Flying in the face of environmental concerns, British is giving the green light to drill hundreds of new oil and gas wells in the North Sea, with PM Rishi Sunak claiming it will help to make the UK more self-sufficient in energy.
Britain said on Monday it will grant hundreds of new oil and gas licences in the North Sea in a bid for energy independence, ignoring calls from environmental campaigners and the United Nations to stop the development of new fossil fuel projects.
The plans announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak include a pledge to invest 20 billion pounds in carbon capture and storage projects as Sunak maintained the government’s commitment to eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050.
Sunak, who is travelling to Scotland to formally unveil the package, said Britain will still need fossil fuels even after the country reaches its net zero target. He said it is better to produce oil and natural gas at home rather than rely on foreign leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose invasion of Ukraine sent global energy prices soaring around the globe.
“We have all witnessed how Putin has manipulated and weaponized energy – disrupting supply and stalling growth in countries around the world,” Sunak said in a statement. “Now more than ever, it’s vital that we bolster our energy security and capitalise on that independence to deliver more affordable, clean energy to British homes and businesses.”
The plan comes as Sunak faces pressure to roll back expensive environmental commitments as his Conservative Party scrambles to attract voters amid opinion polls showing that the party is likely toward a crushing defeat in the next general election.
The announcement comes 10 days after Labour failed to win Boris Johnson’s Uxbridge seat in a by-election where plans to include the area in a London low-emission zone became a bone of contention. The Ultra Law Emissions Zone (or ULEZ) was a scheme drafted by Boris Johnson when he was the mayor of London and pursued by his Labour successor Sadiq Khan. Drivers of older, polluting cars are charged £12.50 daily if they live within the ULEZ area. Some in Sunak’s Conservative party argued the result showed little support for green policies among grassroots Tory voters.
But UN scientists and environmental campaigners are calling on governments around the world to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels after a summer of record high temperatures, drought and floods linked to man-made climate change. Burning oil and gas to power vehicles, factories and electricity-generating stations releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide, the main driver of global warming.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has raised concerns that governments were backtracking on their commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions at a time when they should accelerate their efforts.
“The problem is not simply fossil fuel emissions, it’s fossil fuels – period,” Guterres told reporters last month in New York.
“The solution is clear: The world must phase out fossil fuels in a just and equitable way – moving to leave oil, coal and gas in the ground where they belong – and massively boosting renewable investment in a just transition.”