Climate advisers back ‘presumption against’ new North Sea oil and gas fields

CLIMATE advisers have called for a “tighter limit on production” of oil and gas and have come out in favour of “a presumption against exploration” of North Sea fossil fuels projects.

But the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the statutory adviser of the UK and Scottish governments, has fallen short of calling for new oil and gas projects to be halted, pointing to a continuing demand in the coming years and a lack of evidence on the impact of expanding fossil fuels productions on global emissions.

The CCC made the intervention in response to the UK Government’s plans for a climate compatibility checkpoint for new oil and gas developments obtaining a licence.

But in a letter to UK Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, Lord Deben, chairman of the CCC, has called for the checkpoint to be extended to applications that have gained a licence but not started operation, such as controversial plans to open up the Cambo oilfield near Shetland.

Lord Deben said: “We would support a tighter limit on production, with stringent tests and a presumption against exploration.

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“An end to UK exploration would send a clear signal to investors and consumers that the UK is committed to the 1.5°C global temperature goal.”

But the CCC has been unable to establish the “net impact on global emissions of new UK oil and gas extraction”, suggesting the impact of scaling up North Sea fossil fuel extraction is “not clear-cut”.

The analysis by the committee acknowledges that UK production of oil and gas has a lower carbon impact than imports from overseas, but Lord Deben warned “we cannot tell how long the fact that our gas and our oil is going to be produced with a lower carbon imprint” will last.

Chief executive of the CCC, Chris Stark, said his organisation was in favour of the climate checkpoint – but said unlike the draft plans drawn up by UK ministers, the Cambo oil field proposals should also be covered.

He added: “We think though, that the test that is proposed by UK ministers is too narrow – it’s focused on licensing new fields only, but of course there are these other stages of development and production that will matter too, not least the fields that have received a licence but haven’t fully started production.

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“We see a need to apply a test there too and to the various stages of production.”

Mr Stark warned that following investigations, the CCC “can’t say unequivocally what new UK production would do to global emissions”, but acknowledged “there is a slight emissions advantage to UK production against the global average”.

He added: “But, by producing more oil and gas in the UK, we are also growing the global market for oil and gas and with it we are growing global emissions.

“Ultimately we are a climate committee so we support tight limits of production and we support much more stringent climate tests more broadly applied at each stage of the production process. We also support a presumption against further exploration.“

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Asked by the Herald if the Scottish Government could be bolder in sending a message that oil and gas demand and supply needs to shrink over time, Mr Stark said he would like SNP and Tory ministers to “adopt the highest possible ambition”.

He added: “That may include joining things like the coalition of countries that are seeking to end oil and gas exploration. Nicola Sturgeon has made statements to that affect.

“It would be very clear, I think, to those operators who are based in Aberdeen, where we are headed, if ministers in Scotland and at UK level, adopted a clear position on how they will handle the climate targets.”

“If there is a strong and ambitious position adopted by UK or Scottish ministers, as companies in the UK are forming their own net zero plans as consumers are responding to those net zero plans, it will just be super clear what to do.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that it welcomed the CCC’s intervention that “any effective and credible checkpoint must extend beyond new licensing rounds to also cover those fields that have already been consented but are not yet in production”, in line with Nicola Sturgeon’s remarks last year.

HeraldScotland: Nicola SturgeonNicola Sturgeon

He added: “The North Sea has a critical role to play in our transition to a net zero economy and we are currently undertaking a programme of work on Scotland’s future energy requirements, ensuring an approach that supports and protects our energy security and our highly skilled workforce, through the energy transition fund, the green jobs fund and Scotland’s £500 million just transition fund for the north east and Moray.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s just transition campaigner, Ryan Morrison, said: “In advising ministers to support a tighter limit on oil and gas production and a presumption against exploration, the UK CCC are adding their voice to the growing chorus urging the UK Government to end its plans to expand the supply of climate-wrecking oil and gas.

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“The UK Government must finally listen to the science and scrap their plans to dish out more licences and approvals to the oil and gas companies who are hellbent on destroying the climate for their own profit.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “There will continue to be ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming decades as we transition to cleaner and cheaper forms of energy generated in this country.

“As the Business and Energy Secretary has said, turning off North Sea gas overnight would put energy security, British jobs and industries at risk, and we would be more dependent on foreign imports.

“We welcome the committee’s acknowledgement that carbon budgets can still be met if new oil and gas fields are developed in the UK.”

Mike Tholen, sustainability director for Offshore Energies UK, said: “The Committee on Climate Change recognises that there is a continued role for domestic production if we can accelerate our climate ambitions and we hear that challenge today.

“We are demonstrating by our actions that we are capable of delivering our climate commitments and will continue to do so while providing energy security for the UK.”

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