MPs can be forgiven this week for being distracted from the millionth Brexit debate, by the sight of naked climate protesters in the Parliamentary gallery.
The Speaker, John Bercow, ordered MPs to ignore the demonstration, but some MPs - including former Labour leader Ed Miliband – found it difficult to take their eyes off the spectacle.
This is a neat metaphor for our climate emergency. A spectacle is unfolding in the corner of our eyes. It’s not on the official agenda. The powers-that-be demand we talk about something else. But a minority of politicians can’t help being distracted by it.
It’s easy to see why people will resort to eye-catching action to draw attention to the climate crisis. Last October, the world’s climate scientists told us we have just 12 years left to make ‘unprecedented, far-reaching’ changes to all aspects of our society – or face human suffering on a never-before-seen scale. Sober, level-headed scientists are telling us that we are in deep trouble, and everything must change. We’ve seen over one and a half million schoolchildren strike for climate action last month.
At the centre of the crisis, more than any other single cause, is the burning of fossil fuels.
The fossil fuel industry is being ignored as the major cause of the climate crisis – and there are people desperately trying to draw attention to that. Just 100 major fossil fuel companies are the source of 71% of all industrial greenhouse gases emitted since 1988. Many of these fossil fuel companies – like BP - are headquartered right here in the UK.
Many of the world’s biggest banks, many of them based in the UK, are the investors responsible for funding the fossil fuel companies. Just thirty-three global banks have poured $1.9trillion US dollars into fossil fuel projects since the Paris climate agreement was signed in 2015, and the amounts are still rising.
These are our banks, on our radios each morning, talking about Brexit – but they are not being challenged for their role in the climate crisis.
And we know that fossil fuels aren’t just bad for the environment – they are dodgy business too. At Global Witness, we have just released a new investigation into the coal industry in Indonesia. Our investigation reveals how Indonesian vice presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno has links to payments of at least US$43million from a major Indonesian coal company, Berau Coal, to an obscure offshore firm, and that he may have secretly benefited from these payments in some way. Along with a number of other questionable transactions linked to Uno’s business partner, these payments contributed to Berau Coal - which at one point during this time was taken over by a London-listed firm - defaulting on its debts.
Our findings offer yet another potent reason why banks and investors should shun Indonesia’s big coal. Banks are currently in line to fund huge numbers of new coal-fired power stations in Indonesia, putting our global climate goals at risk. While the coal industry is in retreat in many countries, in Indonesia it’s still going strong. The money that drives planet-wrecking coal industry in Indonesia comes from international banks. Controversially, the UK’s own HSBC recently failed to rule out providing loans to build future coal fired power stations in Indonesia. Unless people all over the world rise up and take on the financiers of this crisis, nothing will change.
Given the scale of the crisis, it’s not shocking when protesters resort to eye-catching stunts to draw people’s attention to the climate crisis. It’s time for MPs to look beyond Brexit, and act to take on the big polluters and banks that are destroying our future.