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Government climate advisers urge ‘presumption against’ new oil and gas drilling

The government’s climate advisers said that further oil and gas exploration won’t solve the ongoing energy crisis.

The UK government should halt further oil and gas exploration to send a “clear signal” that it is committed to climate targets, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has said. 

In a letter to Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, the government’s advisory committee said it recommended a “presumption against” new exploration, though stopped short of saying that new licences shouldn’t be awarded.

Claire James, campaigns coordinator for the Campaign Against Climate Change said it was “disappointing” that the CCC didn’t come out more strongly against awarding new drilling licences. 

Other climate groups, however, said the letter was a signal that further exploration of oil and gas is neither compatible with the UK’s target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, nor a solution to the energy crisis. 

The CCC’s letter was sent in connection with an ongoing consultation looking at the introduction of “climate compatibility checkpoints” for any new oil and gas projects in the North Sea.

A former government review concluded that continued licensing can continue without disrupting key climate objectives, but that a “checkpoint” should be introduced to “ensure that licensing is only allowed to continue for as long as this remains the case.”

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The CCC’s letter, signed by committee chair Lord Deben, said the group “welcomed” a climate compatibility checkpoint, but that there should be “a tighter limit on production, with stringent tests and a presumption against exploration”. 

The CCC also said that ending oil and gas exploration would send a “clear signal” to investors and other stakeholders that the UK is serious about achieving net zero emissions. 

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James said it was “disappointing that the Climate Change Committee didn’t come out more strongly against new oil and gas licences being awarded, since we know the only way we can avoid the worst impacts of climate change is for no new fossil fuel infrastructure to be built.”

Other climate groups, however, praised points made by the CCC around the importance of reducing reliance on fossil fuels in order to solve the ongoing energy crisis.

“The best way of reducing the UK’s future exposure to volatile prices is to cut fossil fuel consumption on the path to net zero.

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“Any increases in UK extraction of oil and gas would have, at most, a marginal effect on the prices faced by UK consumers in future,” the letter reads.

Rosie Rogers, head of oil and gas transition for Greenpeace UK, said:

“Anyone who’s read this advice and thinks the North Sea’s future lies in oil and gas is utterly deluded, because it will take decades and won’t ease energy bills. 

“The future of the North Sea is in renewables. Our economy, our energy security and our climate depends on it.”

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Jess Ralston, Analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit said: 

“This advice makes clear that calls to re-open North Sea drilling or fracking are red herring solutions to the current gas crisis. Investing in oil and gas now would keep us locked into the volatile global gas market for longer and make no significant difference to bills.

According to data collected by campaign group Friends of the Earth in October 2021, the UK currently has around 40 oil and gas projects on track for approval by 2025. 

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