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UK Accused of Giving “Two Fingers Up” to Climate With New Oil and Gas Licenses

Experts and activists say the UK government is denying the reality of the climate crisis.

Just Stop Oil climate activists block traffic in Trafalgar Square on October 6, 2022 in London, U.K.

Climate campaigners on Friday condemned the U.K.’s announcement that it will open up a new licensing round for oil and gas fields in the North Sea, saying the decision signifies the Conservative government’s blatant disregard for the climate emergency and warnings against fossil fuel exploration from energy experts and scientists.

Claiming new oil and gas drilling will not undermine the country’s stated plan to cut its carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) said it will issue up to 100 licenses for nearly 900 exploration areas, including several that are known to contain hydrocarbons.

In response to Climate Minister Graham Stuart’s claim that the plan is “actually good for the environment” because using fossil fuels in the North Sea negates the need for foreign gas, Friends of the Earth (FOE) Scotland accused the government of “sticking two fingers up to climate scientists and energy experts.”

“By encouraging greedy fossil fuel companies to keep looking for more fossil fuels, the U.K. government is denying the reality of the climate emergency,” said Freya Aitchison, an oil and gas campaigner for the group. “Instead of new fossil fuels, we urgently need a transition to an energy system powered by renewables, and a mass rollout of energy efficiency measures to reduce energy demand.”

“With the cost-of-living skyrocketing due to the volatile prices of oil and gas, it’s obvious that our current energy system is completely unfit for purpose, serving only to make oil company bosses and shareholders richer while everyone else loses out,” she added.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent energy prices soaring for households across Europe, but the climate action campaign Paid to Pollute warned that licensing oil and gas fields in the North Sea will do nothing to alleviate the cost of living crisis.

The plan is moving forward “under the pretext of energy security,” a campaigner for the group said in a video posted to social media, “but another North Sea licensing round won’t deliver U.K. energy security.”

“The North Sea is an aging and oil-heavy basin,” he continued. “The bald truth? The U.K. has burned most of its gas. Any new gas that is found won’t be produced for years and years.”

As the U.K. Committee on Climate Change said earlier this year, it takes an average of about 28 years for oil and gas production to begin from the time an exploration license is issued.

U.K. Green Party co-leader Adrian Ramsay called the news of the latest licensing round “deeply distressing.”

“The government’s claim that burning ever more fossil fuels from the North Sea will help the U.K. meet its international obligations to become net-zero by 2050 has no connection to reality,” Ramsay said on social media.

The new licenses are being offered nearly a year after grassroots campaigners were credited with pressuring Shell Oil to pull out of a plan to drill in the proposed Cambo oil field in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland’s Shetland Islands.

FOE Scotland called on Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who opposed the Cambo proposal, to stand up to the NSTA’s “reckless plans to expand fossil fuels in the North Sea.”

“These announcements risk locking us into a climate-destroying energy system for decades to come,” said Aitchison, “entrenching reliance on this volatile industry in places like Aberdeen, and leaving people all across Scotland exposed to rocketing energy bills.”

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