‘The terms of the game have changed’: 7 key messages from Chris Skidmore’s net-zero speech to Parliament

MP Chris Skidmore, author of the independent Net-Zero Review, made a speech to Parliament in reaction to the recent policy frameworks put forward in the King’s Speech, covering everything from fossil fuels to COP28. But what exactly did he have to say? Here, edie rounds up the key talking points.

‘The terms of the game have changed’: 7 key messages from Chris Skidmore’s net-zero speech to Parliament

Skidmore is the author of the Mission Zero report, published in January 2023. This report was commissioned by Liz Truss to examine the UK’s overarching policy approach to net-zero. It was based on 1,800 responses from businesses and climate experts, making it one of the largest engagement exercises on net-zero in the UK.

The message from the new Review is clear – that the UK Government’s current approach is neither aligned with climate science, nor designed to maximise the economic and social opportunities of the transition.

Almost one year on, Skidmore was asked to appear in Parliament to provide a speech on the UK’s political climate based on a host of recent green initiative rollbacks. The speech covered everything from fossil fuels, to UK competitiveness. Here, edie summarises the key talking points.

Skidmore on the King’s Speech

Earlier this week, King Charles revealed the UK Government’s legislative priorities for the year ahead, setting the stage for the final chapter before the impending general election. The decisions confirmed have been chastised by green groups for confirming the Government’s plans to double down on fossil fuel extraction.

The Labour Party has pledged to end new oil and gas licensing rounds if elected but will honour licenses already in train. The Conservative Party, in contrast, commenced a major North Sea oil and gas licensing round last year and recently set out plans for another this coming seasonLast month, 27 new licenses were offered under the former round.

Commenting on the announcement, Skidmore said this would be the first time he was “unable to vote for the King’s Speech”.

“I apologise to His Majesty in advance— I hope that he does not mind—but I will not be put in a position of supporting new oil and gas licensing when it is not needed, either for environmental reasons, obviously,” he said.

“We cannot continue to drill for oil, because there is no oil left to drill. That is the economic reality that investors already understand. They are moving away from fossil fuels, and in 10 years time, people will look back at this debate and recognise that Westminster and Whitehall were behind the curve. The private sector and the markets are moving already. We need to listen now and clearly if we are to protect jobs for the future. or for economic reasons.”

Skidmore on energy security

One of the key reasons that the Government has doubled down on its approach to fossil fuels is the belief that extra extraction will help improve energy security following a year of rising energy costs.

Skidmore opposed that notion (more on why further down the piece) but warned the Government that more countries are reducing their reliance on oil and gas at quicker rates.

“The terms of the game have changed in this year alone, partly due, obviously, to what has happened in geopolitics and the cost of oil and gas crisis generated by Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine,” Skidmore said.

“All countries in Europe have woken up to the fact that the answer to tackling the cost of gas crisis is to build out more renewable power. Even Ukraine has built 18 times more wind turbines than we have built onshore in the UK.

“There is only a finite amount of labour and investment, and we have a political choice to make whether we want that to come to UK, or whether we want to see it onshored elsewhere. I want to see it come to the UK. We must set our priorities very clearly. Our priority must be that we want private investment to come to this country.”

Skidmore on the UK’s clean energy competitiveness

While Skidmore wants to see the UK raise its ambitions, the worrying reality is that the nation’s historic leadership position on climate is slipping through its fingers, the Climate Change Committee has warned.

“We are a clean energy superpower. We can debate among ourselves the finer policy details, but the reality is that over the past 15 years, we have decarbonised further than any other G20 nation. We have reduced our emissions by 50%, while at the same time growing our economy by 70% on 1990 levels,” Skidmore said.

“That is a paragon and a model that all other nations look to, but it is important that once we have earned a reputation, we seek to preserve that reputation.”

Skidmore referenced the US Inflation Reduction Act, which has set out $370bn of investment in clean technologies, and the EU’s green deal, which has created a €1trn pipeline for green investments, as examples of where the UK is being leapfrogged in terms of competitiveness.

Additionally, he warned of the Tortoise and the Hare fable, and stated that the UK could not “just sit there pausing, thinking that this is good enough”.

Skidmore cited his Net-Zero Review that showed that rapid and orderly decarbonisation could bring up to £1trn of inward investment and up to 480,000 new additional jobs by 2035. It will largely be down to Government policies if those benefits are to be realised.

