‘Members of a super-rich elite who are super-heating the planet.’
As the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) got underway in Dubai on November 30, the Prime Minister is facing fresh outrage from climate campaigners over his choice of transport to the meeting – private jet.
Downing Street confirmed that as well as Sunak, the new foreign secretary, David Cameron, and the King, were all taking separate private jets to a conference aimed at tackling climate change and cutting global emissions.
Defending the decision, the PM’s official spokesperson claimed there was nothing wrong with the UK’s leading representatives travelling to the crucial climate summit this way, as the government is ‘not anti-flying.’
“We are not anti-flying. We do not seek to restrict the public from doing so and it’s important the UK has strong attendance at COP28, given we continue to be a world leader in tackling climate change,” said the spokesperson.
No 10. also insisted that the plane Rishi Sunak was using operates on 30 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), and carbon offsetting will be used to minimise its impact on the environment.
The announcement was not received well among climate campaigners and opposition parties.
Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party, described Sunak and Cameron as members of a “super-rich elite who are super-heating the planet.”
“A short trip on a private jet will produce more carbon than the average person emits all year,” she continued.
Caroline Lucas said the “excessive climate-wrecking private flights amount to pumping jet fumes in the face of those on the frontline of this crisis.” The Green MP is also in support of a new levy on private jets to “make them think twice before hopping on the next one.”
Left Foot Forward has an exclusive with Caroline Lucas. She is set to resign as an MP at the next general election.
While she is unsurprisingly damning about the prime ministers who have been in office over her 13 years in the House of Commons, Lucas has had to work closely with MPs from other parties. By virtue of being the only MP for her party, working cross-party has been central to much of her work. As a result, she offers strong praise for MPs on the opposition benches who she has worked with over the years.
She tells Left Foot Forward: “I work really closely with people like Nadia Whittome and Clive Lewis on the Green New Deal, and we have an all party group on the Green New Deal and we work very closely together on that. I enjoy working with Barry Gardiner actually on the Environmental Audit Committee just because he’s such a terrier when it comes to cross-questioning ministers. From the Liberal Democrats I work very closely with Wera Hobhouse on environmental issues, green issues. Plaid [Cymru] are very good on social issues and I’m probably closest to them of all the parties in Westminster.”
However, such praise is definitely absent from her assessment of the likely next prime minister – the Labour leader Keir Starmer. She starts by acknowledging that she and the Green Party would “prefer to see a Labour government than a Tory government”, but goes on to ask “what kind of Labour government” we are likely to get.
“I think there are real concerns over the U-turns that Keir Starmer has been performing – whether that is on what was originally a £28 billion commitment for green investment, he was going to scrap tuition fees, things like the two child benefit cap which is a really, really obscene policy and his own frontbench have said its obscene yet he has now said that he is not going to reverse that.
“He’s better on oil and gas to the extent that he’s said he won’t give licenses to new oil and gas. But then there’s a totally incoherent position of saying that he will allow Rosebank to go ahead. Whereas if he had said were he to get into government he would have tried to roll back that decision it would never have been taken in the first place, because the signal that would have given to Equinor, the Norwegian investor who is going to go ahead with Rosebank would have thought twice. So on oil and gas, there’s a problem there.”
Lucas says that on the economy and other issues, Starmer is operating with a “lack of ambition” which is “so desperately disappointing because he seems to think that if he just plays it incredibly safe, then he can tip-toe into Downing Street”, before going on to say “I think he needs to worry as well about the number of people he simply won’t be inspiring to get off their chairs and down to the polling station at all – and right now it is incredibly hard to say what Keir Starmer stands for”.
Given that Lucas spoke to Left Foot Forward the day after the major vote in parliament on whether the government should call for a ceasefire in Gaza, she also criticises Labour for failing to vote to support a ceasefire. “I think it was incredibly disappointing that Labour is on the wrong side of history on this”, she says.
The Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has said that Labour is on the ‘wrong side of history’ after last night’s House of Commons vote on a ceasefire in Gaza. MPs were asked to vote on an SNP amendment to the King’s Speech which called on the UK government to “join with the international community in urgently pressing all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire”.
Despite 56 of Keir Starmer’s MPs breaking ranks and voting for the amendment, Labour whipped its parliamentarians to abstain.
Speaking to Left Foot Forward as part of an exclusive interview reflecting on her 13 years in parliament which will be published in full tomorrow, Caroline Lucas said: “I think it was incredibly disappointing that Labour is on the wrong side of history on this”.
Labour’s position is that Israel should allow ‘humanitarian pauses’ in order for aid to enter Gaza. Lucas told Left Foot Forward why she thinks this approach is wrong. She said: “I used to work for Oxfam and I’m really struck by the fact that how so many of those international NGOs are talking about just why humanitarian pauses are simply not up to the job”, later adding: “the scale of the suffering and the killing and the horror that is happening in Gaza right now [isn’t] all going to be solved by humanitarian pauses – it has to be a ceasefire.”
Lucas continued: “People like Oxfam are pointing out that in order to get aid in in any significant quantities, some of the roads are broken now so they need to be able to mend some of the infrastructure even to get aid in to the people who need it. So I very much hope that Labour will listen to people on the ground who are really calling for a ceasefire.”
The Green Party MP has said the PM can use the King’s Speech to reverse the damage he’s caused on UK climate and nature policy
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has written to the prime minister Rishi Sunak setting out five pieces of legislation the government ought to introduce to address the climate and nature emergencies, Left Foot Forward can exclusively report. The letter, seen by Left Foot Forward, was sent in advance of the state opening of parliament on November 7, when the government is expected to set out its legislative agenda through a King’s Speech.
In her letter, Lucas wrote: “This year has already been one of climate extremes – September smashed through previous records and was a staggering 1.75 degrees hotter than pre-industrial levels, causing profound alarm to both scientists and citizens. We have seen climate impacts, from deadly flooding in Libya, to the Cerberus heatwave in Europe and the devastating wildfires in Maui and, as it stands, 2023 is on track to be the hottest year on record.”
She went on to argue that the government must “take this opportunity to reclaim the UK’s climate leadership and set out a bold legislative agenda that responds to the urgency of the climate and nature emergency”.
Lucas told Left Foot Forward: “In just 12 short months in the job, Rishi Sunak has set a torch to the UK’s climate agenda – approving new morally obscene fossil fuel projects, ditching vital regulations to improve energy efficiency, and dragging the climate into a dangerous culture war. The King’s Speech is a critical opportunity for the Prime Minister to start reversing this damage and tackling the climate and nature emergencies head-on – our country and our planet can’t wait.”
Industry figures held more than 200 meetings with key politicians in the year following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, new research finds.
The UK government’s weakening of its windfall tax on energy profits matched the demands of a high-level lobbying campaign by the oil and gas industry, new research reveals.
Trade body Offshore Energies UK (OEUK), formerly Oil and Gas UK, and its operator members including BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, TotalEnergies, and Equinor, met with ministers at least 210 times in the 12 months following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
The meetings – which include in-person talks with the then Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and his minister Greg Hands (now the Conservative Party chairman) – are revealed in research by Fossil Free Parliament (FFP), a group campaigning against fossil fuel influence on UK politics.
They form part of a lobbying blitz by fossil fuel firms against the windfall tax, conducted through meetings, drinks receptions, letters, parliamentary groups, and a “fiscal forum” with the Treasury attended by the then chancellor (and now prime minister) Rishi Sunak.
The evidence, published in a briefing today (October 24) and shared exclusively with DeSmog, indicates that certain changes requested by the oil and gas industry were accommodated by the government when developing the scope of the levy.
