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Sentamu turned away as he attempts to deliver climate-protest letter to Shell

24 April 2023

Holly-Anna Petersen/Christian Climate Action

Lord Sentamu outside the Shell HQ in London

Lord Sentamu outside the Shell HQ in London

THE former Archbishop of York Lord Sentamu was unable to penetrate an oil company’s security to deliver a letter on Friday on behalf of more than 1400 Christians taking part in a climate protest outside Parliament.

Christians from a variety of denominations held a “No Faith In Fossil Fuels” service at St John’s, Waterloo, before marching to the Shell offices, where Lord Sentamu attempted to present a letter calling on the oil and gas company to stop exploration for new fossil fuels.

As he was turned away by security, Lord Sentamu, who chairs Christian Aid, said: “It is the most arrogant experience I’ve ever had. We want simply to deliver a letter. We’re coming in peace. This is the sheer, sheer arrogance of Shell. They think they are the masters of the universe. I’m afraid they have got to change their ways.”

Christian Climate Action, who were liaising with the police during the protest, were told by officers that Shell had called them after Lord Sentamu had asked to enter the building, but a spokesman for Shell was adamant that this was not the case.

It is understood that security at the Shell Centre was stepped up after 2019, when protesters caused extensive damage during an Extinction Rebellion demonstration, and that security staff are instructed not to accept letters or parcels.

In the end, Lord Sentamu left the letter at the door and, once he had moved off, it was collected by a senior member of staff.

The service in Waterloo was part of a series of events making up The Big One, a four-day climate protest in central London organised by Extinction Rebellion and attended by a host of organisations including Christian Climate Action, Tearfund, Green Christian, Arocha, Cafod, and Christian Aid.

Before the service, a panel discussion, including the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, and Baroness Parminter — both members of the Lords Environmental Audit Committee — was interrupted by Piers Corbyn, the brother of the former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Mr Corbyn shouted that those in attendance were “working for the devil”, but the congregation began singing “Amazing grace” as he was ushered out by the Vicar of St John’s, the Revd Giles Goddard.

During the service, Lord Sentamu described the Government’s energy policy as an “offence against humanity”. He said: “Climate change is the most insidious and brutally indiscriminate force of our time. The people suffering the most have done the least to cause it. That is why continuing to search for new sources of fossil fuels, despite explicit warnings against this from the International Energy Agency, is such an offence against humanity.

“If we want to limit climate suffering, we have to leave fossil fuels in the ground. The Church has a proud history of standing up against injustice, and once again we need to see Christians calling on the Government to take decisive action.”

Louise Norton/CafodChurch leaders, including the Bishops of Oxford and Kingston on Westminster Bridge

The music during the service was performed by the Salvation Army band, whose brass section was a focal point of the march to the Shell headquarters. Elizabeth Kitchenside, a Salvation Army first-year cadet, also spoke at the service about why she was taking part in the march: “We cannot claim to love God and others and ignore this crisis. Our inaction speaks loudly. Climate change affects the very people that God tells us we are to serve.

“With prophetic voices we must speak truth to power and bring about God’s upside-down Kingdom. I walk for my future for the planet, for justice, but most importantly I walk for and with God.”

The Big One is calling on the Government to stop exploration for new fossil fuels in the North Sea. In 2021, the International Energy Agency said that exploitation and development of new oil and gas fields must stop if the world is to stay within safe limits of global heating. Despite this, the Government has opened a new licensing round for companies to explore for oil and gas in British waters. Nearly 900 locations are being offered for exploration, with more than 100 licences set to be awarded.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, the Church of England’s lead bishop for the environment said: “I commend this peaceful, prayer-fuelled service and pilgrimage. The message is loud and clear: ‘Wake up world!’ It is time to stop playing political games and take action now.

“We are already seeing the effects of the climate emergency around the world — and it is the world’s economically poorest people who are already suffering the most. So it is our moral duty, and a Christian calling, to do all we can to try to turn the tide. Our leaders must seize this moment and deliver real and impactful change for the future of God’s creation. We don’t have a spare Earth — this is our one precious home.”

A spokesman for Shell said afterwards: “We agree that society needs to take urgent action on climate change, and respect the right of everyone to express their point of view. Shell has a clear target to become a net-zero emissions business by 2050. We plan to invest up to £25 billion in the UK energy system over the next decade, providing individual projects remain economically viable under the revised tax regime, and subject to board approval. More than 75 per cent of this is intended for low- and zero-carbon technology, including offshore wind and electric mobility.”

Elsewhere, a retired vicar from Rochdale, the Revd Mark Coleman, was sentenced to five weeks in prison for blocking a road in the City of London as part of an Insulate Britain protest. The 63-year-old said he would continue his activism once released. “I want to state that I acted to protect human life, to draw attention to the death and destruction caused by rising emissions, and the impacts of cold damp homes on the health of the citizens of our country,” he said.

“In the ordination service, priests are told that they should ‘resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need’. For me, of course, it has moral authority. Poor people are more likely to die prematurely. I have tried to be true to my ordination vows. I see it as part of my vocation as a priest, to continue to resist until the Government acts. I expect that this civil resistance will involve sitting on the public highway again.”

This week, 31 faith institutions divested from fossil fuels. The organisations are from six countries, representing more than $2 billion in assets under management, and includes more than half of Church of England dioceses, including the diocese of London.

The provincial environmental co-ordinator of the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa, Charles Bakolo, said: “Churches from the global North should divest from fossil fuels because this will eventually lead to the sector’s demise and create a better environment for accelerating renewable energy.”

Church investments hold particular power, as they are seen to give moral backing to an industry’s activities. Canterbury Cathedral is one of the institutions that has divested from fossil fuels. The Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd David Monteith, said: “An essential part of our Christian vocation is to be good stewards of creation. We have discerned that part of this is to reduce our reliance on petrochemicals derived from fossil fuels, and to invest in greener technologies. We have disinvested as a witness to our commitment to work towards becoming a carbon-zero community.”

Last week, Greater Manchester’s faith and civic leaders attended a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss how the region is tackling the climate crisis. Mayor Andy Burnham, along with the RC Bishop of Salford, the Rt Revd John Arnold, and the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, were joined by the city’s other faith leaders.

The Dean of Manchester, the Very Revd Rogers Govender, said: “In Manchester and the wider borough, faith leaders have been working to address these issues for more than a decade. As Greater Manchester continues to grow, we cannot avoid the challenges of carbon reduction and the impact on the environment. It is this desire to work together across faith communities, and the political and civic sectors that needs greater action.”

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