European Gas Conference: No longer rolling out the red carpet for the gas lobby
Vienna, 28 March 2023. Thousands of people from the international climate movement are uniting to protest against the European Gas Conference currently taking place in Vienna. Fridays For Future is joining the actions to send a clear message: the fossil lobby cannot be allowed to continue increasing their political power and fuelling the climate crisis.
Right now fossil companies from all over Europe including Shell, BP and RWE are converging on Vienna. For three days, the CEOs of the biggest fossil fuel corporations and financial institutions are rubbing shoulders with political representatives, enabling them to continue increasing their profits in the future at the expense of human lives. Meanwhile, civil society and the press are kept outside closed gates. Tickets cost several thousand euros apiece allowing undisturbed lobby talks between politicians and the fossil fuel industry.
This week, the BlockGas alliance is bringing together the climate movement from across multiple continents, in particular Europe and Africa, to rise up against the injustice of fossil fuel companies refusing to face the reality of the climate crisis in order to maximize profits for the few. Verena Gradinger, spokesperson of BlockGas, explains: "We are protesting against the expansion of fossil infrastructure because the climate destruction must come to an end. The massive police deployment and repression against peaceful protesters proves that fossil capitalism is protected by the state with all force and at all costs. But we can no longer tolerate dirty deals behind closed doors like at the European Gas Conference!"
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The conference is titled “European Gas Conference”, conveniently ignoring the glaring fact that most of the newly extracted gas will come from African countries. Once again, European companies are defining Africa’s fate without African civil society even being part of the dialogue. Dean Bhekumuzi Bhebhe, activist from Don't Gas Africa, emphasizes: “Africa urgently needs to transition towards a renewable energy future, away from fossil fuels. The continent now sits at a crossroads and there is a fight to decide its energy and development future. The fossil fuel industry's plan to scale up gas extraction in Africa, as represented by the European Gas Conference, poses a severe threat to the African continent and its people.”
The Don’t Gas Africa Campaign makes clear that fossil gas production in Africa does not foster economic and social development but rather traps it as a gas station. New dirty fossil fuel infrastructure will cause irreversible impacts on future emissions and living standards. Africa must raise its climate ambitions and become a key stakeholder in a green global economy, defining its own common narrative for its energy future. “Africa’s position cannot be deliberated by the Global North on Africa’s behalf. If we are talking about Africa’s energy future then we are the ones who must sit at the conference table”, Bhebhe concludes.
Europe's dependence on gas is still filling Putin’s pockets and fueling war in Ukraine
While the world needs to break itself free from the influence of gas-producing autocracies like Russia, the European Gas Conference is doing exactly the opposite. Europe's heavy reliance on Russia's gas is a major factor fueling the ongoing war in Ukraine. Valeriia Bondarieva, a Ukrainian climate activist from Fridays For Future, is very clear: “My stance is simple: unless coal, oil, and gas are kept in the ground, and a clean and just energy transition is implemented, there will be no peace.”
Fossil criminals are using our tax money to build new and unnecessary gas infrastructure to generate infinite profits for their companies. Gas means crises - the cost of living crisis, the climate emergency, the Russian invasion in Ukraine.. Gas companies are not interested in our safety, health or welfare. While four out of five Europeans have struggled paying their energy bills this winter, Shell, PKN Orlen, BP, OMV and many others have been making skyrocketing profits.
“Energy systems should help us meet our needs, not put us in danger, crises and wars. We are here in Vienna because we demand an energy system that creates jobs, not emissions, that heats our homes and not the climate, and serves our people by using our tax money to tackle people’s challenges, not gas lobbyists’ dreams of continuing deals with oligarchs and dictators”, says Wiktoria Jędroszkowiak from Wschód, Fridays For Future Eastern Europe.
Democratizing the energy system
As a counter-event to the exclusive meeting of the gas lobby, the international conference "Power to the People" took place in Vienna on the weekend. Around 600 climate activists from Europe, Africa, South America and Asia called for a democratization of the energy system.
"A just energy system must be a democratic energy system - ecological, social and not driven by profits. Large energy companies, which are currently making billions in profits from the basic right to energy, must be socialized. Only then can we ensure access to an affordable supply of clean energy for all," explains Max Hollweg from Attac Austria and spokesperson of the Power to the People Conference.
Collective Civil Resistance against Fossil Destruction
From Saturday on, the international climate movement has joined forces to disrupt the European Gas Conference by means of multiple, non violent actions, including civil disobedience by the BlockGas alliance. These ranged from blocking the access to the private jet terminal of the Airport of Vienna to blocking the streets in front of the conference location.
Luisa Neubauer from Friday For Future Germany summarizes: “It's an almost perverted situation to be in, to find governments not rising up to fossil fuel industries, not making the rules, not setting the lines for those very industries that have so publicly caused the mess we’re in. So again, it’s up to people to lead the way and to make sure that these industries get to understand that we're not OK with them misusing the crises we’re in to their advantage and causing even more crises for everyone.”
Later today, a big protest march will take thousands of people to the streets of Vienna, starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Stephansplatz, demanding once more social and climate justice and the dismantling of fossil corporate power.