The climate crisis is closing in, with extreme weather seizing the globe. Meanwhile, the British government is set to grant at least 100 licenses for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, while Prime Minister Rishi Sunak maintains he is committing to ‘pragmatic and proportionate’ action against global warming. Oxfam’s climate policy adviser, Lyndsay Walsh, says the move ‘will send a wrecking ball through the UK’s climate commitments’. The extraction and burning of fossil fuels is a known accelerator of global warming – so why is the UK approving new oil and gas fields?
Why Is The UK Approving New Oil And Gas Fields?
Sunak and his government have given multiple reasons for granting new licences, with energy security and economic growth at the top of the list, despite concerns from climate analysts and activists.
According to Sunak, granting these oil and gas exploration licences will ‘bolster’ energy security in the UK – meaning we no longer have to rely on ‘hostile states’ – as well as create jobs and build space for carbon capture projects, according to Politico.
There was immediate backlash from analysts and climate activists, with Greenpeace calling the move a ‘cynical political ploy to sow division’ and Jess Ralston, head of Energy at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, pointing out that it goes ‘against advice from the International Energy Agency, United Nations and Climate Change Committee’. Chris Skidmore, the Conservative MP who led a review of net-zero policies, joined dissenters, calling it the ‘wrong decision at precisely the wrong time, when the rest of the world is experiencing record heat waves’ and adding that the move is ‘on the wrong side of history’. Likewise, Ed Miliband – the shadow climate and net zero secretary – called the plans ‘weak and confused’, saying it ‘will do nothing for our energy security and drive a coach and horses through our climate commitments, while continuing to leave us at the mercy of fossil fuel dictators like Putin’.
But the Minister for Nuclear and Networks Andrew Bowie says the Conservative Party will make ‘no apologies’ for its commitment to the ‘future of the North Sea’.
Along with energy security, moving our oil and gas reliance to UK reserves is good for the economy. A government announcement claims the concurrent creation of carbon capture centres in North East Scotland and the Humber will create 50,000 jobs, while the new oil and gas licences will ‘[protect] more than 200,000 jobs in a vital industry’ that are otherwise at risk due to maturing fields having reduced output. Scientists have called the carbon capture plans ‘a deal with the devil’ that greenwashes oilfields, according to the Guardian.
Sunak calls his plans ‘entirely consistent’ with the UK’s net zero plan, explaining that generating oil and gas domestically is better for the planet than ‘shipping it from halfway around the world’, while Oxfam’s climate policy adviser, Lyndsay Walsh, says the move ‘will send a wrecking ball through the UK’s climate commitments at a time when we should be investing in a just transition to a low-carbon economy and our own abundant renewables’.
Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, added: ‘Climate change is already battering the planet with unprecedented wildfires and heatwaves across the globe. Granting hundreds of new oil and gas licences will simply pour more fuel on the flames, while doing nothing for energy security as these fossil fuels will be sold on international markets and not reserved for UK use.’