Report: UK oil and gas industry ‘responsible for £44bn of damage each year’

Friends of the Earth says the figure of £44bn is "almost certainly conservative"

Entitled ‘make the polluter pay’, the 42-page document states that the “social cost of carbon emissions” from the sector have reached £1.65trn since 1990 – a figure which accounts for the environmental harm done at all stages of production and use, as well as the health effects of long-term “cumulative” exposure to pollutants.

To reach this figure, the green campaign group placed the average social cost of carbon over the past 28 years at £122 per tonne. This figure, FotE claims, is “almost certainly conservative” in light of recent studies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) landmark report and the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest global emissions forecast.

In order to minimise the risks, costs and environmental damage caused by the oil and gas sector, FotE is using the report to call on Ministers to implement a string of policies which would make corporates in the industry pay a premium for failing to decarbonise.

A headline recommendation is the introduction of a new carbon tax model which places the financial responsibility on “polluters” rather than “those least able to pay”.

FotE claims that money raised through this tax could be used to finance “the majority” of the £22bn additional annual funding it estimates is needed for the UK to reach “net-zero” by 2050. This figure consists of £10bn for home insulation and low-carbon heat; £6bn for walking, cycling and public transport; £2bn in subsidies for electric vehicles (EVs); £1bn for renewable energy and £1bn for habitat restoration and natural carbon sequestration, with the remaining amount accounted for by a local electric bus subsidy; EV charging infrastructure; reforestation and the promotion of low-carbon diets.

“A climate crisis is unfolding in front of our eyes with floods, wildfires and droughts now a regular feature of the news,” FotE’s head of research Mike Childs said.

“Wealthier countries like the UK need to act much more rapidly. This will cost money – perhaps up to £22bn per year – but it will also bring enormous benefits for public health and the economy. The fossil fuel industry needs to pay up for the decades of damage done even as they continue to bank massive profit from the climate-damaging fossil fuels they extract and exploit.”

A net-zero future?

The publication of the FotE report coincides with the UK Government’s publication of its annual final greenhouse gas statistics, which chart the nation’s decarbonisation progress between 1990 and 2017.

Published today (28 March) his year’s statistics reveal that the UK’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were down by 42% in 2017, compared to 1990 levels, with a 37% reduction in absolute carbon emissions over the same period. This progress means that the nation has met its second (2013-2017) carbon budget and is now on track to achieve the third.

However, the official statistics also indicate that progress between 2016 and 2017 had stalled compared to previous years, with just a 3% year-on-year reduction in both absolute GHG and carbon emissions having taken place. The statistics additionally confirm that absolute emissions from both agriculture and waste management underwent a 1% year-on-year rise during the same 12-month period, while transport emissions plateaued.

This stalled progress comes as the Government is seeking advice from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) on how best to bolster its carbon reduction targets and create a net-zero economy.

The UK’s current target is a reduction of 80% of emissions by 2050 based on 1990 levels – but this could be set to change, depending on the CCC’s findings. The CCC’s advice was initially due to be published before the end of March, but the organisation’s chairman, Lord Deben, confirmed yesterday (27 March) that it is now likely to come at the end of April or in early May.

Sarah George

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