Investing in fossil fuels is the greatest crime against humanity – MPs should treat it as such.

Arguing as to whether the general election is the Brexit election or the climate and ecological emergency election, is like rowing over which is more important: arguing over the details of a will bequeathing the family home or putting out the blaze that is actually burning it to the ground.

At the core of these emergencies is the City of London. For years, Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England has rightly called on the finance industry to stop funding climate and ecological destruction and to instead fund the transformation to a safe zero carbon and zero ecologically destructive economy.

But despite the governor’s remonstrances, the City remains one of the world’s largest financial centres for the fossil fuel corporations. Seventy per cent of the capital investments by oil corporations are funded by the banks rather than by themselves. Bank financing for fossil fuels has increased every year since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015.

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The City of London’s banks and oil corporations are pouring billions into new fossil fuel exploration and infrastructure, despite knowing that this will destroy any remaining hope of avoiding the UN target of a 1.5C rise in global temperatures.

Climate change in the world's fastest-warming town

Show all 18

Climate change in the world's fastest-warming town

1/18

Husky dogs pull musher Audun Salte through the town of Longyearbyen in Svalbard, Norway. Salte worries that as temperatures warm, climate change could lead to the extinction of all life on Earth. A man who likes kissing and dancing with his dogs, he has 110 of them, is concerned most about the non-humans on the planet. "If climate change should be the end of humanity, I really don't care, but if climate change is the end of any animal species who hasn't contributed anything towards the speeding up of this process, that's why I am reacting," he said. "On the highway, when people slow down to look at a car crash, climate change is like that because everyone is slowing down to look at the accident but not realising that we are actually the car crash."

Reuters/Hannah McKay

2/18

A reindeer grazes on land. Since 1970, average annual temperatures have risen by 4 degrees Celsius in Svalbard, with winter temperatures rising more than 7 degrees, according to a report released by the Norwegian Centre for Climate Services in February.

Reuters/Hannah McKay

3/18

The Wahlenberg Glacier in Oscar II land

Reuters/Hannah McKay

4/18

Audun Salte prepares his huskies for sledding

Reuters/Hannah McKay

5/18

The town of Longyearbyen in the late evening light

Reuters/Hannah McKay

6/18

Husky dogs relax ahead of sledding

Reuters/Hannah McKay

7/18

International director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, Kim Holmen, relaxes with a cup of tea as he travels past the Wahlenberg Glacier. Holmen has lived in the northern Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard for three decades. He describes the changes he's seen as "profound, large and rapid." "We are losing the Svalbard we know. We are losing the Arctic as we know it because of climate change," he said. "This is a forewarning of all the hardship and problems that will spread around the planet."

Reuters/Hannah McKay

8/18

A sign warns of the danger from polar bears

Reuters/Hannah McKay

9/18

A woman poses next to a polar bear mural in town

Reuters/Hannah McKay

10/18

An iceberg floats near the Wahlenberg Glacier

Reuters/Hannah McKay

11/18

Wieslaw Sawicki holds a photograph of his son 44-year-old Michal Sawicki who was killed by an avalanche in Svalbard earlier this year. He worked as a geophysicist at the Polish Polar Research Station in Hornsund on the southern side of Svalbard. The Polish scientist and meteorologist Anna Gorska died when they fell from a mountain in May. Sawicki was an experienced mountaineer, scientist and explorer on his fifth stint for the institute in the Arctic. "Unfortunately, there was a huge snow cornice which looked like it was part of the peak of the mountain," said his father Wieslaw Sawicki, who was visiting Longyearbyen to meet with the governor of the archipelago. "It collapsed with them; they both fell into the abyss."

Reuters/Hannah McKay

12/18

Christiane Huebner plays with her dog Svea

Reuters/Hannah McKay

13/18

A pile of antlers on a ski sled

Reuters/Hannah McKay

14/18

Reuters/Hannah McKay

15/18

White wooden gravestones at risk of landslides due to the thawing permafrost underneath the ground, stand at the side of a mountain in the Longyearbyen cemetery

Reuters/Hannah McKay

16/18

A man looks at rugs for sale in a store in town

Reuters/Hannah McKay

17/18

A miner works inside the Gruve 7 mine, the only remaining operational coal mine on Svalbard

Reuters/Hannah McKay

18/18

Children play at the skatepark in town

Reuters/Hannah McKay

1/18

Husky dogs pull musher Audun Salte through the town of Longyearbyen in Svalbard, Norway. Salte worries that as temperatures warm, climate change could lead to the extinction of all life on Earth. A man who likes kissing and dancing with his dogs, he has 110 of them, is concerned most about the non-humans on the planet. "If climate change should be the end of humanity, I really don't care, but if climate change is the end of any animal species who hasn't contributed anything towards the speeding up of this process, that's why I am reacting," he said. "On the highway, when people slow down to look at a car crash, climate change is like that because everyone is slowing down to look at the accident but not realising that we are actually the car crash."

Reuters/Hannah McKay

2/18

A reindeer grazes on land. Since 1970, average annual temperatures have risen by 4 degrees Celsius in Svalbard, with winter temperatures rising more than 7 degrees, according to a report released by the Norwegian Centre for Climate Services in February.

