ENVIRONMENT and global justice organisations have been reacting to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s announcement of hundreds of new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea, alongside investment in carbon capture and storage.

Alice Harrison, Fossil Fuels Campaign Leader at Global Witness, said: “What the vast majority of people in the UK want is energy that’s cheap and clean, like wind and solar. Fossil fuels are expensive, they’re dirty, and as the war in the Ukraine has shown us, they leave us vulnerable to the whim of despots – they belong in the ground and in the past.

“Fossil fuels are also the single biggest cause of climate breakdown. It’s morally depraved to open new oil fields up for drilling at a time when large swaths of the planet are literally on fire because our climate is reaching boiling point.

“Oil and gas also isn’t the answer to our energy security. The UK currently exports about 80 per cent of the oil produced in the North Sea, and 60 per cent of gas. These new licenses won’t bring down our energy bills, because they’ll take years to come onstream, and the oil and gas produced will be sold to the highest bidder globally. Instead, billions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money will be spent on subsidising these oil fields, which are extremely expensive to get up-and-running.

“Carbon capture and storage won’t mitigate any of this – it’s nothing more than a greenwashing gimmick by the oil and gas industry. It doesn’t remove carbon from the atmosphere, it only captures it during industrial processes. So it’s not a climate-fixing solution – it’s a get-out-of-jail free card for industry that is only ever intended to make fossil fuel-powered industries slightly less polluting, and it has a high failure rate.

“This is a government that is prioritising the interests of energy companies over its citizens and our climate. Any attempt to brand these measures as tackling energy security or benefitting people struggling with bills is a lie. The government’s refusal to phase out fossil fuels is a tragic display of short-sightedness, with catastrophic consequences.”

Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, said: “Rishi Sunak’s energy security drive should focus on energy efficiency and the UK’s vast home-grown renewable resources, rather than championing more costly and dirty fossil fuels.

“Climate change is already battering the planet with unprecedented wildfires and heatwaves across the globe. Granting hundreds of new oil and gas licences will simply pour more fuel on the flames, while doing nothing for energy security as these fossil fuels will be sold on international markets and not reserved for UK use.

“Talking up carbon capture and storage is an obvious attempt to put a green gloss on the Prime Minister’s announcement. Even if it ever worked, which is unlikely in the near term, CCS won’t capture all the climate pollution caused by burning fossil fuels or address the significant emissions that are created when gas and oil is extracted.

“If the government were serious about energy security it would invest in a nationwide street by street home insulation programme, focussing first on the communities that need it most. This would slash gas consumption, reduce energy bills, and help meet UK climate targets.

“Rishi Sunak’s international credibility is on the line. He promised other world leaders the UK would cut carbon by more than two thirds by 2030. His recent announcements on energy and transport look as though he is reneging on the UK’s commitments. The Prime Minister should stop playing politics with young people’s futures and build the safe, clean economy we urgently need.”

Oxfam’s Climate Change Policy Advisor, Lyndsay Walsh, said: “Today’s wrongheaded decision is yet another example of the government’s hypocritical and dangerously inconsistent climate policy. Extracting more fossil fuels from the North Sea will send a wrecking ball through the UK’s climate commitments at a time when we should be investing in a just transition to a low carbon economy and our own abundant renewables. As millions of people in low-income countries are pushed deeper into hunger and poverty by a climate crisis they haven’t caused, high emitting and wealthy countries like the UK can no longer just talk the talk – they must walk the walk.”

Christian Aid warned that the Government’s decision “flies in the face of climate science.” Jennifer Larbie, Christian Aid’s Head of UK Advocacy and Campaigns, said: “From the terrible drought in East Africa to fires across Europe in recent weeks, the climate crisis is causing untold human loss and suffering.

“Now more than ever, the UK Government needs to show genuine leadership and strengthen their climate plans which are vital for the protection of millions in low-income countries. Instead, these wrongheaded priorities on new oil and gas licences flies in the face of climate science, obliterates the UK’s net-zero commitments and lets down people on the frontline of the climate crisis. The Prime Minister needs to put people and planet first.”

* Sources: Global Witness  Friends of the Earth Christian Aid  and Oxfam GB