April 7th 2022: Health professionals blockade treasury on World Health Day to demand end to fossil fuel subsidies

Posted by: HealthXR - Posted on:

PRESS RELEASE: A Matter of Life and Death

At 7am on April 7th 2022, World Health Day, Doctors for Extinction Rebellion blocked the road outside HM Treasury, calling for an end to the UK government’s financial support for fossil fuels. Six of them locked onto oil barrels in the road, whilst others held banners saying ‘For Health’s Sake: Stop Financing Fossil Fuels’ and ‘Clean Energy, Less War”

The emergency medical intervention took place in response to the release of the IPCC report this week, they could be seen wearing signs ‘Protesting For Public Health’

A group of 50 health professionals have gathered outside HM Treasury today requesting the removal of UK financial support for fossil fuels.

They delivered a letter to the Treasury(1) saying they would not leave until either: They commit to ending the estimated £10 billion/year worth of financial support which the government gives to fossil fuels, due to the significant and growing harms they cause to the physical and mental health of their patients, or that they meet with a delegation from Doctors for Extinction Rebellion at a mutually convenient time to discuss this as a matter of urgency.

In their letter they referenced recent criticism of the Spring Statement’s fuel duty cut, which according to Carbon Brief ‘disproportionately benefits the rich and runs counter to energy security and the UK’s climate goals (2).’ They also referenced the Lancet Commission’s report showing the significant harm caused by fossil fuels to lungs, hearts, brains and especially children’s health (3), McKinsey’s research showing a quadrupled risk of significant global harvest failure by 2050 in a ‘business as usual’ scenario (4), and the 2021 press release by the International Military Council on Climate and Security, which states ‘major and urgent global emissions reductions are necessary in order to avoid significant, severe or catastrophic global security consequences in the future (5).’

The demands of the group are similar to those of the UK’s leading medical institutions, with a combined membership of over 250,000 health workers, who recently called for the UK government to ‘end subsidies for oil and gas extraction and redirect funds to green industry’, as well as ‘immediately end the issuing of new [fossil fuel] licences’ and ‘make a plan to deliver a managed and equitable UK energy transition in line with 1.5C. (6)’ This echoes the statement recently delivered by the UN Secretary General upon the release of the IPCC’s report on Climate Mitigation: ‘We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5-degree limit agreed in Paris…Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness…I am appealing directly to you. Demand that renewable energy is introduced now – at speed and at scale. Demand an end to coal-fired power. Demand an end to all fossil fuel subsidies.’ (7)Dr Lynne Jones OBE, a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, delivered the letter. She said:
“Fossil fuels produce air pollution that kills more people per year than smoking, and are the main cause of the greatest threat to health that humanity has ever known – the climate crisis. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says “Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals but the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing production of fossil fuels.” That would be the UK Government, who have indicated that they intend to torch the Paris agreement and lead us on a path to catastrophe. I am horrified and terrified. That’s why I am here.”

Dr Chris Newman, a General Practitioner and group spokesperson was locked onto the oil barrels. He said “The UK is the most profitable place in the world for offshore Oil and Gas, and companies like Shell and BP are being encouraged to drill through perverse incentives. Those who will suffer the most are children, through poisoned air that stunts their lungs, and climate change that robs them of a decent future. It is time to end fossil fuel subsidies.”

Nurse Maggie Faye, also locked onto an oil barrel said “All government departments should prioritise the reduction of fossil fuel use by maximising energy efficiency and the use of clean energy sources, but where is the leadership, where is the urgency? Rich countries like ours have to cut oil and gas out completely by 2034 to give the world just a 50% chance of staying at a safe temperature. We don’t want to be here protesting, but continued fossil fuel dependence threatens all of our futures, particularly the most vulnerable, including my patients, so what else am I supposed to do?”

Former Mental health nurse Ali Rowe, stated “We are here today protesting for public health. We have reached a place where we have no choice –  the IPCC report out this week demands it of us. We are not radical, we are health professionals exercising our duty to protect our patients. We need to find the courage to face some difficult conversations, coming together to take the populations health seriously, like their very lives depend on it – which current air pollution levels show us is true.”

Following the roadblock, the group will deliver letters to various government departments calling on them to end their subsidies for polluting businesses, and ask them to consider oil demand reduction in line with the 10-point-plan called for by the International Energy Agency (8).

They will call at the Department for Transport asking them to make less polluting forms of transport more attractive than higher polluting forms such as single occupancy cars and air travel; the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy asking them to decarbonise the energy mix much faster, and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ask them to commit to higher standards for new buildings and the retrofit of all existing buildings, which has been shown to reduce energy demand for heating by around 50%.

Contact for press enquiries: Ali 07901916489

Notes to editors

Fossil Fuels air pollution kills more (99,000/year) than smoking does (82,000)
99,000 statistic:

82,000 statistic: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/statistics-on-smoking/statistics-on-smoking-england-2020

UK is the most profitable country for Oil and Gas

Rich countries to cut oil and gas completely by 2034
Tyndall centre report: https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/phaseout-pathways-for-fossil-fuel-production-within-pariscompliant-carbon-budgets(c7235a8e-e3b1-4f44-99de-c27958c03758).html

(1) Letter to Treasury
(2) Carbon Brief policy analysis. Spring statement 2022: Key climate and energy announcements | 23rd March 2022
(3) Lancet Commission impact report: Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health | June 23rd 2015
(4) McKinsey & Company report . Will the world’s breadbaskets become less reliable | May 18 2020
(5) International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) Press Release | June 7th 2021
(6) Stop Cambo press release: Medical leaders urge ministers to end UK’s dependence on fossil fuels | February 2022
(7) Video message by UN Secretary General at the WGIII AR6 press conference | April 4th 2022
(8) IEA report: A 10 point plan to cut oil use | March 2022
(9) Centre for Alternative Technology report | Zero Carbon Britain: Rising to the Climate Emergency | November 28th 2019
(10) Posters, leaflets and letters to other departments