AS PRESIDENT Biden was bringing his climate summit of world leaders to a close last week, a Quaker co-founder of Extinction Rebellion was being found not guilty of criminal damage to Shell’s headquarters, despite the judge’s directing the jury that he had no defence under law.
Ian Bray, aged 53, and five other defendants had been charged in 2019 after pouring fake oil over the main entrance, glueing themselves to the doors, and painting the front of the building with the words “Shell Knew” to highlight the fact that the oil company had been aware for more than 40 years that their business was contributing to climate change. Had they been found guilty, they faced a prison term of up to five years and a maximum £10,000 fine.
The six defendants had hoped to rely on the “necessity” defence — which provides a lawful excuse for a criminal act if intended to prevent a greater harm — and to argue that their actions were necessary to raise the alarm about the threat of climate change.
Judge Gregory Perrins told the jury that it was rare for defendants to accept what they did and yet plead not guilty. “This is a highly unusual case,” he said. He then directed the jury that the defendants had no defence under the law. He continued: “As I have said already, this is a court of law: it is not a court of morals.” The jury, however, acquitted all six defendants.
Mr Bray, a father of two from West Yorkshire, a Quaker, and a salvage and repair worker, said: “Peace is a privilege I don’t have. Looking back over the last 30 years, it’s not that we have sleepwalked into this moment of consequence, it’s that we have wilfully ignored the warnings.
“I am troubled and uncertain about the actions it seems necessary to take in order to call attention to warnings we have ignored. Yet I recognise that the impact of the trial and the two-year wait bear little comparison to the burden Shell activists have suffered in other countries. The killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa cast a long shadow and highlights the cost paid by many others.
“I am much more afraid of climate change than I am of arrest or going to jail.”
REUTERS/Tom BrennerPresident Biden looks on after his remarks in a virtual climate summit with world leaders, in the East Room of the White House, Washington, last Friday
At the President Biden-led summit, the fact that the United States was now back at the diplomatic table after the departure of Donald Trump appeared to be bringing forward new commitments from other countries. The President set the tone for the meeting by announcing that the US would cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by between 50 to 52 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and would achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who had previously pledged to cut his country’s emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels, increased this to between 40 and 45 per cent. The Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshihide Suga, made a commitment to curbing emissions to 46 per cent by 2030, compared with 2013 levels, up from 26 per cent. Japan is the world’s fifth largest emitter.
Tearfund’s director of global advocacy and influencing, Dr Ruth Valerio, welcomed the commitments, but warned: “Tackling the climate crisis requires more than summits and promises. World leaders need to turn these words into immediate and transformative action, and use the trillions of dollars being pumped into pandemic recovery globally to shift us away from fossil fuels.
“Otherwise, we will further harm the people who have done the least to cause climate change but already feel its devastating impacts.”
Looking ahead to the COP26 UN summit taking place in Glasgow in November, the climate lead at Christian Aid, Dr Kat Kramer, said: “This needs to be the start of climate action in 2021, not the end.
“As well as providing adequate climate finance for damage done in the past, as nations look to kick-start their economies, we have a vital opportunity to create a global green recovery, in which rich nations stand in active solidarity with poorer ones. That would be what puts us on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade.”
In the Anglican Communion, there has been reaction to the news last week that the Church Commissioners, who oversee an £8-billion investment fund, have chosen the date of 2050 to reach net zero emissions, despite a General Synod motion last year calling for all C of E national church institutions to reduce their emissions to net zero by 2030 (News, 23 April).
Writing to the Church Times, the environmental coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Canon Rachel Mash, described the news as “devastating”: “The profits that the Church of England will make over the next 30 years come at the cost of human-rights abuses, trampling of the rights of indigenous people, environmental degradation, and pollution of water sources.”
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