Greenpeace has been found to have acted in contempt of court during a peaceful protest against BP’s plans to drill for oil in the North Sea last year.
With signs of a global climate emergency becoming more frequent and severe, Greenpeace argued its actions were necessary to prevent BP from exacerbating the crisis. The company plans to extract 30 million barrels of oil from the Vorlich field off the coast of Scotland – oil we can’t afford to extract and burn if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Why was Greenpeace in court?
Greenpeace blocked the rig for 12 days in June last year, to protest the plans for new oil drilling. BP’s oil rig contractor, Transocean, took out an interdict (the Scottish version of an injunction), to put an end to the peaceful protest.
Despite the court order to stop, the activists continued. Greenpeace believes it is a moral duty for everyone to stop new oil and protect the planet due to the increasingly severe impacts of the climate emergency.
World leaders in 2015 made an agreement in Paris to stop global warming from going past 1.5ºC. This is arguably the most important global agreement ever made.
When Greenpeace learned about BP’s plans to drill for new oil, we knew we had to take action. If oil companies are allowed to continue with business as usual, the whole world loses out.
Climate change is an emergency
Evidence of the climate emergency is all around us. Record temperatures in the Arctic, devastating fires in Australia and the Amazon, storms and floods in the US, UK and South Asia – extreme weather is becoming increasingly regular and ferocious.
Climate change is already destroying lives worldwide, but the impacts are not being felt equally. People in poorer countries and communities are facing the brunt of the crisis, while those most responsible are relatively insulated from the effects.
As they directly profit from causing these disasters, fossil fuel companies are not only on the wrong side of history, they are leading us to breach the climate change obligations agreed in Paris.
BP’s oil drilling permit approval failed to consider the climate
In April 2020, Greenpeace was able to get the government to admit that the process of awarding BP’s permit in the North Sea was unlawful.
Greenpeace has now launched a second legal bid to get BP’s drilling permit cancelled altogether.
This is because, by granting BP permission to drill in the Vorlich field, the government failed to take into account the impact drilling would have on our climate (as there’s already more oil than we can afford to burn).
Greenpeace is claiming that the UK government is legally obliged to consider the impact of more oil drilling on the climate.
If Greenpeace’s legal challenge is successful, this could prevent BP from extracting oil from the Vorlich field. It would also set a precedent meaning that the government would be forced to consider the harmful impact on the climate before awarding any new drilling permits in the future.