It comes as Sunak faces criticism for delaying some net zero targets and granting 100 new North Sea oil and gas licences, including Equinor’s Rosebank project. As DeSmog reported in March, the Conservative Party received £3.5 million from fossil fuel and polluting interests in 2022.
A spokesperson for OEUK defended its contact with the government: “We will always champion our industry to all parliamentarians on a cross-party basis and do so in an open and transparent manner.”
Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, described the research as “shocking”.
“Fossil fuel giants have been committing countless climate crimes, polluting our planet and reaping obscene profits – while everyone else faces sky-high energy bills and a cost of living scandal,” she told DeSmog.
“This research reveals the extent to which the dirty fossil fuel lobby has been aided and abetted by this Tory government – taking their donations, offering privileged access, and handing over staggering tax breaks and subsidies to carry out yet more climate-wrecking damage.”
Windfall Tax ‘Loophole’
The Energy Profits Levy, known as the windfall tax, was announced by the government in May 2022 to tax energy companies’ billions in excess profits due to the global price spike fueled by Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Then chancellor Sunak said the windfall tax would raise around £5 billion over the next year to help with cost of living. However, when the levy was passed in July 2022, it included a loophole where companies received 91p tax relief for every pound they invest in UK extraction, in what the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies called a “huge tax subsidy” for energy companies.
As of September 2023 the windfall tax had raised £2.6 billion, just over half of what was promised, and following a year of record profits by five oil majors. Between them, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and TotalEnergies made a total of £195 billion in profits last year.
The new research indicates this ‘loophole’ came about following a surge in meetings and lobbying between OEUK and its member companies with the government,
In June 2022, the month the windfall tax was being consulted on and drafted, meetings between the government and OEUK and its members nearly doubled from 15 to 29, according to the new research.
In the same month, OEUK also wrote letters to Sunak warning the proposed windfall tax would have a negative impact on oil and gas investments in the UK. The letters also called for an emergency summit, including a meeting of the “fiscal forum”, a talking shop between the industry and the Treasury. OEUK describes the fiscal forum as a tool for “facilitating coherent engagement with government authorities to drive the policy agenda”.
On 20 June, the day before the consultation’s launch, the British Offshore Oil and Gas Industry All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), which is co-run by OEUK, held a summer reception at the Houses of Parliament. The reception saw speeches from Conservative MP Peter Aldous, the APPG’s chair, and Greg Hands, then a minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
At the reception, OEUK’s then chief executive Deirdre Michie gave a speech claiming the windfall tax could “undermine and disrupt” energy investment at a time when the UK needs to focus on “energy security and working for net zero”.
Three days later, Sunak, Hands and exchequer secretary Helen Whately attended an “Oil and Gas Roundtable”. The meeting, also known as a fiscal forum, was held in Aberdeen, Scotland, with OEUK and members including BP, Shell, Equinor, and TotalEnergies. According to a 28 June letter from Michie, the meeting discussed the “negative impact” of the windfall tax “on investor confidence”, while companies warned of its “damage to the UK’s competitiveness”.
Michie wrote: “While we remain disappointed at the decision to create the EPL [Energy Profits Levy], OEUK and our members want to work constructively with you to help rebuild investor confidence and ensure that the EPL is designed and implemented thoughtfully and is fit for purpose.”
OEUK’s concerns appear to have been taken into account by the government.
For example, in Michie’s 28 June letter she insisted that the windfall must tax end in 2025: “Industry needs certainty that the EPL will be terminated by the end of 2025 at the latest and we would hope that ministerial statements will continue to reinforce the timebound nature of the EPL.” A deadline of 31 December 2025 was later included in the EPL bill.
Michie’s letter also requested that the windfall tax should not apply to the Petroleum Revenue Tax (PRT), a tax break that oil and gas companies receive for decommissioning oil rigs, adding: “[we] have written to your officials with detailed proposals on the changes to the draft legislation and hope you will give this significant consideration”. The final windfall tax bill did not apply to PRT, as Michie had requested.
“This research makes it abundantly clear that our government has an open-door policy when it comes to the fossil fuel industry”, said Carys Boughton, a campaigner with Fossil Free Parliament.
“They ask for special treatment; they get special treatment, and the rest of us pay for it – with obscenely high energy bills, and a worsening climate crisis.”
She added: “Our political leaders should be channelling every effort into a just transition from fossil fuels, but this won’t happen until the industry with a vested interest in keeping us all hooked on oil, gas and coal is kicked out of our politics.”
Jeremy Hunt and the ‘Price Floor’
A tranche of additional documents, obtained by Fossil Free Politics and seen by DeSmog, shed further light on the extent of industry lobbying, which continued beyond the introduction of the windfall tax.
After Liz Truss’s disastrous September mini-budget, newly-installed chancellor Jeremy Hunt used his Autumn statement in November 2022 to extend the windfall tax to 2028 and increase it from 25 percent to 35 percent.
OEUK raised its opposition to these changes with Victoria Atkins MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in a meeting on 17 November 2022.
Minutes of the meeting, obtained via a Freedom of Information request, show the body’s chief executive Deirdre Michie telling Atkins that the windfall tax extension “plays into investors being undermined”, and that the 10 percent increase “will impact companies borrowing and projects”.
Michie also complained of a “lack of engagement” with ministers, and brought up “the previous HMT [Treasury] fiscal forum”.
A few weeks later, on 9 December, Hunt hosted a fiscal forum in Edinburgh with OEUK and its members BP, Shell, Equinor, TotalEnergies and others. There he promised “more regular fiscal forum meetings in future”, according to a Treasury press release.
Ahead of the meeting, OEUK said it would urge the government to “scrap the windfall tax on homegrown energy when oil and gas prices fall back to normal levels”. This would mean that if prices drop below a certain point, the windfall tax could be removed before 2028.
Ahead of the Spring Budget in March 2023, OEUK repeated this demand, reportedly writing to Hunt to call for a “trigger price” which “switches off” the windfall tax.
Lobbying continued through the spring. In a meeting on 15 March with Treasury’s Exchequer Secretary James Cartlidge, OEUK’s new chief executive David Whitehouse told Cartlidge that the industry was “extremely disappointed that oil and gas did not get a mention in the budget” and called for more engagement and “a public signal” to “shore up confidence”.
On 9 June, OEUK got its wish. Hunt introduced a “price floor” to the windfall tax, which meant the tax would end before 2028 if wholesale energy prices fall back to normal levels – as OEUK and member companies had been requesting.
When contacted by DeSmog, OEUK did not address the evidence of lobbying specifically on the windfall tax. A spokesperson said the industry body was “proud” to provide a secretariat function to the all-party parliamentary group for offshore oil and gas.
“The offshore sector is a crucial part of the UK economy, supporting over 200,000 jobs in communities across the country and in nearly every parliamentary constituency,” they said.
“Our industry is playing a vital role in the UK’s low-carbon energy future and paid £11 billion in production taxes in 2022/23. It has paid a total of £400 billion in taxes over the lifetime of the basin.”
Shell referred DeSmog to OEUK for comment. All other companies named in this story were also approached but had not responded by publication.
The Conservative Party, Cabinet Office, and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero were also contacted for comment.
Tessa Khan, executive director of Uplift, a North Sea campaign and research group, said the findings revealed the latest in the industry’s “long enjoyed unwarranted influence over our politics”.
“This is an industry that has made obscene amounts of money while millions of ordinary people – older and disabled people, families with young children – have struggled to heat their homes,” she said. “That they then lobbied in private against a windfall tax designed to claw back some of these profits, is disgusting if unsurprising.”
“The cosy relationship between government and profiteering oil and gas companies needs to end, not just for the sake of everyone facing unaffordable energy bills, but for a liveable climate too.”