Kwasi Kwarteng declares 'we won't switch off oil and gas production' after protesters glue themselves to building

Protesters glued themselves to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

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The Business Secretary has insisted the Government will not switch off domestic oil and gas production as climate change activists targeted his department in an act of “civil disobedience”.

Kwasi Kwarteng hit back at a group of scientists in support of Extinction Rebellion (XR) for gluing themselves to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on Wednesday.

Scientists for XR, which organised the demonstration, said it was protesting against the Government’s “irresponsible and dangerous pursuit of new fossil fuels”.

The group argued that “increasing fossil fuel production is incompatible with meeting our internationally agreed climate goals”.

Protesters Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Protesters Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

But in a message to the activists posted on social media, the Business Secretary said: “You cannot – and we won’t – switch off domestic oil and gas production.

“Doing so would put energy security, jobs and industries at risk – and would simply increase foreign imports, not reduce demand.”

The group said the demonstration was part of a week of “civil disobedience” by XR in London.

“The action is planned to continue until the UK Government agrees to implement Extinction Rebellion’s immediate demand: to end all new fossil fuel infrastructure immediately,” it said.

Also on Wednesday, XR claimed to have occupied the London headquarters of oil giant Shell.

It said activists had glued themselves to the reception desk as they requested a meeting with chief executive Ben van Beurden.

A spokesperson for Shell said: “We agree that society needs to take urgent action on climate change. Shell has a clear target to become a net-zero emissions business by 2050, in step with society.

Activists from Extinction Rebellion demonstrate outside the Shell building on the Southbank in London
Activists from Extinction Rebellion demonstrate outside the Shell building on the Southbank in London

“We are also committed to the UK and are planning to invest between £20-25 billion in the UK energy system over the next decade – more than 75% of this will be in low and zero-carbon, including offshore wind, hydrogen and electric mobility.

“We respect the right of everyone to express their point of view and welcome constructive engagement on our strategy and the energy transition. We do ask, however, that in doing so people do not intimidate our people or put anyone’s safety at risk.”

It comes after climate protesters said they had used superglue, chains and bike locks to block entrances to major insurance marketplace Lloyd’s of London on Tuesday.

XR said it was demanding that Lloyd’s stop insuring fossil fuel projects.

A spokesman for Lloyd’s, which describes itself as the world’s specialist insurance and reinsurance market, said: “Lloyd’s supports safe and constructive engagement on climate change and we’re continuing to work to support a responsible transition.”

In a statement on Wednesday’s action at BEIS, Scientists for XR said: “The war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis are exacerbating energy prices, but this does not give the Government a ‘pass on climate change’ as the Prime Minister has suggested.

“The science demands that governments across the world immediately end all new fossil fuel investments.”

Protester Emily Cox, a social scientist who specialises in public attitudes on climate and energy, said: “We are targeting the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy because it is responsible for choosing between fossil fuels or a liveable planet.

“At the moment it is choosing fossil fuels. This is not in the public interest.

“A huge majority of the UK public want the Government to move away from fossil fuels as fast as possible and replace them with renewable energy.

“The public also favours energy efficiency measures such as insulating homes to greatly reduce our demand for oil and gas.

“But the Government is not listening, preferring to give subsidies and tax breaks to fossil fuel companies.”

A BEIS spokesperson said: “We are gradually driving down demand for oil and gas, but we cannot have a cliff edge by turning off our domestic source overnight.

“Doing so would put our energy security, British jobs and industries at risk and simply increase foreign imports, not reduce demand.

“Our British energy security strategy sets out a long-term plan to ramp up cheap renewables as we transition away from expensive fossil fuels.”