Here’s what happened
Liam Fox’s trade minister lobbied the Brazilian government to smooth the way for BP and Shell to secure drilling rights in a new offshore development criticised for its huge climate impacts, according to a diplomatic cable released to Unearthed which officials accidentally failed to redact.
The revelation comes just hours after the conclusion of a major UN climate summit where the UK government boasted about its “international leadership” and urged the world to “accelerate momentum” on climate action.
The document, which details a March trip to Brazil by Department for International Trade (DIT) minister Greg Hands, reveals that at a “private breakfast” with Shell, BP and Premier Oil, the companies relayed their concerns “around taxation and environmental licensing” to the minister.
The cable states that Hands was then able to raise those issues “directly” with Brazil’s deputy minister for mines and energy, Paulo Pedrosa.
Pedrosa then “confirmed that his ministry is already lobbying its relevant counterparts within the Brazilian government”, the document says.
Brazil has just opened up the exploitation of vast offshore oilfields buried under layers of salt in the Atlantic to foreign energy companies. Shell won stakes in half of the six blocks awarded at a high-profile auction in October, while BP secured two licences.
It is believed the pre-salt fields could hold as many as 176 billion barrels of oil and gas. Experts have calculated that the billions of tonnes of carbon locked in this region alone would take up 7 per cent of the world’s carbon budget needed to stay within 2C of warming.
Since the meeting with the trade minister in March, the Brazilian government has also made a proposal for up to $300bn in tax reliefto companies operating in the region.
DIT officials tried to redact key information from the telegram, before sending it to Unearthed under Freedom of Information rules, but sent an unredacted version by mistake which highlighted the very passages they had wanted to black out.
Commenting on the findings, Rebecca Newsom, senior political adviser at Greenpeace UK, said:
“This is a double embarrassment for the UK government. Liam Fox’s trade minister has been lobbying the Brazilian government over a huge oil project that would undermine the climate efforts Britain has just championed at a major UN summit. If that wasn’t bad enough, Fox’s department tried to cover it up and hide its actions from the public – but failed comically. Given the important climate leadership the UK has shown on coal this week, it’s vital that Theresa May’s government speaks and acts with one voice. That means clamping down on a trade department acting like Big Oil’s lobbying arm.”