Nicola Sturgeon’s speech at the Youth Climate Summit 2018, organised by the 2050 Climate Group, was interrupted by activists protesting the Scottish Government’s links with the fossil fuel industry. They drew attention to the First Minister’s comments in a talk delivered to oil and gas industry representatives last year.
Sturgeon’s speech was disrupted by protesters unfurling a banner, which used quotes from a speech delivered by the First Minister last year: “The Scottish Government will continue to support the oil and gas sector as strongly as we possibly can”. Protesters stated that they were aiming to highlight the contradictions between the Scottish Government’s claims of climate leadership and their support of the fossil fuels industry, through direct subsidies and through the investment of public institutions in fossil fuel companies.
Mathieu Munsch, a local campaigner for Fossil Free Glasgow, described the apparent inconsistencies in the Scottish Government’s approach, stating: “As the Scottish government boasts about its measures to reduce domestic carbon emissions, the prosperity of the country is still dependent on an industry responsible for the spread of climate change denial, environmental destruction and human rights abuses around the world.
“Nicola Sturgeon has been playing a double game by portraying herself as a climate leader at international events while deepening Scotland’s economic reliance on the oil industry. Instead of maintaining ties to corporate criminals that have time and time again proven their intention to compromise life on Earth for their immediate profit, Scotland’s dirty investments would be better channelled into activities beneficial to our local communities, such as sustainable housing and renewable energy projects.”
The banner referred to a speech delivered by Sturgeon at the Oil and Gas UK Conference in June 2017, in which she highlighted the government’s primary aim of recovering North Sea oil reserves and their commitment to continuing to fund the industry. Sturgeon also emphasised the importance of the fossil fuel industry to the national economy, stating that it would “continue to be crucially important to Scotland for decades to come”.
The protest was organised as part of the Fossil Free Glasgow campaign, putting pressure on Glasgow City Council to renounce the £803m it has invested in the fossil fuel industry through its public pension fund.
24-year-old Louise McKeever, who took part in the protest, described this investment as a demand for intergenerational injustice: “The climate-wrecked world that will be handed to those of my generation will make it impossible for any of us to have the privilege of a pension. Yet, funding today’s pensions with profits from the oil and gas sector is prioritised over securing a liveable future for my generation.
“The burden of dealing with climate breakdown and to move away from a system reliant on fossil fuels should not fall on the shoulders of young people.”
Fossil Free Glasgow is connected to the broader Divest Parliament campaign, taking place across the UK since early 2017, which to date has enlisted the support of 155 current and former MPs. The Divest Parliament pledge, which calls for divestment from fossil fuels and for investments of parliamentary pension funds to be realigned with a low-carbon economy, was signed by all seven Glasgow MPs earlier this year.
The 2017 Annual Report for the Parliamentary Pension Fund showed that millions of pounds of MPs’ pensions are going into fossil fuel companies, such as BP, Shell, and Total SA. This is in direct contrast to the UK government’s commitment under the Paris Agreement to keep global warming well below two degrees, which many campaigners believe would require leaving most fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
Sturgeon has previously spoken out against divestment from fossil fuels, arguing in 2016 that any move to undermine the industry would be unhelpful at a time when it needs government support in recovering from low oil prices.
In response to the protest, Sturgeon stated: “You don’t have to agree with everything we do but we should be proud of what Scotland is already doing.”
She further encouraged the audience to use their passion and beliefs to pressure politicians, but to be sure that they did not “lose sight of the people who are on [their] side”.