Young activists against fossil fuel funding
by Diana Paulding
I am a magpie for quotes. Extracts from books, soundbites from speeches: I have notebooks full of words I want to return to and there are a jumble of entries saved on the notes page of my phone. There is one quote that I rarely have to look up now, because I return to it so often. It is graffitied on the separation barrier near Ramallah in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, a place that I visited last year, and it reads “No more silent consent or loud indifference.” This quote spoke to me on many levels. It became my mantra for campaigning on various issues and its philosophy is what drove me, only a month after seeing it, to apply for Christian Aid’s Prophetic Activist programme.
'...we are now launching our own campaign to petition the UK government to end the funding of fossil fuel projects overseas...'
The Prophetic Activist scheme is a year-long voluntary programme for 18-30 year olds from across the UK that aims to equip young people with the knowledge and the experience to campaign against climate injustice. Throughout 2020, a group of 25 of us have been working together to discuss the climate crisis, learn about campaigning from successful activists, and to create a climate-focused campaign together. From a rainy conference in February to online lockdown meetings, we have been learning about campaign strategy from staff at Christian Aid and other activists such as Mikaela Loach and Amika George. As a group we are now launching our own campaign to petition the UK government to end the funding of fossil fuel projects overseas through UK Export Finance (UKEF), the UK’s credit agency.
'...the UK continues to contribute to the climate crisis whilst presenting of façade of sustainability on the international stage.'
Although the UK has been moving towards greater domestic use of renewable energy, UKEF continues to fund fossil fuel extraction overseas. In 2018, UKEF poured £2bn into overseas fossil fuel projects, which was eleven times the amount it invested in 2017. Through such investments, the UK continues to contribute to the climate crisis whilst presenting of façade of sustainability on the international stage.
The Prophetic Activists felt strongly about this issue not only due to the hypocrisy of such funding when the UK is committed to keeping global temperature rise below 1.5C by 2050 (as pledged in the Paris Agreement), but also due to the effect that burning fossil fuels has on the world’s poorest countries. ‘Climate justice’ refers to the desire to redress the balance between countries who reaped the economic benefits of industrialisation but in the process contributed the most to the current climate crisis, and the countries who have had minimal effect on climate change but who suffer its consequences most severely. In the former category, the UK is major player. Countries in the latter category are primarily in the global south and now face increasingly unpredictable weather patterns including hurricanes, heat waves, and floods. Such weather affects livelihoods built on agriculture as well as destroying both human homes and animal habitats. The climate crisis therefore is not just an environmental issue. It is a human rights issue.
'We are using our campaign to try to push the government over the line, (...) to encourage them to bring about any proposed changes in a timely manner.'
Each of us in the Prophetic Activist group are motivated by our Christian faith and a desire to protect the earth and its most disadvantaged people, and we set about planning a campaign around the issue of fossil fuel funding in the spring of 2020. Along the way there were challenges to be overcome. The campaign was originally due to target UN climate conference COP26, which was scheduled to be held in Glasgow in November 2020. COP26 was then postponed to November 2021 due to COVID-19 and the focus of the campaign had to be adapted accordingly.
It was then reported on 12th August 2020 that Boris Johnson intended to announce an end to the use of UK Export Finance to fund fossil fuel projects overseas. No date was given for when this announcement would be made, so we pushed our campaign timeline forward in response to the changing political landscape. As of yet, no formal commitment has been made by the government. We are using our campaign to try to push the government over the line, to ensure that they do not allow any loopholes in a plan for divestment, and to encourage them to bring about any proposed changes in a timely manner. If, or hopefully when, the government make an announcement, we are poised to redirect our campaigning so that we can continually encourage the UK government to move towards a more sustainable future.
Christian Aid have been invaluable in teaching us how to campaign effectively and giving us access to information about policy and strategy, but at the end of the day we are running a small, grassroots campaign. Every single signature that we collect is a win. The situation is changing quickly, but we hope to present the petition in person to Number 10 and to show that people do not want the taxes they pay to be used to fuel climate injustice.
Loud indifference towards the planet and the poor is constantly being showed by prominent figures in both politics and business. Silent consent to what is being done is something that every one of us needs to tackle.
Diana Paulding is a participant on Christian Aid’s Prophetic Activist scheme. She is a Theology graduate who is passionate about social justice, writing, and the Hebrew Bible. Most of her time is spent trying to find a way to combine the three!