New UK PM Greeted by Protests Over Climate, Energy Crises
The UK now has its second new prime minister in less than two months, and environmental and anti-poverty activists want him to take stronger action on the climate and cost-of-living crises.
To that end, more than 30 protestors from Greenpeace and Fuel Poverty Action occupied the lobby of parliament Monday and called on new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to tax the excess profits of oil and gas companies, facilitate the transition to renewable energy and better insulate British homes.
“We now need a government capable of confronting crises, not creating them. Almost a quarter of the country is suffering fuel poverty thanks to ridiculous gas prices and the oldest, coldest housing in Europe,” Greenpeace UK Co-Executive Director Will McCallum said during the protest, as The Independent reported. “Winter is coming and lives will be lost if the government keeps failing to solve the problem.”
Sunak became the UK’s third prime minister in two months on Monday following the resignation of Liz Truss on October 20 and the resignation of Boris Johnson in July, as AP News reported at the time. During this period, the country has faced a mounting crisis over energy prices. The country’s energy regulator was going to raise the household energy price cap by 80 percent beginning in October, but this was forestalled by Truss’s government, which at first promised a two-year Energy Price Guarantee that would see the average household energy bill rise to £2,500 a year. However, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt then said the guarantee would only last through April, after which it would be reviewed, as Sky News reported.
Truss faced protests from climate activists because of her decision to expand oil and gas drilling in the North Sea and to go against her own Conservative Party’s manifesto by lifting a ban on fracking, as Greenpeace pointed out. Environmentally minded members of the Tory Party and some green groups believe that Sunak will be less hostile to environmental aims, as The Guardian reported.
“Sunak said he wanted to stick to the 2019 manifesto, which was pretty good on this stuff, and Liz Truss wanted to junk it,” think tank Green Alliance executive director Shaun Spiers said, as The Guardian reported.
Monday’s protest took place in the lobby of the Houses of Parliament hours after Sunak was officially named prime minister, The Independent said. The activists first entered the Palace of Westminster as tourists and then linked their arms together and began to read statements from people struggling to pay their energy bills, as Sky News reported. They also carried a banner reading “Chaos Costs Lives.”
“Since Boris Johnson resigned as prime minister, this government has spent more time looking for a new leader than leading the country,” McCallum said, as The Independent reported.
Greenpeace noted that the UK had the sixth highest number of excess winter deaths in Europe even before the energy crisis. The rising fuel prices are an environmental justice issue because they disproportionately impact people in poverty, people of color, older people and disabled people whose necessary equipment often requires electricity.
The protest had three main demands:
- Spending £6 billion to go door-to-door insulating homes.
- Transitioning to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
- Taxing the windfall profits of oil and gas companies.
“People need permanently lower bills and a safe climate, and that means more renewable energy, more financial support, a nationwide street-by-street insulation programme, and a proper tax on the energy profiteers to pay for it,” McCallum said, as Sky News reported.
Fuel Poverty Action and Disabled People Against Cuts, which also supported the protest, are further calling for energy for all to meet basic needs of heating and lighting.
“#EnergyForAll means giving everyone a free amount of energy – that is enough energy, free, to cover the basics like heating, cooking, and lighting – to give us all the security we need, taking account of people’s actual needs related to their age, health, and housing,” Diane Skidmore of Fuel Poverty Action wrote in a petition calling for the policy. “To pay for this new pricing system, Energy for All, we’re urging the Government to introduce a Windfall Tax on the profits of oil and gas producers, traders and suppliers, and to STOP subsidising fossil fuels with millions of pounds every day.”
Police did not approach Monday’s demonstrators, who departed on their own after reading their statements.