There can be no mistaking that Autumn is here. In London’s Green Park, the verdant paradise is tinged with the yellows and oranges of the coming leaf-fall. The unseasonably warm beginning to the month has fallen away, replaced by a definite chill. You can see it in the breaths of activists, gathered close to the city’s Park Lane. The crowds, hundreds in total, have come together to demonstrate against the Energy Intelligence Forum.
The conference, previously known as the Oil and Money conference, will see CEOs from fossil fuel companies like Shell, Total, Equinor, Saudi Aramco and more meet to network and discuss ‘challenges’ in the energy sector. The event, which changed its name in 2019 following the withdrawal of sponsor The New York Times citing ‘concerns’ over the subject matter of the meeting, has been running since 1980.
This morning, a line of activists form a ring around the Intercontinental Hotel next to London’s Hyde Park Corner. They have come together for a demonstration against the conference, called by Fossil Free London. There are chants, banners, drums and flares. Those sitting or standing around the perimeter of the hotel – which is clad in harris fencing and watched over by groups of police officers, comically boo and jeer passers-by that they believe to be delegates of the conference.
Just away from the entrance, a homemade lectern stands. It’s emblazoned with the slogan ‘Oily Money Out’ and the Fossil Free London logo. Crowded around it, a growing group of journalists jostle for a spot. Photographers and camera people thread and weave amongst each other in the world’s most boring game of Twister. Very abruptly, the chants, the drums, the claps and the jeers come to an end as a crowd of people appear, walking at pace towards the gathered hacks. In the centre, it’s just about possible to make out the top of a woollen hat, sitting atop the head of Greta Thunberg.
At the lectern, Robin Wells, director of Fossil Free London takes the mic. “At this event,” she begins, “The CEOs of Shell, Total, Saudi Aramco, and Equinor, the company behind Rosebank, the newly approved massive oil field in the North Sea, will gather together to do oily deals and schmooze our politicians.”
The UK’s Minister of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Rt. Hon. Graham Stuart MP is listed as a speaker at the conference. Sultan al Jaber, COP28 President-Designate and the UAE's Special Envoy for Climate Change was due to appear but was quietly removed from the line-up, following demonstrations.
”We say, enough,” Wells continues, “the time is over for fossil fuel companies to have privileged access to our politicians and to meet with impunity to do deals over our destruction.” She goes on to spell out the economic crisis gripping the country and the extreme weather events ravaging the planet as fossil fuel companies make billions in profit. The director of the direct action group, which exists to “make London inhospitable to the fossil fuel industry and the banks that fund it,” finishes her opening remarks with a call to action: “These oily polluters must not escape accountability. They are polluting our politics at home and globally and we have to call it out. It is our time now to rival their power. It is our time to get their oily money out.”
As Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who kickstarted the Fridays for Future movement, takes centre stage, the bundle of lenses contracts as everyone strains to get a shot. Five years on from the school strikes that shot her to global fame, Thunberg remains a huge draw.
”Behind these closed doors,” the 20 year old begins, “Spineless politicians are making deals and compromises with lobbyists from destructive industries. People all over the world are suffering and dying from the consequences of the climate crisis caused by these industries, who we allow to meet with our politicians and have privileged access to.”
”The world is drowning in fossil fuels,” Thunberg continues, as a crowd gathers and strains to get a glimpse of her. “Our hopes and dreams and lives are being washed away by a flood of greenwashing and lies. It has been clear for decades that the fossil fuel industries were well aware of the consequences of their business models and yet they have done nothing.
”They have actively delayed, distracted and denied the causes of the climate crisis and spread doubt about their own engagement in it. They have actively created loopholes that allow their businesses to go on at the expense of people and the planet.” Thunberg takes aim at the companies meeting in the building behind her, pulling no punches.
“We are choking on their fumes and we are suffering from the increased heat and we are fearing for our future and present. We cannot trust these politicians and we cannot trust the processes of the COP because the fossil fuel industries are tightening their grip.” She brings her speech to a conclusion by urging those gathered to reclaim power. To use their bodies to take action and to “kick oily money out.”
Thunberg will later go on to put this into action as she is arrested and bundled into the back of a police van amid the ongoing protest.
The morning’s press conference is brought to a conclusion by Stop Rosebank campaigner Lauren Macdonald who famously confronted Royal Dutch Shell CEO, Ben van Beurden, at a 2021 TED event, branding him “evil.”
This morning, Macdonald is taking aim instead at Equinor, the company responsible for the Rosebank oil field, which just received controversial approval from the UK Government. The oil field, Macdonald argues “will do nothing to lower UK fuel bills or boost energy security in the UK.” The BBC reported that Arne Gurtner, Equinor’s senior vice president for the UK said “If the UK needs Rosebank oil, it will go to the UK through open market mechanisms,” meaning the project will not cut energy prices for UK consumers.
The climate impact of the development, Macdonald continued, would be devastating. “The UN and the International Energy Agency have been unequivocally clear that if we want to have any shot at retaining a planet that is safe to live on in the future, there can be no new oil and gas developments. Burning Rosebank reserves would create more CO2 than the 28 lowest income countries produce in a year, combined.”
The Scottish activist took aim at the Norwegian Government, who own the majority of Equinor’s shares, and the UK government: “We will hold you responsible for this.”
The press conference marked the beginning of three days of action to disrupt the Energy Intelligence Forum, with action tomorrow focused on the Rosebank oil field. More information on the action can be found here.