Chris Skidmore requests emergency debate on North Sea oil and gas as criticism for Sunak rolls in

Experts from across the UK’s green economy have stated that Rishi Sunak’s plan for more than 100 new oil and gas licenses “is about electoral politics, not sound policy – whether on climate, energy security or the economy”. Read our round-up of reactions here.

Chris Skidmore requests emergency debate on North Sea oil and gas as criticism for Sunak rolls in

Pictured: Sunak at a gas plant in Aberdeen. Image: 10 Downing Street, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Sunak made a speech in Scotland today (31 July), announcing measures intended to improve the UK’s energy security. He and Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps will host meetings this week with businesses and academics working in renewables and nuclear, but it was the fossil fuel sector taking the spotlight today.

Suank confirmed that, in partnership with the North Sea Transition Authority, the UK Government will hold another oil and gas licencing round beginning this autumn. More than 100 licences will be open to businesses looking to expand existing fields or develop new projects. This will be the UK Government’s 33rd oil and gas licencing round; the nation has more than 280 active oil and gas fields at present.

The Government’s arguments for doing this lie in boosting energy security and reducing bills by limiting the UK’s need for imported fossil fuels. But gas and oil are traded internationally and the UK will not be able to ring-fence its own production.

Further to this argument, key figures from across the UK’s green economy have questioned the messages the decision sends on the international stage in regards to climate and the energy transition.

Here, edie rounds up the key reaction to today’s news.

Chris Skidmore MP, author of the Net-Zero Review:

“This is the wrong decision at precisely the wrong time, when the rest of the world is experiencing record heatwaves.

“It is on the wrong side of a future economy that will be founded on renewable and clean industries, not fossil fuels. It is on the wrong side of modern voters who will vote with their feet at the next General Election for parties that protect – not threaten – our environment.

“Worryingly, this decision has been announced when MPs are on recess and unable to hold the Government to account. I will be writing to the speaker to call for an emergency debate as soon as we return.”

Ashden’s chief executive Ashok Sinha:

“Today’s announcement by the government to expand fossil fuel production is entirely wrong-headed and dangerous. As we see what the UN General Secretary has described as human-induced ‘global boiling’ occurring across the world, in the form of killer heat, flash floods and wildfires, the government is fuelling the fire by investing in more carbon emissions, not less.

“Plus, at a time when the US and EU are ramping up their investment in the green economy, creating new jobs and attracting inward investment, UK policy is going backwards, threatening the UK’s future economic competitiveness, and creating jobs that will only have to be made redundant later on.

“Scare tactics about Putin’s Russia won’t wash. The best pathway to energy independence is to slash demand in the first place, by finally embarking on an industrial-scale energy efficiency programme, and by accelerating the exploitation of the UK’s abundant sources of renewable energy.”

Friends of the Earth’s head of policy Mike Childs:

“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.

“If the government were serious about energy security it would invest in a nationwide street-by-street home insulation programme, focussing first on the communities that need it most. This would slash gas consumption, reduce energy bills, and help meet UK climate targets.

“Rishi Sunak’s international credibility is on the line. He promised other world leaders the UK would cut carbon by more than two-thirds by 2030. His recent announcements on energy and transport look as though he is reneging on the UK’s commitments.”

UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF) chief executive James Alexander: 

“Today’s announcement sends entirely the wrong signals to investors on the credibility of the UK’s plans to reduce carbon emissions. This is especially in light of the International Energy Agency’s statement that new oil and gas projects should not be funded if the world is to achieve net-zero by the middle of this century.

“For large-scale capital to flow to low carbon technologies and climate solutions, policymakers must build investor confidence by demonstrating their commitment to delivering a sustainable future, with all the economic benefits this brings.”

WWF Scotland’s climate and energy policy manager, Fabrice Leveque:

“These new licenses will do nothing to cut households’ energy bills and ignore the best way to boost our energy security –reducing demand for fossil fuels in the first place by insulating homes and replacing oil and gas boilers and vehicles with clean alternatives that run on cheap, homegrown renewables.

“Politicians of all parties should be focusing on helping households to transition to clean heating, rather than chasing the mirage of cheap domestic fossil fuels.”

