By Sally Campbell.
Featured image credit: Greenpeace.
“We know first hand, the power of the people when we organise. None of us, nor can our children, nor can our grandchildren, escape the effects of the climate catastrophe. Let us join together with all who are affected deeply and move the dial towards peace.” Roshi Joan Halifax¹ (2020)
The last week has affected most of us, as we see democracy trampled on by President Putin of Russia, ignoring the wishes and aspirations of the Ukraine people. The environmental challenges for the world have been slipping off the radar as we cope with world events, that we see happening day by day. That desire for democracy has been trampled on over many years in many ways. But climate change, and loss of ecosystems have not gone away, the problems with the energy crisis have not been dispersed, rather they have multiplied with Russian gas and oil in the mix of problems. Our ecosystems on land and sea are still at risk, and we need ourselves, Greenpeace and other monitoring and advocating organisations, representing us all, providing us with actions to protect everyone and the ecosystems on which we depend, in dealing with the complexities of politics, multinational business and local communities.
The Energy Crisis
As soaring energy prices put millions across the UK in the position of having to choose between heating their homes or access to a proper diet, oil giants announced record breaking profits – an eye watering £20 billion in all. Bernard Looney, CEO of BP, boasted they have ‘more cash than we know what to do with’. This is the kind of gross injustice that our reliance on fossil fuels brings, only in recent days offset by BP being forced into a firesale of its Russian interests.
Greenpeace launched into action, delivering a powerful media response and an emergency petition aimed at the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The demand is simple: introduce a windfall tax on these eye-watering profits to help ease the pressure on UK consumers. Their research showed this kind of tax could bring in an additional £4 billion. In the short term this money could be used to keep bills low and in the longer term, help to reduce our reliance on gas by insulating homes and investing in more renewable energy. Greenpeace led the national narrative on this whole subject and the implications with their Head of Climate Kate Blagojevic, who delivered an excellent interview on the BBC . Such good informative data spreads far and wide, across many media outlets, giving readers and listeners a broader understanding on the complexities of climate change and moving to a carbon free energy sector. Greenpeace’s digital team made sure too that social media was awash with this information too, across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. The campaign to put people before grossly inflated profit continues, engaging all ages, all groups, all countries.
Linked to all this are Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Criteria which are a set of standards for a company’s operations that socially conscious investors use to screen potential investments. Environmental criteria consider how a company performs as a steward of nature. Social criteria examine how relationships are managed with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where companies operate. Governance deals with a company’s leadership, executive pay, audits, internal controls and shareholder rights. ESG is everywhere at the moment…! Overhyped maybe but useful all the same!
The past two years has seen the rapid rise of ESG issues within both the corporate and investor space. That of course also includes our investments for our own pensions. These issues have been around for many years, but now they are representing material issues – and risks – to both communities, which has brought increased attention. If 2021 was a momentous year for environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, in 2022 they will become even more important as governments, companies and investors digest the implications of their net-zero targets and start acting to make them a reality.
With the increasing demand for investments that support ESG goals, the pressure is on to ensure companies are not exaggerating or misrepresenting the benefits of their activities, a phenomenon known as “greenwashing”. (see: www.voiceforarran.com https://voiceforarran.com/issue-119/greenwashing-carbon-capture-and-climate-change/ February 2021) Auditors believe it could take years to develop the checks needed to verify these credentials. In his new ESG Watch piece, Mike Scott scopes out the year ahead for sustainable investment and why 2022 will become a critical year where governments, companies and investors, in-spite of these gaps, put Net-Zero targets into tangible actions. Click here to read this month’s ESG Watch.
“A key takeaway from COP26 was that while it is essential to have targets and ambition, now we really need to see those translate into more rapid action,” says Paul Simpson, CEO of disclosure group CDP. CDP is a not-for-profit charity that runs the global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impacts. Over the past 20 years they have created a system that has resulted in greater engagement on environmental issues worldwide.
At last, things are changing at the banks: This month HSBC announced it aims to cut emissions associated with loans made to its oil and gas clients by 34% this decade, marking the first time that Britain’s biggest lender has committed to such a target.
More than 100 banks https://www.unepfi.org/net-zero-banking/members/ have pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions in their investments by 2050 and are under pressure to provide details on the deep shorter-term cuts to “financed emissions” that are needed if banks are to have any chance of meeting their goal.
“This is rewiring the way we make financing and investment decisions from here on in,” Group Chief Sustainability Officer Celine Herweijer said of HSBC’s 2030 targets.
HSBC is a major lender to corporate clients across Asia and some of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies, and its plan is expected to set the tone for other banks in the region, most of which have yet to release targets.
