Activists disrupt speeches by Canadian Minister and Shell Chairman

Today at a high-level conference on climate change at Chatham House, London, two activists interrupted first Peter Kent, Canada’s Environment Minister, then Shell’s UK Chairman Graham van’t Hoff, as they got up to make speeches.

The first activist, Danny Chivers, accused Peter Kent of being a ‘dangerous radical’ and asked for him to be removed from the stage. The audience responded to the tongue-in-cheek speech – in which Kent was also referred to as an ‘agent from a rogue petro-state’ – with a mixture of laughter and heckling, and the protester was able to speak for several minutes before being removed by security.

During the intervention, Mr Chivers explained that Kent had clearly got into this climate change conference under false pretences. Far from being a leader on the issue, Kent is dedicated to promoting the highly destructive tar sands – despite the industry’s negative impact on local indigenous communities, and its potential to emit enough greenhouse gas to tip the world over the edge into runaway climate change. Kent also pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol and his country continues to lobby fiercely against the inclusion of tar sands in the EU Fuel Quality Directive, which aims to reduce emissions from transport and has stalled as a result of Canada’s interference.

The second activist, Sophie Preston, then rose as Graham van’t Hoff was about to speak. She accused Shell – the sponsor of the event – of being a ‘world-class greenwasher’ whilst energetically lobbying against genuine national and international climate action. Shell is one of the largest operators in the tar sands and plans to double its production despite a legal challenge from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation who claim their treaty rights have been violated. She too was removed by security.

Earlier that morning, campaigners from the UK Tar Sands Network staged a dramatic piece of street theatre outside Chatham House. Conference attendees, including Peter Kent himself, were greeted by the disturbing spectacle of black-clad masked figures representing Canada and Shell literally ‘strangling’ climate activists. The campaigners handed out flyers and spoke to the conference attendees, questioning whether genuine solutions to climate change that would end our dependence on fossil fuels, promote climate justice and penalise highly-carbon-intensive companies could really be on the table for discussion at an event sponsored by Shell and featuring Peter Kent as a keynote speaker.

The protest follows a series of damaging revelations about how closely the Canadian government, oil companies such as Shell and BP, and some British politicians are working together to further the highly-polluting tar sands industry’s aims. Earlier this year the Fuel Quality Directive – a key piece of EU climate legislation that would discourage tar sands imports to Europe – stalled after intensive lobbying by Canada and the oil industry resulted in key member states, including the UK, not supporting it. Two weeks ago, Vince Cable, formerly Shell’s chief economist, was revealed to be ‘Contact Minister for Shell’ within the UK Coalition Government, following a Freedom of Information Request.

Danny Chivers, said ‘Inviting Peter Kent and Shell to speak at a climate change event is like asking the Cookie Monster and Homer Simpson to address a conference on healthy eating. We know that in order to have a chance of preventing runaway climate change, we need to leave the tar sands in the ground, yet Canada and Shell are intent on heavily promoting this insanely destructive industry. They are part of the problem and certainly should not be held up as experts in a discussion about effective climate solutions.’

Sophie Preston, who is a Climate Change and Policy student, said: ‘I have been to Canada and seen first-hand the devastating effects of tar sands oil extraction on the local environment and Indigenous communities whose rights are being violated. So I am very distressed to find that lobbying by Canada and Shell is now also scuppering attempts to make effective climate policy in the EU and internationally. Until it has halted all plans to expand the tar sands, Canada should be treated as a climate pariah, not invited to the table to skew the debate.’