“In the UK we are still exposed to the tyranny of the spending review, and many of our programmes, whether in energy efficiency or clean energy, are bedeviled by the fact that they only last for three to four years at most and then have to start all over again,” he added.

“That does not provide the certainty to build out supply chains, it does not provide certainty for local authorities or regional Mayors to make investment, and it certainly does not provide the certainty needed for inward private investment to come to this country.”

Skidmore on fossil fuels

One major reason for the UK’s potential backsliding in climate leadership status is the aforementioned support for fossil fuels.

Skidmore cited research that showed that the extra licensing unveiled this week will see 97% of all oil and gas reserves exhausted from the North Sea basin, rather than 95% without the new rounds. He claimed this was the “equivalent of two weeks’ worth of oil and gas a year”.

Skidmore expressed regret that the fossil fuel debate had “become politicised”.

“I regret the decision that has been taken, but let us focus again on the evidence at hand. To start with, everyone in this Chamber, as far as I know, understands that we will need to continue using oil and gas.

“The Committee on Climate Change has set out the so-called balanced pathway, working alongside the North Sea Transition Authority, to recognise that we will still need to use oil and gas into the 2050s, but that we should do it with our existing wells and fields.

“In reality, when it comes to looking at the future of oil and gas in this country, I do not belong to Just Stop Oil—I am not some eco-extremist just because I signed net-zero into law, which was the bare minimum we could do. I saw net-zero as a Conservative mission, recognising that one of the priorities of the Conservative party, if anything at all, is to conserve.”

Skidmore also noted the importance of not leaving individual communities behind on the net-zero transition and referred to the UK’s oil and gas workers as “highly talented and highly skilled”. Citing a key recommendation from his own Net-Zero Review, Skidmore reiterated that the Government needed to “make it far easier for individuals to move across into the industries of the future,” by offering upskilling and industry passports that enable current fossil fuel workers to move into green sectors to leverage their skillsets.

Skidmore on Just Stop Oil

There has been a lot of exaggerated talk for the Conservatives about the Labour Party receiving donations from the Just Stop Oil campaign group, which has drawn criticism for its approach to climate activism. The truth is that there is no evidence that the Party has received donations from the campaign group.

Regardless, the debate rages on as to whether Just Stop Oil has been affective in raising awareness of the climate crisis.

Skidmore, it seems, disagrees with the group’s approach.

He said: “If we want to be a clean energy superpower, we need to focus on our ability to reduce demand through energy efficiency measures such as heat pumps, and through understanding that we can reduce our gas demand, which is at the mercy of foreign petrostates and international markets, by up to 40%.

“I know that the debate on oil and gas is emotive, and, to be honest, it is not helped by the performative protest of Just Stop Oil, which does not get anyone anywhere. No one in this Chamber supports Just Stop Oil. If we are honest, as democratically elected representatives, it is beneath us to suggest that any of us is in the same camp as Just Stop Oil. We are diametrically opposed, because we come to this Chamber to have democratic debate, across parties, about what is needed for the future, not to oppose for opposition’s sake.”

Skidmore on cross-party consensus

With a general election looming, Skidmore used his speech to look back at the 2019 amendment to the 2008 Climate Change Act as an example of how cross-party support for climate ignited change, rather than stifled it.

The Climate Change Act 2008 was passed by the then Labour Government, with Ed Miliband acting as the Secretary of State at the time. The Conservative Party tabled an amendment to raise ambitions from a 60% emissions reduction against 1990 levels to 80%, which was approved and backed by the Government.

“The legal framework that we had in place, with the carbon budgets process, and on top of that the Climate Change Committee acting as an independent advisory body…has been admired across the world as a paradigm of stability. Not only that, but it allowed me, as the Energy Minister back in 2019, to bring net-zero into law,” Skidmore added.

Skidmore on COP28

COP28 only got a brief mention in the speech, but Skidmore used it to highlight how global competitiveness on clean energy is growing and that the UK couldn’t afford to renegade on its own climate commitments.

“When it comes to those emissions reductions, it is not about 2050; we cannot keep on kicking the can down the road,” Skidmore said. “As COP28 will show, the globe will commit to a trebling of renewables and a doubling of energy efficiency measures in order to meet a halving of emissions by 2030.

“The UK needs to lead on the 68% emissions reduction target that it set in its own nationally determined contributions. The decisions we make today count not just for 27 years’ time, but for seven years’ time. That is what is at stake here.”

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