The Climate Group’s executive director of government and policy Champa Patel:

“The Prime Minster could have spent this week announcing plans to unblock onshore wind and tackle the backlog of renewable energy projects worth billions of pounds. Instead, his ‘drill, baby, drill’ approach will leave the UK further dependent on fossil fuels, do nothing to cut people’s energy bills and send the wrong message to the rest of the world about the UK’s commitment to a clean energy future.”

The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s head of energy Jess Ralston:

“The UK Government is currently subsidising oil and gas companies to drill more in the North Sea. This will not bring down bills as there isn’t enough gas to move the dial on international market prices and the oil and gas industry’s own estimates show the North Sea will continue to decline no matter what the government policy is.

“Prioritising oil and gas over cheaper renewables and pushing back regulations on insulation in rental homes, both of which would bring down bills, is against advice from the International Energy Agency, United Nations and Climate Change Committee.

The OBR has warned that the UK’s heavy gas dependency could see the national debt go up by 13% of GDP as similar gas price crises happen in future. This decision and its timing will also be questioned internationally, as global warming continues to drive extreme weather like heatwaves and wildfires devastating Europe and Canada today.”

The Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology’s (REA) chief executive Dr Nina Skorupska:

“If the Government is serious about delivering energy security while reaching net-zero in a pragmatic way, they should be accelerating the cheapest forms of energy. This means low-carbon projects that are unaffected by changes in the volatile fossil energy markets, the cause of both increased energy costs and security concerns.

“Instead, today, the Government is supporting new fossil fuel exploration while support mechanisms such as the US Inflation Reduction Act and the UK Government’s Electricity Generator Levy, a windfall tax on renewables, is seeing the UK attractiveness for low carbon investment diminish.

“Real energy security will be delivered by reinforcing our grid systems and sorting out planning delays so that low carbon generation can be built quickly.”

Christian Aid’s head of UK advocacy and campaigns Jennifer Larbie:

“Now more than ever, the UK Government needs to show genuine leadership and strengthen their climate plans which are vital for the protection of millions in low-income countries.

“Instead, these wrongheaded priorities on new oil and gas licenses fly in the face of climate science, obliterates the UK’s net-zero commitments and lets down people on the frontline of the climate crisis.”

Uplift’s director Tessa Khan:

“Rishi Sunak needs to stop pandering to the global oil and gas companies that are profiting from the energy crisis and urgently needs to side with the UK public.

“This is smoke and mirrors from the government. New oil and gas licences won’t make any difference either to UK energy security or our bills. Hundreds of licences have been issued in the past decade, but it has only led to a handful of oil and gas fields. The truth is that we have burned most of the UK’s gas. Even the head of the regulator issuing these permits admits that new licences will only make a difference “around the edges”. And what little gas is produced won’t lower energy costs, a fact the government admits, as it will be sold back to us at market price.

“Meanwhile, this winter will be even worse than the last for millions of households, particularly vulnerable people, because energy bills are still nearly double what they were and the government has stopped its bills support scheme.”

Green Alliance’s executive director Shaun Spiers:

Who’d have thought that a government elected on the promise of ‘the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth’ would want to make new oil and gas licenses and standing up for air pollution its political dividing lines?

“New North Sea oil and gas licences are lousy value for the taxpayer and do nothing for our energy security. This is about electoral politics, not sound policy – whether on climate, energy security or the economy.”

Comments (3)

  1. Chris Cook says:

    Please use Shapps’ full title – he is Secretary of State for the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. Just because he has stopped using the net zero part in his communications doesn’t mean everybody else needs to.

  2. Andy Kadir-Buxton says:

    This action by Rishi is playing party politics when we need to sort the climate crisis. We can fund this action either by all countries ceding their armed forces in agreed stages to the UN, or by eliminating the scourge of mental illness by using the thirty second cure for it, the Kadir-Buxton Method.

  3. Martin Normanton says:

    The least he could do is allow gas but not oil extraction .
    Not only is gas lower carbon, but with vehicles switching to electric the demand for oil will drop while the demand for gas generated electricity will rise.

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