Reuters/Hannah McKay

3/18

The Wahlenberg Glacier in Oscar II land

Reuters/Hannah McKay

4/18

Audun Salte prepares his huskies for sledding

Reuters/Hannah McKay

5/18

The town of Longyearbyen in the late evening light

Reuters/Hannah McKay

6/18

Husky dogs relax ahead of sledding

Reuters/Hannah McKay

7/18

International director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, Kim Holmen, relaxes with a cup of tea as he travels past the Wahlenberg Glacier. Holmen has lived in the northern Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard for three decades. He describes the changes he's seen as "profound, large and rapid." "We are losing the Svalbard we know. We are losing the Arctic as we know it because of climate change," he said. "This is a forewarning of all the hardship and problems that will spread around the planet."

Reuters/Hannah McKay

8/18

A sign warns of the danger from polar bears

Reuters/Hannah McKay

9/18

A woman poses next to a polar bear mural in town

Reuters/Hannah McKay

10/18

An iceberg floats near the Wahlenberg Glacier

Reuters/Hannah McKay

11/18

Wieslaw Sawicki holds a photograph of his son 44-year-old Michal Sawicki who was killed by an avalanche in Svalbard earlier this year. He worked as a geophysicist at the Polish Polar Research Station in Hornsund on the southern side of Svalbard. The Polish scientist and meteorologist Anna Gorska died when they fell from a mountain in May. Sawicki was an experienced mountaineer, scientist and explorer on his fifth stint for the institute in the Arctic. "Unfortunately, there was a huge snow cornice which looked like it was part of the peak of the mountain," said his father Wieslaw Sawicki, who was visiting Longyearbyen to meet with the governor of the archipelago. "It collapsed with them; they both fell into the abyss."

Reuters/Hannah McKay

12/18

Christiane Huebner plays with her dog Svea

Reuters/Hannah McKay

13/18

A pile of antlers on a ski sled

Reuters/Hannah McKay

14/18

Reuters/Hannah McKay

15/18

White wooden gravestones at risk of landslides due to the thawing permafrost underneath the ground, stand at the side of a mountain in the Longyearbyen cemetery

Reuters/Hannah McKay

16/18

A man looks at rugs for sale in a store in town

Reuters/Hannah McKay

17/18

A miner works inside the Gruve 7 mine, the only remaining operational coal mine on Svalbard

Reuters/Hannah McKay

18/18

Children play at the skatepark in town

Reuters/Hannah McKay

The Global Witness Report in April 2019, stated that a terrifying $5 trillion dollars was planned for new coal, oil and fossil gas projects across the world over the next decade. Since 2015, $2 trillion has been insanely invested in the global industry. UK banks, coal and oil corporations are estimated to be contributing about 15 per cent to this climatically suicidal global financing.

The Rainforest Action Network reported that the three worst UK banks invested $110bn between them in fossil fuels in 2018. Barclays Bank invested $60bn, making it the sixth worst in the world. HSBC invested $40bn, making it the 13th, and Santander invested $10bn, coming in at the 30th worst.

Millions of UK bank customers need to wake up to the fact that their bank accounts are being used to destroy their kids’ futures. Years ago, I switched my accounts to Triodos and Nationwide, as my conscience would not allow me to have my income used to fund the destruction of the Amazon and the wider world. When you switch from your fossil-fuel bank, it is crucial that you let them know why you are leaving and students should drive these banks off their campuses.

Of course, it is not just the banks. The two UK oil giants Shell and BP alone plan a quarter of a trillion dollars of investments in fossil-fuels over the next decade. Parallel to this, BP and Shell pour millions into misleading greenwashing advertisements, highlighting their fig-leaf renewable energy investments. Shell is investing a miniscule 3 per cent of its capital budget on renewables this year, whilst BP are spending just 6 per cent.

To put just these two British oil corporations into perspective, when I crunched the numbers from their 2018 “Sustainability Reports”, I found their total combined carbon emissions added up to a staggering 1,173 million tons of CO2. This equates to over three times the entire UK’s 354 million tons of direct carbon emissions in 2018.

As climate campaigners, we are endlessly told that we should be targeting China. But it is clear that the UK’s banks and oil corporations are co-signing humanity’s and (what is left of) nature’s death warrant.

Increasingly, fossil fuel investments are targeting indigenous people’s lands, carving destructive roads into the hearts of their remaining precious rainforests, devastating the landscape, poisoning the waters and continuing the horrific genocide of indigenous peoples.

So, in this climate emergency general-election, for any politician to be considered credible, they need to commit to criminalising all fossil fuel investments in the UK and globally. This $5 trillion should be invested instead in the transition to a zero-carbon economy, including renewables, energy efficiency, plant-based diets, circular economies, national cycleways and public transport.

Mark Carney’s proposal that financial institutions should voluntarily declare their climate exposures or face it being imposed on them, is pathetically weak, in the face of the depth of the crisis.

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John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor seems to get the importance of this issue. But Labour’s proposal to (as well as requiring mandatory carbon exposures) introduce higher taxes for trading such shares is also nowhere near strong enough.

Nothing less than a ban on such investments is needed immediately. When your house is on fire, you don’t tax the oil being poured on it by arsonists or ask them to report annually on how much oil they are pouring on the fire. You stop the criminal behaviour. It’s no different when it comes to investing in fossil fuels in the current climate and ecological crisis. It is the act of colluding with the greatest crime against humanity and nature ever perpetrated.

The money is clearly there, what we need is the will from the UK’s politicians to ensure it is spent on solutions and not on destruction. Ask every candidate standing in your constituency if they back the criminalisation of fossil fuel investments and then tactically vote for the candidate most likely to win, who is closest to this position, if you live in a marginal constituency. Make this your climate emergency election.

Donnachadh McCarthy is an environmental campaigner and eco-auditor. He is the author of The Prostitute State – How Britain’s Democracy Has Been Bought

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