HSBC said its oil and gas target was based on ‘absolute’ reductions’ rather than ‘carbon intensity’, which measures emissions per unit of energy or barrel of oil and gas produced, and so could see actual emissions rise. Climate activists warn that intensity-based targets do not go far enough if the world is to keep global warming from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, which scientists deem crucial to prevent catastrophic climate change. But it is a start and we must keep pressure on the financial sectors, locally and nationally.
UK Oceans – a legal win!
In 2020 and early 2021 Greenpeace UK activists strategically placed granite boulders to prevent bottom trawlers ploughing up the so-called protected sea bed. The action received huge support from the public, celebrities, scientists and small-scale fishermen alike. But the UK’s Marine Management Organisation (MMO) – whose mandate is to protect the oceans – took Greenpeace to court.
While Greenpeace is not unfamiliar with defending their actions in court, the novelty in this instance was that the case was being brought not by the people prevented from fishing, but by the very people who should have been preventing those Greenpeace stopped! The irony was not lost on the judge, and whilst he ruled that the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) could indeed prosecute Greenpeace, he asked them to review whether their case was in the public interest commenting ‘It touches on the absurd that this litigation is happening at all’. On 7th February 2022, the MMO followed the advice of the judge and dropped all charges. This is a brilliant result for the oceans campaign, widely reported clearly showing the right to protest and protect our marine environment. In his final comments the judge made an important note: the licensing regime could be better used as a source of protection against those who actively seek to harm the marine environment. This aligns perfectly to Greenpeace’s core campaign ask: that the government uses its licensing powers to ban industrial fishing from UK MPAs which could be implemented right now – rather than the government’s horribly slow and bureaucratic bylaws approach, which will take years.
It is worth reading what John Sauven, Executive Director at Greenpeace UK said:
“The Marine Management Organisation’s role is to protect our marine ecosystems, so why they think wasting public time and money prosecuting us for doing exactly that is a bit of a mystery”.
“Our action was designed to safely protect nature from destructive fishing in an area designated as protected but where the MMO is miserably failing to do the job. We’re facing a climate and nature crisis and in response the MMO chose to bury its head in the sand, ignore the threat and prosecute Greenpeace. This is a clear signal for the Environment Minister to take the urgent action needed to protect our oceans from industrial fishing and ban destructive fishing vessels from all of the UK’s Marine Protected Areas.”
Greenpeace installed the natural rock protection in the Dogger Bank in 2020 and Offshore Brighton MPAs in 2021 to close parts of these protected areas to destructive bottom trawling. This fishing method ploughs the seabed destroying marine habitats, disturbing vast stores of blue carbon and endangering the long-term health of fish populations. It also endangers local fishing communities, whose sustainable fishing methods cannot compete with such heavy extraction. On the other hand, Natural England found that Greenpeace’s boulder barriers caused no damage to nature.
Both MPAs mentioned here exist specifically to protect seabed habitats, but there were no restrictions on fishing activity in either MPA when Greenpeace put in place its boulder barriers. In 2019, bottom trawlers spent 60,000 hours ploughing protected areas of seabed. This figure rose to 68,000 hours in 2020. Offshore Brighton, one of these MPAs which exists to protect seabed habitats, was ploughed by bottom trawlers for 3,099 hours in 2019. In addition, Greenpeace, along with the Marine Conservation Society, revealed last year that 26.5 million tonnes of carbon are stored in the seabed of the UK’s offshore protected areas alone. Damage to the sea bed is a significant source of damage to the climate.
The MMO’s previous Director of Operations, Phil Haslam, who decided to prosecute Greenpeace has since moved from the MMO to industrial fishing company North Atlantic Holdings, as their Managing Director.
Since installing the natural rock protection in both MPAs, the UK government is consulting on closing MPAs to bottom trawling. These include the Dogger Bank, where Greenpeace’s first boulder barrier was constructed. The outcome of these consultations, and whether these will be full closures of the entire MPAs to bottom trawling, has yet to be seen.
Lawyers acting on behalf of Greenpeace argued that the MMO has no jurisdiction over the actions of the Greenpeace ship, Esperanza, and was abusing its licensing powers to prohibit Greenpeace’s actions when they should be used for marine preservation. Greenpeace is calling for the UK government to take urgent action to protect our oceans from industrial fishing by banning bottom trawlers and supertrawlers from all of the UK’s MPAs.
A new plastic investigation
On 9 February 2021 Greenpeace Turkey published a report Game of Waste revealing the hazardous chemical contamination caused by the illegal dumping and open burning of imported plastic waste in Turkey. In the UK Greenpeace supported the launch of this report with an online video published on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and press. A government spokesperson responded: “We are clear that the UK should handle more of its waste at home, and are committed to banning the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries and clamping down on illegal waste exports – including to countries such as Turkey – through tougher controls.”
This report added to the overwhelming body of evidence that the UK – unable to handle its plastic problem – must reduce the amount of plastic we use and produce by 50% and ban all plastic waste exports. Do you know just how much plastic waste you and your family generate each week? An interesting experiment is to gather it every week in a pile just looking at your wrapping of Coop purchases, wrapping and indeed content of hardware purchases, even clothes wrapping and ask yourself, where does that go after I throw it away?
