Despite the International Energy Agency saying in 2021 that no country should be granting new oil and gas licences, despite the UN Secretary-General saying that investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is “moral and economic madness” and despite December’s climate talks in Dubai agreeing that the world must phase out fossil fuels, the UK has given out 24 new licences to 17 companies.
The new licences come after last year’s decision to grant another 27 licences, as well as the go ahead for the massive Rosebank development. The UK Government also plans to issue new licences every year instead of the current approximately 5-year cycle.
Fossil fuels continue to be the main contributor to climate change. Last year was the hottest year ever recorded globally and this year is likely to be even hotter. The burning of fossil fuels needs to stop completely before temperatures can stabilise.
The UK Government says that it wants to ‘max out’ the North Sea, parroting the industry line that we should keep up our domestic supply. The UK Energy Minister even tried to claim that the new licences would help the UK get to net-zero emissions ….
The truth is that almost all the oil and gas extracted from the North Sea is sold on the international market which means that, even if it is actually used in the UK, we pay the same price as for any other globally-traded oil. UK ministers want you to think that keeping the North Sea oil industry going is about cheaper energy prices at home but this is simply not true.
The SNP gave up on the policy of getting out every last possible drop some years ago. They now say new licenses should be subject to a test against our climate objectives. The problem is that the UK Government has already come up with their so-called ‘Climate Compatibility Checklist.’ Surprise surprise it turns out that any new licence you can think of is absolutely fine for the climate…
The Labour Party has said it will not issue any new licenses if it wins the next general election but crucially it would allow all those licenses already granted by then to continue. A case of closing the burning stable door after the horses have bolted.
A few years ago Friends of the Earth Scotland commissioned an important report looking at how much oil and gas we could afford to burn and still make a fair contribution to keeping the world below the critical temperature thresholds agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The answer was very little. In fact in 2019 there was already more oil and gas in existing fields to blow our carbon budget. If other oil and gas producing countries took the same approach as the UK – and most of them are – the world would be driven well beyond the 2ºC danger temperature threshold of the Paris Agreement.
Sometimes governments do things which you disagree with. But sometimes they do things which are clearly nonsensical and yet claim that they are justified. Issuing new oil and gas licenses in a world facing an escalating climate crisis is clearly insane.
A version of this article appear in the Scotsman newspaper on 7th February 2024.