Activists scale East Sussex County Hall roof to demand council cuts ties with Big Oil - Extinction Rebellion UK

Activists scale East Sussex County Hall roof to demand council cuts ties with Big Oil

Rooftop protestors call on council to divest pension fund from fossil fuel investments

  • Extinction Rebellion South East activists scale the roof of County Hall to demand East Sussex County Council stops fossil fuel investments
  • Rebels unfurl banner as crowd protests outside full council meeting, demanding council cuts ties with Big Oil
  • Extinction Rebellion South East (XRSE) and Divest East Sussex (DES) join forces, promising “There’s more to come if we don’t see meaningful action.”

Extinction Rebellion South East activists have scaled the offices of East Sussex County Council (ESCC) in Lewes today (9 July) to demand the council stops investing local peoples’ pensions in fossil fuels.

The protestors have unfurled a banner from the roof of East Sussex County Hall reading “ESCC: Which side are you on? Fossil fuels or climate action?” Below, activists from local campaign group Divest East Sussex (DES) are staging a colourful and noisy protest featuring an ‘oil monster’ and a giant pair of cardboard scissors. As council workers arrived at the office, campaigners handed in a letter addressed to Keith Glazier, leader of East Sussex County Council calling for the council to act.

Divest East Sussex  joint coordinator Gabriel Carlyle, 50, from St Leonards, said: “We have written to councillors. We’ve asked to meet with them. We’ve peacefully protested again and again. We’ve lobbied, we’ve pleaded, we’ve begged. None of it has worked. So we’ve decided to be less polite.”

DES and Extinction Rebellion South East (XRSE) are demanding that the council stops investing its pension fund in fossil fuel companies. The East Sussex Pension Fund, which covers Brighton & Hove as well as East Sussex, is administered by East Sussex County Council. It currently has tens of millions of pounds of local people’s pension monies invested in oil and gas companies like Shell and BP, that are driving the climate crisis.

Today’s action is the latest in a long series of protests against ESCC’s inaction in the face of the climate crisis. It also marks a significant escalation, with XRSE and DES joining forces in non-violent direct action for the first time and promising more of the same if the Council fails to take action. 

ESCC declared a climate emergency in 2019, yet the council has repeatedly refused to divest despite repeated calls for it to do so.

Divestment of the pension fund is supported by Maria Caulfield, former Conservative  MP for Lewes, and former Green Party MP Caroline Lucas. Many local councils across East Sussex, including Bexhill Town Council, Brighton & Hove City Council, Hastings Borough Council, Lewes District and Town Councils, Peacehaven Town Council, Rother District Council, Saleshurst & Robertsbridge Parish Council, are also calling for ESCC to divest. 

DES has been campaigning for over ten years on the issue. XR has also targeted ESCC on climate inaction, occupying its offices in July 2022. But this is the first time the two groups have officially joined forces.

Extinction Rebellion South East campaigner and Barcombe resident Mark Engineer, 50, warned: “This is just the start. There’s more to come if we don’t see meaningful action. We’ll continue to take non-violent direct action against ESCC until they do the right thing and divest.”

Gabriel Carlyle from DES added: “Two years ago, I and other members of Divest East Sussex went on hunger strike over the county council’s continued refusal to divest. At that time, Britain was having its hottest day since records began. The mercury was touching 40 degrees. You couldn’t ask for a clearer warning sign – and yet two years later, here we are again.” 

In June it was revealed that a long-delayed vote on divestment would be postponed yet again. This was despite a report commissioned by ESCC at the cost of £55,000 which appeared to support the case for divestment.

Carlyle added: “Last year the Fund spent £55,000 of public money on a report which appeared to show that divestment would have no negative repercussions for the Fund and be straightforward to implement. Yet a vote on divestment was delayed, citing the need for further analysis.

 “Nine months later this analysis has still not been completed, meaning that the earliest that voting could now take place is September 2024 – fully one year after these proposals were originally raised.

 “It’s time for the Fund to start taking the climate crisis seriously, stop its endless foot-dragging, and vote now to stop investing in fossil fuels.”

ESCC currently holds around £28.2m in fossil fuel investments. The protestors are calling on the council to set an example for other councils to follow by divesting its funds into sustainable alternatives.

Mark Engineer said: “If  ESCC decides to divest it would be a potential game changer. No Tory-run council has divested its pension pot from fossil fuels, so ESCC has the opportunity to be a leader, and we think others would follow. This small handful of councillors could show true leadership on the most vital issue of our times. Isn’t this what people go into politics for?

“The Council likes to speak about ‘shareholder engagement.’ This means they think it’s better to stay invested in fossil fuel companies so they can influence those companies to change their ways. This is naïve at best and profoundly dishonest at worst. There’s been years of such ‘engagement’ by far bigger shareholders than ESCC, and no fossil fuel company has significantly changed its business model.

“If the Council is really serious, divestment is the only serious option. “So I would say to ESCC – keep going, you’re so nearly there! And also that, if you don’t keep going, you are letting yourself in for a lot more trouble.”

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