UK’s New Oil & Gas Licenses Spark Outcry

The British government on Monday promised “hundreds” of new oil and gas exploration and exploitation licenses in the North Sea, provoking a frown from environmental organizations in the face of an announcement presented as “better for the climate”.

Far from seeing a contradiction in this, Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak assured that the exploitation of these British fossil resources would help the country on its way to carbon neutrality, promised for 2050. Even on this horizon, oil and gas will represent a quarter of the country’s energy, he pointed out.

North Sea mining is “better for our energy security”, which will “no longer depend on foreign dictators”, Rishi Sunak enthusiastically boasted.

These domestic resources will require “two, three, four times” less CO2 emissions than being transported from the other side of the globe, he told British television.

This announcement in the middle of summer comes in full questioning in the country with regard to certain green policies for homes hard hit by inflation.

Rishi Sunak is directly opposed to the Labor opposition, which, largely given the lead in view of the 2024 legislative elections, wants to put an end to the granting of new exploration licenses in the North Sea.

Accusing the head of government of trying to “polarize the climate debate and score cheap political points”, Greenpeace UK refuted the executive’s argument: “Fossil fuels are not nationalized in the UK”, they belong to the companies that extract them “and will be sold to the highest bidder on international markets”.

“Collapse of Civilization”

“July was the hottest month we have ever known because of the burning of fossil fuels,” said Just Stop Oil, whose activists carry out almost daily punch actions to demand an end to any new fossil exploration project.

“Sunak is worse than a war criminal”, accused the environmental organization, “he knows” that these new projects “will impose unimaginable suffering and destroy the lives and livelihoods of billions of people”, “push the world towards irreversible tipping points”. It “risks nothing less than the collapse of human civilization,” says Just Stop Oil.

Green politics seem to be faltering in the UK, especially since Labour’s surprise defeat by the Conservatives in a local election in west London.

This result was put on the account of the mistrust of the voters vis-a-vis the extension envisaged at the end of August of a tax on the polluting vehicles to the whole of Greater London wanted by the labor mayor Sadiq Khan.

Support for oil and gas exploitation in the North Sea will help maintain more than 200,000 jobs, argues Downing Street.

The first new licenses are to be issued in the fall.

“Green Varnish”

The government has also unveiled two first CO2 capture and storage sites in the North Sea, a sector that it believes could support up to 50,000 jobs. Rishi Sunak touted the UK as being at the forefront of this technology.

But according to Greenpeace, it is “often used” for “greenwashing” by the oil giants.

The Friends of the Earth association sees it as a “green varnish” and judges that if this technology worked one day, which it doubts in the short term, it would not capture “all the climate pollution caused by the combustion of fossil fuels” or emissions during their extraction.

The United Kingdom, where more than 330 million tonnes of CO2 were emitted in 2022, plans to capture and store 20 to 30 million tonnes of CO2 annually by 2030.

Involved in one of them, the Shell group hailed a “central project” among the projects to “decarbonize operations in the North Sea”.

According to a spring YouGov poll, 65% of Britons say they are worried about the consequences of climate change, but the majority oppose most measures that would require personal effort.

A report from the British Meteorological Service recently warned that record temperatures in the summer of 2022, when 40°C were exceeded, would look “cool” by the end of the century.

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Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.