Fishmeal and illegal fishing
Starting to see changes in West Africa
After three years of intense campaigning against the destructive fishmeal and fish oil industries in West Africa with plenty of evidence and the publication of Greenpeace reports it seems that officials and governments are starting to wake up. Mauritania has issued a decree to prohibit the use of round sardinella and other species for the production of fishmeal and fish oil. For Senegal and Gambia the authorities verbally confirm that the factories do not have the right to use fresh fish and that there will be no more new factories; still waiting for the decree as is declared in Mauritania.
After the publication of the latest report (Feeding a Monster) that describe how European aquaculture, including salmon aquaculture in Scotland, and animal feed industries are stealing food from West African communities and their responsibility in the impoverishment (loss of jobs, food security, etc.) of local West African communities, the responsible industries have begun to react. Big companies that Greenpeace had targeted like Cargill, Biomar, Skretting, and others like Olvea… took the decision to work with “Sustainable Fisheries Partnership” to organize a round table in order to find a solution/alternative for their supply in West Africa. According to a Greenpeace source the stolen fish campaign (reports and oil stain activities specially) has a negative impact on their PR image and it seems that they are more and more aware of the negative impacts that their business has on the well-being of local populations.
Greenpeace and the coastal communities in West Africa remain alert and await the results of this round table which can constitute good results for the campaigns by local communities supported by Greenpeace research and advocacy campaign.
Dr Aliou BA Interim Senior Oceans Campaign Manager, Greenpeace Africa
recently wrote: “We remain alert and await the results of this round table which can constitute good results for our campaign. On March 8, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, we intend to accompany women fish processors to request the legal recognition of their profession so that they can be involved in the management of fisheries resources. Work continues on a legal campaign with impacted communities in coming months against poor fisheries governance and fishmeal and fish oil industries issues.”
Protect The Oceans: Antarctic Update February 2022
The Greenpeace crew have been busy on board their ship Arctic Sunrise carrying out different types of investigations so this is an update. Scientists have found vast colonies of Adélie penguins in the remote Weddell Sea, which is not their natural habitat. The Weddell Sea is the site of a vast proposed Marine Protected Area, first proposed nearly a decade ago by the Antarctic Ocean Commission (CCMLR- Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) which has not been delivered. This discovery reinforces the urgent need to protect and preserve the Weddell Sea while it retains an intact and functioning system. The specialists on board will deep dive to discover vulnerable ecosystems and maybe even species to make the case for Antarctic protection and Greenpeace’s campaign for broader ocean protection.
Louisa Casson of Greenpeace on board Arctic Sunrise wrote “It is amazing to see places in Antarctica that are still sheltered from the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Governments need to protect this area now. Last year at their annual meetings they failed yet again to give the Weddell Sea the protection it needs, a decade on from promising to protect the Antarctic Ocean. We urge them to act before it is too late.”
Heather Lynch, Professor of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University, New York, one of the expedition’s leads, said: “The Weddell Sea is hardly immune from climate change, but it appears that Adélie penguins breeding in this area remain buffered from the worst of the threats posed to those populations declining so rapidly on the warming western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Our understanding of the biology in this inhospitable landscape continues to grow every year, but everything we learn points to its value for conservation. Climate refuges for wildlife offer us hope – we cannot let that be dashed by destructive industries moving in. Ministers are paying lip service to scientists’ calls to protect at least a third of the global oceans by 2030, but the clock is ticking. Our oceans need protection: this has to be the year that governments create Antarctic Ocean sanctuaries and agree on a Global Ocean Treaty.
So, there is progress, but slow and we all need to be active in the participation to create change. Scottish ENGOs must push the Scottish Government and Marine Scotland hard to get better ecosystem protection for Scottish inshore waters and offshore MPAs.
Campbell, Sally. (2021) Greenwashing, Carbon Capture and Climate Change. www.voiceforarran.com Issue 119 Feb, 2021.
Changing Markets Foundation and Greenpeace Africa. (2021) Feeding a Monster: How European aquaculture and animal feed industries are stealing food from West African Communities. June 2021
Fonda, Jane. (2020) What can I do? My Path from Climate Despair to Action. Penguin Press.
Greenpeace Turkey (2022) Game of Waste. Irreversible Impact.
Halifax, Joan. (2020) Who will make the Change? In: Fonda, J. (2020) What can I do? Penguin Press.
Scott, Mike. (2022) ESG Watch: Disclosure pressures to grow as investors push for a just transition. Reuters Jan 27, 2022
¹Roshi Joan Halifax is a Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist, and pioneer in the field of end-of-life care. She is Founder, Abbot, and Head Teacher of Upaya Institute and Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico.