The UK cannot consider itself a serious climate leader while still issuing new licenses to drill in the North Sea.

What happened?

The UK government is offering new oil exploration licenses in the North Sea – meaning more oil and gas drilling. Emissions from the current oil fields are already going to reach the limit of the UK’s fair share of the carbon budget (see SeaChange Report). 

We cannot afford to burn any more. Expanding drilling will not get us to our Net Zero target but rather could quadruple the UK’s oil & gas emissions.

We do not need new gas. We need to transition as quickly as possible to a carbon neutral society.

Along with this, it sets a poor example ahead of the climate meeting COP26 being held in Glasgow this November.

How are they justifying it?

The oil & gas sector has stated they will cut emissions by 50% by 2030. That only addresses the emissions of the extraction process and ignores any emissions caused by the actual burning of the oil.

They plan to implement a ‘climate compatibility checkpoint’ review process in the coming years. This will ‘take into account domestic demand for oil and gas, projected production levels, the increase in clean technologies such as offshore wind, and the sector’s progress in cutting emissions.’ – BBC

Had they passed today’s announcement through their checkpoint honestly, they would have realised that granting any new licences is completely incompatible with climate action.

We need to ensure that this checkpoint review process is realistic and rigorous. At the moment, they assume that they can absorb their greenhouse gases with technology that does not exist yet. This is unreliable and doesn’t ensure they’ll reach Net Zero targets. These ‘checkpoints’ need to be rigorous.

What do we want to see?

We want the UK to follow other countries’ lead (Denmark, Norway, and France) in rejecting new licenses for oil drilling in the North Sea.

The UK government’s actions must match their words. 

They must not grant any new oil & gas licenses.

They must set an end date for North Sea oil & gas drilling.

They must plan a managed phase out over time.

They must support workers with training & good new jobs.

SeaChange Report Key Findings

  • The UK’s 5.7 billion barrels of oil and gas in already operating oil and gas fields will exceed the UK’s share in relation to the Paris climate goals – whereas industry and government aim to extract 20 billion barrels.
  • The additional oil and gas extraction enabled by recent subsidies will add twice as much carbon to the atmosphere as the phase-out of coal power saves.
  • Given the right policies, clean industries could create more than three jobs for every North Sea oil job at risk, which can enable an “equivalent job guarantee” for every oil worker.

Read more on the North Sea oil exploration:

iNews – Ministers have avoided setting an end date for North Sea oil and gas extraction, claim climate campaigners

Telegraph – North Sea on borrowed time as green targets block exploration

BBC – UK seeks to drill more oil from North Sea

Times – Green lobby attacks refusal to rule out new North Sea oil licenses

(Image: Banja-Frans Mulder)

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