Britons believe oil companies should cover climate change costs, poll finds

Over three-quarters of UK adults believe oil and gas companies should take responsibility for the damages the industry inflicts upon the environment, new polling suggests.

The majority of UK citizens think the country has a responsibility to pay for climate action in poorer and vulnerable countries, according to new polling commissioned by the charity Christian Aid.

The survey was carried out by Savanta, which polled 2,181 UK adults between 21 and 23 April. Out of those polled, 63 per cent of the respondents said they would back the government in taxing oil companies and using the money for the loss and damage fund that supported nations impacted by climate change.

Women and people above 35 were more likely to support such a tax than men and 18 to 34-year-olds, the company revealed. Overall, only 6 per cent of people disagreed with the statement that it is unfair for oil and gas companies to make record profits without taking responsibility for the damage caused to the climate.

The poll’s results have been made public at the same time that oil giant Shell has revealed the company obtained nearly $1.7bn (£1.4bn) more in profit than experts had predicted. Other companies in the sector have also obtained record-breaking profits in 2023, with BP making around £500m more than originally predicted.

The announcements have sparked calls for a stronger windfall tax on their UK operations, with Labour’s shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband calling BP’s “enormous profits” the “unearned, unexpected windfalls of war”.

“Across the planet, it is the people who have done the least to cause the climate crisis who are facing the gravest climate shocks, and the damage that causes to harvests, homes, and human life,” said Patrick Watt, chief executive of Christian Aid. “Record profits by fossil fuel companies like Shell and BP should be a wake-up call, and spur real accountability for the damage they are causing. That’s not just Christian Aid’s view, it’s the view of an overwhelming majority of the British public.

“The UK government should be ensuring that major polluters meet their moral responsibility to repair the damage they have caused to the climate.”

Shell’s chief executive, Wael Sawan, said: “In Q1 Shell delivered strong results and robust operational performance against a backdrop of ongoing volatility, while continuing to deliver vital supplies of secure energy.

“We will commence a $4bn share buyback programme for the next three months as part of our commitment to deliver attractive shareholder returns.”

Nonetheless, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called on the government to close the “loopholes” in the windfall tax which allow companies to offset their investments in the North Sea against tax.

“Shell’s latest profits once again demonstrate the urgent need for a robust windfall tax on big energy companies,” he said. “Rishi Sunak’s refusal to close windfall loopholes for big energy companies shows just how out of touch this Conservative government is with the struggles that families are facing right now.”

The creation of loss and damage funds that would help developing nations address the environmental impacts of climate change was central to the UN’s COP27 climate summit in Egypt. Although the nations agreed on the need for such a fund, the details regarding who would provide the funds – and how – were not agreed upon.

In November, Christian Aid published a report stating that current climate policies put the world on track for 2.7°C of global warming by the end of the century. The organisation warned that this could cause “economic devastation in Africa”, as it would lead to an average 20 per cent hit to African countries’ expected GDP by 2050, and 64 per cent by 2100.

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