Pressure is mounting on the UK government to end all new oil and gas exploration and extraction licenses in the North Sea, following the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) landmark warning last month that further investments in new fossil fuel supplies must end this year if the chances of limiting global warming to 1.5C are to be kept alive.
More than 50 campaign groups and NGOs – including Greenpeace UK, E3G, Friends of the Earth Scotland, Christian Aid, Oxfam and the UK Student Climate Network – have penned an open letter to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson today demanding an immediate moratorium on new licenses for oil and gas in UK waters.
The letter calls for an end to all new licenses to explore and extract oil and gas from the North Sea, the scrapping of all direct and indirect subsidies for oil and gas extraction, and the introduction of a new net zero mandate for industry regulator the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA).
Taking such action to in line with the IEA’s recent recommendations would demonstrate international leadership on climate change from the UK in the run up to the vital COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year, the groups argue.
Moreover, the upcoming G7 summit in Cornwall later this month – also being hosted by the UK – presents an “ideal opportunity” for the government to push other major economies to end all fossil fuel finance by the end of 2021 as recommended in the IEA’s net zero roadmap, which was commissioned by the UK to inform negotiations ahead of COP26.
“Committing to no further oil and gas investment in the North Sea, and planning for a managed phase-out of oil and gas in line with 1.5C, would show that the UK can also get its own house in order; and be a credible leader on the global energy transition able to inspire other countries to follow,” the letter states. “It would moreover protect the UK from the risk of stranded assets and help workers in the fossil fuel industry to make the most rapid transition possible to the low-carbon industries of the future.”
The intervention further underscores the implications of the IEA’s report, the conclusions of which already appear to be rippling around the globe. The report’s findings were cited last week in a Dutch court’s landmark ruling that Shell must slash its greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade in line with the Paris Agreement, in a legal case brought by Friends of the Earth Netherlands against the oil and gas giant. The court ruling was hailed by climate campaigners as a watershed moment that could potentialy pave the way for other climate litigation against major fossil fuel firms.
Sam Chetan-Welsh, political campaigner for Greenpeace UK said the PM could not claim to be a climate leader if he failed to put an end to domestic oil and gas exploration.
“When it comes to climate leadership, Boris Johnson loses all credibility if he allows any new oil and gas, when the IEA makes clear it’s completely incompatible with limiting global warming to 1.5C,” he said. “The Prime Minister must acknowledge the UK’s historic responsibility for emissions and make clear that his rhetoric on climate and green jobs is more than just bluster.”
The letter urges an end to the UK’s policy of ‘Maximum Economic Recovery’ of North Sea oil and gas, which is currently set in legislation, and replace it with a legal mandate that aligns the sector with a 1.5C pathway. It also calls the government to set out how it plans to deliver a “managed and equitable” energy transition, slamming the recently published North Sea Transition Deal as being so weak on proposals to curtail oil and gas that “it looked as though it had been written by the fossil fuel industry”.
Laurie van der Burg, senior campaigner at Oil Change International – one of the letter’s signatories – urged the government to follow up its decision to end finance of overseas fossil fuel projects with a plan to stop funding domestic fossil fuel exploration and extraction. “Last month, the IEA released its net zero report, which says that there can be no investment in new fossil fuel supply if we are to limit warming to 1.5C,” she said. “The UK government asked for this report, so they can’t ignore its conclusions. As the G7 host the UK needs to make sure that 2021 marks the end to investments in new oil and gas extraction and the beginning of a managed phase-out of fossil fuels.”
The North Sea Transition Deal remains contentious amongst environmental campaigners, who have warned the focus on hydrogen and carbon capture technologies could be used to justify continued investment in fossil fuel exploration that could serve to breach the UK’s carbon budgets. As such, the government is continuing to face calls to prioritise renewables investment in its offshore energy plan, so as to enable the development of a green hydrogen industry and ensure the offshore fossil fuel industry can shift into wind down mode.
The government was considering a request for comment at the time of going to press, but has insisted the North Sea Transition Deal it brokered with the oil and gas sector in the spring will ensure an orderly and profitable energy transition that does not leave workers behind as fossil fuel production wanes.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said the deal “will harness the skills, capabilities and pent-up private investment potential of the oil and gas sector to power the green industrial revolution, turning its focus to the next-generation clean technologies the UK needs to support a green economy”.