BP AGM Hit by Messy Greenwash Protest

On May 12th at 10am, a creative protest took over the street outside BP’s London headquarters in St James’s Square. The performance protest was timed to coincide with the start of the company’s Annual General Meeting for shareholders at 11am, which was happening within the building and online.

The protest, organized by a coalition of activist groups including Polluters Out, Shale Must Fall, BP or not BP?, Fossil Free London, XR COP26 Hub and Frack Off London [1], aimed to call out BP for its misleading claims on the climate emergency. The oil giant has already faced a significant backlash over its stated ambition to reach ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which campaigners claim is full of loopholes, allows the continued destruction of frontline communities around the world, and is too little, too late for the climate.

The action by around 15 people, including a samba band, featured a banner saying ‘$9bn on new fossil fuels! bp = NOT ZERO’. It included a street-theatre performance where a group of fake BP Directors, each representing BP’s real-life business plans to keep exploring for new oil and crash climate targets, were covered in fake oil while doing fossil fuel deals at the Annual Greenwashing Meeting. A clean-up team of ‘greenwashers’ then attempted to cover them with green paint, clean up the fake oil and hide BP’s true activities. But the greenwash didn’t work, and the oily nature of BP’s true business kept seeping through.

Photo by Ron Fassbender

Mariafernanda Duran, one of the organizers of the action, said:

“We are here today because BP are continuously misleading the public in their efforts to portray themselves as Green Champions. The plans they have set out will lead us along a dark path of climate catastrophe and, as in the past, they intend to show no accountability. BP’s ‘Net Zero by 2050’ ambition is deceptive and no amount of greenwashing can hide the fact that this company continues to extract fossil fuels beyond safe limits with their destructive extractivist practices in the Global South. With their current plans, they have prioritized profit over life. BP should not be investing $9 billion this year in fossil fuels, or planning to still be drilling in 2050. We call on BP to phase out their fossil fuel business entirely, in line with the climate science.”

Before the performance began, speakers talked about the impacts of BP’s operations and carbon emissions on communities around the world. Adetola Onamade and Marina Tricks are both currently taking the UK government to court over the human rights impact of the climate crisis, in the ‘Global Majority vs UK Government’ case [2].

Adetola Onamade said during the protest:

‘We stand here in solidarity with our siblings of the Global Majority at this Annual Greenwashing Meeting. And when I say BP I mean British Poison because they’ve been poisoning our lands, our air and our communities for centuries. With the destruction we see in our communities here in the UK and globally there is no room for more exploration and extraction. BP must leave it in the ground if it is truly committed to honouring the Paris agreement, which we know it is not! And it must be held to account, outside every meeting, particularly in the Global North, in order for our communities in the Global Majority to adapt to have a dignified life ahead of them and a future that has already been reduced by BP’s ventures. BP must stop polluting and poisoning our people.’

Marina Tricks said:

‘We stand in direct resistance to BP’s ecocidal and ultimately genocidal trajectory, which is violating our lands and waters and actively destroying our lives, futures and communities. BP’s money is tainted with the blood of countless farmers around the world, such as the Colombian communities that resisted the Ocensa pipelines. In Colombia, Gilberto Torres was kidnapped and tortured for 42 days by paramilitary groups – him and his union had been organising protests which disrupted BP’s oil production to raise awareness of the disappearance of other trade unionists. We stand with Gilberto Torres and all communities who have been directly harmed by BP’s extractivist policies that destroy human lives.’

Adetola Onamade and Marina Tricks speaking at the action. Photo by Pamela EA

Despite its green branding BP is fracking – a highly destructive and polluting form of fossil fuel extraction – in Argentina, through a subsidiary company. A resident of the Vaca Muerta region in Patagonia, Jose Carlos Ponce [3], said: 

“We were the region of pear and apple production and that’s all we needed to make a living from. Then foreign corporations arrived and started fracking and turned my town Allen into a sacrifice zone and now a lot of people that used to work there have had to move because there was no work. In truth this is a genocide.”

Photo by Ron Fassbender

BP’s stated aim to reduce its oil and gas production and reach ‘net zero’ emissions has been specifically criticized [4] for:

– not including the third of its oil and gas that comes via its partnership with Russian state oil company Rosneft;
– relying heavily on unproven ‘carbon capture’ technologies and offsetting rather than genuine emissions reductions;
– allowing the company to sell off drilling leases to other companies rather than genuinely retiring them and leaving the oil and gas in the ground;
– allowing new extraction projects in all the countries where BP currently operates;
– being simply an ‘ambition’ rather than a binding target.

Despite research showing that the world can’t even afford to burn existing fossil fuel reserves [5], BP continues to push ahead with major new extractive projects in Argentina, Australia, and the Russian Arctic [6].

A shareholder resolution, calling for the company to set a solid target in line with the Paris Agreement, has been rejected by the BP Board who are advising shareholders to vote against it [7]. 

There was a large number of police in attendance, but they did not actively interfere with the performance.

The protest was carried out in as COVID-safe a way as possible, with participants wearing masks and socially distancing. Today’s action is part of a new wave of climate protest that is likely to emerge as lockdown eases in the UK.

ENDS

[1] The groups who have come together to organize this protest are: Polluters Out, Shale Must Fall, BP or not BP?, Fossil Free London, XR Cop26 and Frack Off London

[2] Global Majority Vs UK Government, see https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/apr/30/uk-students-sue-government-human-rights-climate-crisis

[3] See this video.

[4] See, for example, 10 big problems with BP’s ‘Net Zero’ claims and this film released yesterday by Culture Unstained

[5] https://www.globalwitness.org/en/blog/big-oil-set-to-spend-5-trillion/

[6] https://www.spglobal.com/platts/en/market-insights/latest-news/natural-gas/040521-argentinas-vaca-muerta-fracking-activity-rises-to-record-high-in-march

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/dec/21/wa-court-challenge-launched-against-huge-burrup-hub-gas-project

https://www.ft.com/content/1834bfad-3f98-468a-80cb-455404f04f79

[7] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-26/bp-board-urges-shareholders-to-vote-against-climate-resolution


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