The United Kingdom’s highly-esteemed Committee on Climate Change has declared that ministers must have the final say on further North Sea oil exploration, despite finding that new drilling permits will harm the country’s climate reputation while doing little to combat domestic energy prices.
Prospects for an expansion of oil and gas drilling “have cleared a major hurdle,” reports The Guardian, after the CCC said stringent tests must be applied to new exploration licences, but stopped short of saying they could not be issued.
The committee said the final decision must be taken by ministers, as the UK’s energy security issues are outside its remit, and as it could not conclusively determine whether new gas exploration would lead to a significant increase in global emissions.
But refusing new permits would “send a climate signal to investors and consumers that the UK is committed” to its climate goals, said committee chair and former Conservative environment secretary Lord Deben, adding he would support a moratorium on North Sea drilling.
Despite the committee’s disquiet over the prospect of new drilling, its ultimate judgement “is likely to boost controversial government plans to license new oil and gas fields in the North Sea,” writes The Guardian.
Those plans are being boosted by the Conservative Party’s Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG), which has been critical of the UK’s efforts to reach net-zero by 2050. NZSG leader Craig Mackinlay told the BBC that the role of the group is to “scrutinize” and focus on “energy security, affordability, practicality; are the vulnerable protected and is there a better way?”
The NZSG is calling for the UK to embrace domestic fracked gas as a “transition fuel” while waiting for nuclear to ramp up. But that ignores the fact that the UK is very much connected to the global market for gas, the BBC notes, citing Carbon Brief analyst Simon Evans. Any domestic gas produced “would be feeding into that market and, barring export controls, would be sold to the highest bidder on the market,” Evans said.
“New North Sea oil and gas developments send out totally the wrong signals both to UK businesses and consumers and the wider world,” Greens MP Caroline Lucas told The Guardian. “These licences don’t make climate sense, they don’t make diplomatic sense, and they don’t make financial sense, and no amount of so-called climate compatibility tests will change that.”
Still, climate campaigners welcomed the committee’s recommendation that all licences, even those previously issued, such as that for the controversial Cambo oilfield, should be subject to a climate test.
It is “reassuring” that the committee should so roundly refute the Johnson government’s plan to subject only new licences to such tests, said Danny Gross, campaigner at Friends of the Earth.