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Spirit of NI Awards 2021: Adam forces Boris to act on fossil fuels

Environmentalist out to create cleaner, fairer, more just world

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The winner of the Climate Hero category Adam McGibbon with Sarah McKay, Vice President Service Delivery at Concentrix

The winner of the Climate Hero category Adam McGibbon with Sarah McKay, Vice President Service Delivery at Concentrix

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Adam McGibbon

Adam McGibbon

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The winner of the Climate Hero category Adam McGibbon with Sarah McKay, Vice President Service Delivery at Concentrix

A Belfast man who persuaded the British government to change a decades-old policy that was damaging the environment is the winner of our Climate Hero award sponsored by Concentrix.

Adam McGibbon managed to pull off what many thought was impossible when he led a global three-year campaign to persuade Boris Johnston to stop pumping billions into overseas fossil fuel projects.

Adam (33), who works for a global environmental company, led a coalition that enlisted the support of partner organisations all over the world.

His efforts turned this previously unheard-of problem into a major political issue. Also getting national media on board, Adam gave a voice to the movement.

And it paid off last December, when Mr Johnson announced that all UK taxpayer support for fossil fuel projects overseas would end.

The UK was the first country in the world to make this pledge which marks a major move away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy.

Adam’s strategy was that if he could persuade the UK to make the move, other countries would follow and he was right.

The new Biden administration in the US was the first to announce it would follow the UK and now several EU countries are known to be planning similar moves.

Over the next decade, the campaign’s impact will mean world governments shifting hundreds of billions of pounds away from fossil fuels towards clean energy instead.

Adam, who became interested in the environment while studying politics at Queen’s University, said he was “pleased and encouraged” by his victory.

He explains the background: “I came across it in late 2017 and the more I dug into it, the more I found out that for decades the British government had been pumping billions of pounds into fossil fuel projects all over the world

“I was shocked it was happening and also shocked that no one else was doing anything about it. I decided to bring people together to do something about it.

“I got some global environmental groups on board and got MPs to ask questions about it and it just snowballed.

“Some (environmental) organisations were aware of it but most had decided it was too big and there was no way they were going to get the British government to change its policy.

“I just felt that it was not good enough to say it is impossible because it just had to happen.”

As the campaign gained momentum, Adam persuaded some big names to support it by writing to the prime minister, adding to the pressure. These included the United Nations General Secretary Antonio Guterres and former president of Ireland Mary Robinson.

Working to help protect the planet is a far cry from the career as a history teacher which he had planned when he embarked on his politics degree at Queen’s.

It was at university that he got involved in campaigning and the environment, setting up the youth wing of the Green Party.

On graduating he worked for two years as vice president of Queen’s Student’s Union, when he led a successful campaign on student tuition fees, saving students here an estimated £1billion over a seven-year period.

Adam then went on to work for several years with the organisation Global Witness which helps people whose lives are threatened because they are trying to protect the environment.

Currently based in Edinburgh, he is now with another major environmental company, Market Forces UK.

As the UK campaign lead for the organisation, it is his job to challenge banks and financial institutions that fund fossil fuel projects, persuading them to adopt more sustainable behaviour.

Devoting his life now to protecting the environment, Adam says in saving the planet we are also saving millions of lives which are being lost due to global warming.

He explains: “What motivates me is that first and foremost this is a crisis, it is an emergency and also it is an incredible opportunity to create a much fairer, healthy, sustainable and just world.

“We can totally remake society and get people to not only breathe cleaner air but live healthier, longer, happier lives. It’s about making it a better world. Every bit of climate action each of us takes will save lives.”

After his magnificent victory with the fossil fuel policy, Adam now aims to persuade the government to stop issuing licences for North Sea oil and gas drilling.

He says: “I am aware that a lot of people work in North Sea oil and gas so we need to do this in a way that protects these people and provides them with new jobs.”

Thrilled to be recognised in the Spirit of Northern Ireland awards, he adds: “I don’t feel like a hero and I don’t see myself as a hero. I do feel really honoured and it is exciting because the awards are in my home country of Northern Ireland.”


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