years—so the project would do very little to shore up the U.K.'s energy supply and won't fix the current gas price crisis."

In a statement, Greenpeace U.K. oil campaigner Philip Evans also noted the current prices.

"People across the U.K. are feeling the stresses of a gas price crisis as well as a climate crisis," he said, "and the government acknowledges that our reliance on fossil fuels has left the U.K. vulnerable and exposed. People are right to feel angry and upset."

Evans asserted that "Johnson's failure to act has left us with petrol queues, energy companies going bust, offshore workers unemployed for months on end, and a deepening climate crisis."

"Johnson must stop Cambo, and instead prioritize a just transition to renewable energy to protect consumers, workers, and the climate from future shocks," the campaigner declared. "If he doesn't, he will be remembered as a monumental climate failure."

The protest in London came just days after Greenpeace lost a court case challenging the U.K. government's decision to grant a permit to BP for another North Sea drilling operation.

After the loss, Greenpeace U.K. executive director John Sauven pointed out that "now the prime minister is poised to sign off even more oil if he approves a new oil field at Cambo—against official guidance from climate experts."

"In just a few weeks' time Boris Johnson will be opening global climate talks where his actions, not his words, will be what counts," said Sauven. "And right now his actions are covered in oil. We will not give up the fight for the climate. Our intention is to appeal this ruling before the Supreme Court."

The U.K. government announced in April a new climate target of cutting planet-heating emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, which would bring the nation more than three-quarters of the way to its goal of net-zero by 2050.

Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace U.K., said at the time that "in order to actually deliver on this commitment, new measures to slash emissions from homes and transport should already be well underway."

"So unless the government's policies and spending commitments urgently fall in line with its ambitions," she added, "there will still be awkward questions for Boris Johnson at the global climate talks in the autumn."

The Climate Change Committee—an independent body that advises the U.K. on emissions targets and provides progress reports to Parliament—noted in June that a large share of reductions has come from decarbonizing the power sector and warned if progress does not extend beyond that sector going forward, the new targets "will be missed by a huge margin."

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