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Rishi Sunak and protesters at COP26
Protesters confront Rishi Sunak at COP26Via Twitter (@fortuashla)

I challenged Rishi Sunak on fossil fuels and was banned from his COP26 talk

Annie Pick and other activists confronted the chancellor on the budget’s lack of climate policy and why the British government keeps subsidising fossil fuel companies

The UN’s annual climate summit – this year called COP26 – is happening right now in Glasgow. The event brings figureheads from all over the world together to devise solutions to our worsening environmental crisis. While the presidents of Russia, China, and Brazil are all noticeably (and predictably) absent, leaders from the UK, US, South Korea, Australia, Nigeria, and more have joined the conference.

One person who seems to wish he wasn’t there, however, is the UK’s chancellor Rishi Sunak, who was filmed awkwardly ignoring a confrontation by youth activists at the Scotland event this morning (November 3).

In a video shared on Twitter by Fatima-Zahra Ibrahim, the co-founder of the youth climate group, Green New Deal Rising, a small group of activists can be seen asking Sunak why the government continues to give tax breaks to fossil fuel companies. As he keeps walking, the chancellor starts responding with, “We’re not, we’ve actually stopped with the IAEA…” The final word he says in the sentence is inaudible in the clip.

The protester who’s challenging Sunak, youth activist Annie Pick, replies: “I don’t think that’s true. When will you stop funding fossil fuel companies?” As he’s being photographed with a green version of the infamous red budget box, an activist off-camera says: “There’s not much in that suitcase is there? Where’s the climate finance Rishi?” After that, the protesters appear to be escorted out by security.

Pick and the group had planned to confront Sunak before his speech at the morning’s 9AM opening event. “We wanted to go there early to see if we could see him on the way in,” she tells Dazed. “He walked in, and we went to meet him. We weren’t treated (in) the most friendly (way). He struggled to say anything, and tactically ignored us. Then when we went to sit down later to listen to him talk, there was a bit of a kerfuffle with security. Someone told me that I’d shouted in the room, but I hadn’t shouted at all. We just spoke to Rishi as he entered, then went and sat down.”

Pick says she decided to approach Sunak after he “didn’t mention the climate crisis once” during his recent hour-long unveiling of the government’s 2021 Budget. “It doesn’t set a good precedent for putting your money where your mouth is in terms of climate action,” continues Pick.

In August, it emerged that oil companies, including BP, Shell, and ExxonMobil, received hundreds of millions of points in tax repayments from HMRC. Earlier this year, Sunak also announced a “super-deduction” tax relief, which allows certain companies to have their tax bill cut.

“Currently the UK has plans to give £1 billion to a mega gas project in Mozambique,” explains Pick, “and that’s taxpayers money going towards that, even though it will only produce fossil fuels and won’t help us, Mozambique, nor the wider world hit our 1.5℃ target for climate action. The government has also cut the air passenger duty, so it’s now cheaper for aeroplanes to fly passengers within the UK, which goes against what scientists and others are saying, which is that we need to tax frequent fliers in order to cut carbon.”

Pick adds that it wasn’t just her Sunak seemed to be ignoring. “He hasn’t taken any questions. We saw him at an event later this afternoon, and all the other speakers left through the same door as the public, but Rishi Sunak went out by a back door. I think he knows there’s a lot of people here who don’t like his position on how to finance a green transition. It’s easier for him to go out by the back door.”

“I think he knows there’s a lot of people here who don’t like his position on how to finance a green transition” – Annie Pick, activist

“It definitely feels like the UK government in particular isn’t keen on hearing other voices,” Pick continues. “(The Tories are) convinced that their way is the right way, but science doesn’t stack up with what they want. They say they now have enough money to fund the campaign to net zero, but they will continue to support fossil fuel companies, and continue to produce and exploit while planting trees, or whatever they think is enough to reach net zero. But net zero isn’t net zero – what we really need is drastic carbon reductions and an end to fossil fuels.”

COP26 has faced a number of protests in the last couple of days – with more to come. Yesterday (November 2), a group of activists dressed in costumes from Netflix’s hit series Squid Game (an anti-capitalist allegory) to demand that world leaders stop playing “climate games”. Extinction Rebellion protesters have also been gathering outside investment banks and electricity companies in Glasgow. On Monday (November 1), Greta Thunberg got into the Scottish spirit by joining a crowd in a singing chorus of, ‘You can shove your climate crisis up your arse’

Watch the video of Annie Pick confronting Rishi Sunak above, and look back at Dazed’s interview with the young activists who staged their own climate summit last year, when COP26 was postponed due to COVID-19, here.