RCGP pulls plug on oil and gas conference after protests

The RCGP has cancelled an oil and gas exploration conference booked to take place at its London headquarters later this month, after complaints from members.

More than 1,100 people signed a petition set up by campaign group Doctors for Extinction Rebellion calling on the college to 'withdraw support' for the event and doctors wrote to the college to raise concerns.

The petition warned: 'The RCGP describes climate change as one of their policy and campaign areas and state they have decided to stop any investment in fossil fuels. For this conference to happen on the site of their headquarters appears to go against these statements and the Hippocratic Oath (to do good or avoid evil).'

Announcing the decision to block the Oil and Gas UK Exploration Conference - which had been booked for 29 January - from taking part on college premises in Euston, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: 'We deeply regret that a booking was accepted to host an event at our headquarters that conflicts with the college’s longstanding commitment to combat the impact of climate change on the environment and on the health of our patients.'

Fossil fuels

'The conference in question was clearly not a college event, but it would have compromised our integrity as the first medical royal college to divest from fossil fuel companies. We are extremely conscious of the irreversible damage being caused by gas, electricity and oil companies in their exploitation of energy reserves, and the direct link this has on greenhouse gas emissions.

'Our building at 30 Euston Square also operates as an external conference venue, contracted by us to a third party event management company. While there is guidance about who can use the college premises, it did not explicitly exclude fossil fuel companies. This was an oversight on our part and we apologise to our members and thank them for their patience while we worked through a number of complicated issues, including the legal implications of our action.

'We are already in the process of reviewing the contractual agreement in place and the policies we have with the event management company. We are also reviewing our college sponsorship policy and will ensure that any third party activity is aligned with this to guard against a similar situation ever happening again in future.'

The college's decision was welcomed by campaigners - who said it showed 'exceptional leadership'. Dr James Szmankiewicz, strategy director at the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare said: 'It is completely unacceptable for an oil and gas exploration conference to be held in a venue associated with health. I am delighted that once the RCGP became aware of this error they showed exceptional leadership by cancelling.'

Impact on health

Dr Angela Wilson, a spokesperson for Doctors for Extinction Rebellion said: 'The connection between fossil fuel use and poor health is getting stronger by the day. Already there are more excess deaths in the UK from air pollution than from bowel and breast cancer combined. The oil wells open already are enough to heat the world into a dangerously unstable position, exploring for more is a suicide mission. We need to get off oil.'

In April last year the RCGP withdrew an honorary 'companion of the college' title awarded to the Sultan of Brunei in 2013. An extraordinary meeting held by the college council voted unanimously to withdraw the title over 'abhorrent' anti-LGBTQ laws introduced in Brunei.

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