Environment

All the pesky, woke scientists and experts against Rishi Sunak's catastrophic oil and gas bill

MPs will vote on Rishi Sunak's Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill. But the scientific opposition is already overwhelming

Rosebank

The government says new oil and gas projects will leave the country less reliant on foreign energy. Image: Unsplash

Rishi Sunak faces a big rebellion over a vote on plans to license new oil and gas drilling in the UK. But as well as former Tory ministers, he also finds himself in opposition to some of the world’s loudest voices on how to prevent a climate catastrophe.

MPs will vote tonight on a promise made by Sunak as part of his “seven bins” rightward pivot, which will give the go-ahead for new fossil fuel exploration in the North Sea. Former energy minister Chris Skidmore has quit as an MP in protest over the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, with the Observer reporting other prominent Tories are due to make their opposition clear.

There are ongoing doubts over whether new North Sea drilling will meet the government’s stated aims. Last week, it emerged that oil from the new Rosebank field – touted as improving the UK’s energy security – will actually be sold abroad.

Yet aside from the political row, Rishi Sunak’s plans fly in the face of pesky scientists warning drastic action is needed for humanity’s survival.

New oil and gas fields are incompatible with the 1.5C threshold

“No new oil and gas development is possible if the world is to stay with the Paris Agreement temperature limits,” said the International Institute for Sustainable Development last year.

“Governments should stop awarding licences and permits to explore for or develop new oil and gas fields or coal mines, or other long-term infrastructure to produce, transport, or consume fossil fuels,” the report said, highlighting what needs to be done to stay within 1.5C threshold of warming.

Every country must stop licensing new oil and gas, says the head of the UN

“Every country must be part of the solution,” said UN secretary general António Guterres after the release of last year’s IPCC report. “In short, our world needs climate action on all fronts – everything, everywhere, all at once.”

As part of this action, Guterres made “ceasing all licensing or funding of new oil and gas” a fundamental part of the “Acceleration Agenda” – and encouraged all nations to sign up.

New investments in oil and gas show governments aren’t serious about the climate crisis

In 2021, the International Energy Agency said new oil and gas should stop that year. Three years on, Rishi Sunak’s government is planning to go full steam ahead.

“If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year,” IEA director Fatih Birol told the Guardian at the time.

Fresh fossil fuel investments ‘undermine’ UK leadership on climate change

Successive governments have claimed the UK is a leader in climate change. But in a March 2023 letter from 700 UK-based experts, Rishi Sunak was warned: ”If the UK allows any new development of oil and gas fields, it will severely undermine those claims of leadership by contributing to further oversupply of fossil fuels, and making it more difficult for the world to limit warming to 1.5°C”

The academics added: “The UK should commit to preventing any new oil and gas field development, and the government should state this commitment clearly in the forthcoming revised net zero strategy.”

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