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New oil and gas law risks UK’s green cred, says former climate chief

New oil and gas law risks UK’s green cred, says former climate chief

by host

LONDON — A new law to introduce annual licensing rounds for North Sea oil and gas exploration is a “distraction” that risks undermining the U.K.’s green “credibility” on the world stage, the country’s former top climate diplomat has warned.

MPs will vote on the government’s Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill for the first time on Monday.

But Alok Sharma, a Conservative MP and former minister who served as president of the COP26 U.N. climate summit in 2021, told POLITICO that ministers should “reflect on the consistency of their message and credibility internationally when just a few weeks ago at COP28 the U.K. signed-up to ‘transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems.’”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has drawn criticism from green campaigners — including some of his own MPs — in recent months, saying he wants to “max out” North Sea fossil fuel reserves while watering down key climate targets on electric vehicles and home heating.

However the U.K. continues to pursue a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and was among countries formally calling for a full “phase out” of fossil fuels at the U.N. climate summit, COP28, in the United Arab Emirates last month.

Sharma, who also served in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet, said that the U.K.’s oil and gas regulator, the North Sea Transition Authority, was already able to issue licenses for fossil fuel exploration “when they deem it necessary” meaning the new law would not “materially change current policy.”

“Frankly, it is a distraction from the task of pressing ahead with the government’s own plans for a significant expansion of home-grown renewable energy which is ultimately what will enhance the U.K.’s energy security,” Sharma added.

Ministers argue the new measures will boost the U.K.’s energy supply and support the oil and gas sector.

But critics claim the move is designed to score political points in Scotland and other parts of the U.K. where oil and gas companies are major employers.

Robbie MacPherson, political lead at the anti-fossil fuel campaign group Uplift, called the law a “political gimmick” aimed at making oil and gas “a wedge issue with voters.”

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has been approached for comment.

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