On Thursday night, the UK Youth Climate Network projected a video onto the Bank of England and Treasury buildings, calling for urgent action on climate change and economic injustices exposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The video featured students from across the country in their bedrooms holding placards, delivering messages directly to Bank of England (BoE) Governor Andrew Bailey and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, urging them to use public money to support both green initiatives and workers through the coronavirus pandemic.
In May, the BoE announced the Covid Corporate Financing Facility, which uses public money to bail out companies struggling with the economic fallout of the pandemic. According to BoE figures, 55 companies had accessed the facility, amounting to £18.8 billion in support. Among those receiving support included airlines, car manufacturers and fossil fuel companies.
In the video projected last night, one student says, "In the midst of COVID-19 and climate breakdown, The Bank of England is using public money to support the fossil fuel industry and other polluting industries." Another follows, "Meanwhile, the Treasury is ignoring the people forced to choose between food and rent, and prioritising companies' profits over workers."
The action comes ahead of planned meetings this weekend between central bankers and finance ministers of the G20 to “discuss and take urgent actions needed to address the global problems presented by the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The BoE financial support was offered to companies without climate or emissions stipulations, following a delay to a previously promised review into the implementation of such stipulations in BoE financing. BoE Governor Andrew Bailey said that while the review would still happen, the decision not to include such considerations in this bailout was deliberate: "In such a grave emergency affecting this country, we have focused on the immediate priority of supporting the jobs and livelihoods of the people of this country."
Speaking outside the Treasury last night Anna Vickerstaff, campaigner for climate group 350.org, said, "Andrew Bailey has said the main focus is for people's jobs and livelihoods to be protected, which is of course true, but while that money has been put into companies without stipulation, those companies have actually laid off 34,000 jobs at the same time – so actually it's not prioritising jobs and livelihoods, and it's not prioritising climate.
"It begs the question: what is the Bank of England prioritising right now? It’s not really COVID or climate, because the same people that are bearing the weight of the climate crisis are exactly the same people who are being hit by the corona pandemic now and unless we factor climate resilience into spending being done, the same injustices will be catalysed further and history is just going to repeat itself over and over again.”
Anya, 18, a student striker from London, cycled down to be part of the action last night. She told VICE News, "The government needs to be moving away from investing in fossil fuels and thinking about how we can actually work to reduce our impact on the climate and the environment, and thinking about how we can be moving towards net zero. The government has already made targets for that, and they’re not currently meeting any of those targets."
The action last night was one of many taking part across the world, as campaigners called for a say in government stimulus packages, lobbying for a "just recovery" from the current crisis.
As the projector was packed away and the action wound down, Anya was resolute in the continuing need for the application of pressure. "For years, people have been pressuring governments around the world, including our government, to take action – and not enough is being done, so we're not going to stop. We’ll keep up the pressure."
A 2018 IPCC report warned that there are just 12 years left to avoid irreversible climate change.