Blog / 20 Nov 2019

For the future of the UK and the planet: Global Witness’ Challenges for the 2019 UK General Elections

In just under a month, people across the UK will go to the polls. They will cast their vote on who they want to lead a new UK government and what issues are top of their priorities, from tackling climate change to protecting public services.

These elections come at a time of deep flux for the UK – possibly on the brink of exiting the EU, tackling new challenges in the digital and democratic sphere, pressures on public services and facing a growing climate crisis.

Despite this changing landscape, Global Witness continues to remain dedicated to the protection of human rights and the environment by challenging corruption and the systems that enable it. As the UK voters prepare to head to the polls on 12th December we urge all parties to commit to key policies that will protect not only the future of the UK, but the planet too:

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Local residents campaign against a fracking site in Lancashire

Lead the global fight against climate emergency

The next Government will inherit one of the most important roles in tackling the global climate emergency, as Chair of the next “Conference of the Parties (COP)” – a major UN climate conference. Taking place, a year from now in Glasgow, this conference will bring together world leaders to take action on the pending climate catastrophe. But if the UK is to be taken seriously as a global leader, it must first get its own house in order. Including:

  • Stop the massive tax breaks that subsidise the big polluters in the oil and gas industry and instead, support rapid development of a UK-wide renewable energy sector. Earlier this year, the European Commission identified the UK as the largest provider of fossil fuel subsidies in the EU, providing 12 billion euros of subsidy. The next UK Government should redirect all fossil fuel subsidies to help fund a just transition towards a decarbonised economy in a way that no one that could be affected loses out.
  • Replace legislation requiring every last drop of oil and gas to be extracted. It’s little known that the UK has legislation requiring the government to ensure as much oil and gas as possible is extracted from the UK. The next UK government should repeal this and replace it with a requirement to ensure that oil and gas extraction is aligned to limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees.  As part of this, the next government should have a moratorium or ban on the annual award of new licences allowing companies to explore for more oil and gas fields and further developed existing ones.
  • Stop funding fossil fuel projects abroad and tying countries into dirty development. Research conducted by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), CAFOD and others shows that over the last seven years, 97% of all support provided by UK Export Finance (the UK’s export credit agency which underwrites loans and insurance for export deals) went to fossil fuels. In fact, the amount spent on supporting fossil fuel projects abroad over the past few years is almost identical to the UK’s International Climate Fund, for the same period. This hypocrisy is what will undermine the UK’s leadership on tackling climate change.

Belgravia properties

There's a veil of anonymity allowing the corrupt to use the UK housing market to launder money.

End the UK’s role as a safe haven for dirty money, once and for all

Thanks to the work of organisations like Global Witness and media investigations including the massive Panama Papers, the use of the UK by corrupt elites to stash and move dirty money has become increasingly clear. Since 2016 successive Governments have pledged to stop the funds of criminal and corrupt activity flowing into the UK and some progress has been made. But vital measures have not yet been acted on and ever present are new dangers that could be used by the corrupt – the next Government must finally close the door to dirty money.

Building on previous Government promises we are calling for:

  •        Almost four years since it was first committed to, a public register that reveals the real owners of overseas companies buying UK property, to remove the veil of anonymity that allows the corrupt to use the UK housing market to launder money.
  •       Provide financial and technical support to the UK’s overseas territories and crown dependencies to ensure they fulfil commitments to bring transparency to company ownership in their jurisdictions.
  •       End the UK’s golden visa programme that allows individuals to buy access to the UK with very few questions over their source of wealth.
  •       Clearly mandate and properly resource Companies House so it can effectively ensure those who set up companies in the UK are who they say they are.

Prevent new measures favoured by money launderers, including:

  •       Ruling out the introduction of “freeports”, areas within a state that typically face low regulation, and are therefore vulnerable to tax avoidance, money laundering and terrorist financing, as well as other illicit financial activity.

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Deforestation in the Amazon, where the UK's investments and activities contribute enormously to forest destruction.

Take action in tackling UK’s environmental footprint on the world’s most vital rainforests

Even though nowadays green is the new black in our financial centres and corporate PR campaigns, big household names still have deforestation in their supply chains and still bankroll the destruction of the world’s largest forests with few apparent consequences or costs. The devastating Amazon fires this summer have demonstrated the urgent need to address deforestation.

We recently found that a number of giant, global agribusinesses who have been razing forests to produce palm oil, beef and rubber have received financial backing from some of the biggest names in banking. These names shape the very skyline of Canary Wharf – Barclays, Santander, HSBC, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley – with countless more involved. We were shocked to find that financial institutions based in the UK were the biggest source of financing, after Brazil.

Whatever the shape of the new UK government, it must take immediate action by introducing new mandatory due diligence legislation across sectors, supply chains and investments, to require companies, financiers and investors to identify, prevent and mitigate their risks and impacts on the environment, human rights and governance.

With political momentum building to make banks and investors more accountable for today’s vast sustainability challenges – be it climate change or threats to local communities – the government will have the historic opportunity to act to close these loopholes.  

Read more about those who are financing global forest destruction in our recent Money to Burn report.

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