Zero Hour statement on UK gov plans for new oil and gas licences.

We despair at this week’s re-announcement that the UK Government has issued “hundreds” of new North Sea oil and gas licences.

This increase in the supply of oil and gas to the global market goes directly against the calls from leading climate scientists—including the Government’s own advisors, hundreds of UK scientists, the Climate Change Committee (CCC)—plus the International Energy Authority, the United Nations and the climate science body, the IPCC. The latest science makes it clear that not only do we need to stop issuing new licences, but that we should leave 60% of existing reserves in the ground in order to have the best chance of keeping “global boiling” below 1.5°C.

Cover of "The Ambition Gap" report. Reads "Net Zero: The Ambition Gap. Will the Uk govement's net zero strategy keep 1.5 alive?

The latest round of licensing, despite some media coverage, is not related to the energy crisis or to people’s record high fuel bills. The CCC has made it clear that any new oil and gas licences would take 28 years to start producing, meaning the decision taken this week by Rishi Sunak—rather than shifting us away from a deadly fossil fuel energy system—guarantees that we will be burning oil and gas far beyond world leaders’ 2050 net zero plans.

At Zero Hour, we are deeply concerned by how dependent the UK Government’s plans are on the feasibility of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which is yet to deliver results or cost-effectiveness on the scale required—and has been rightly criticised by Friends of the Earth and other climate groups. We believe the response to the climate-nature crisis must  be to expand nature-based solutions, that are already working at scale, rather than investment in further fossil fuel projects to finance dependency on CCS, as we set out in our report, Net Zero: The Ambition Gap; which also highlights that we are not on target to meet our Paris Agreement Pledge.

Sunak’s announcement of new oil and gas licensing also goes against the majority of the UK public—who support a ban on new and gas developments—which is the same position as Conservative politicians, Sir Alok Sharma, Lord Deben and Chris Skidmore; as well the world’s leading scientists, the Dali Lama, and the Pope.

At Zero Hour, we campaign for a science-led approach to the climate-nature crisis (via the Climate & Ecology Bill). Despite claims by the Prime Minister, new oil and gas licences are not in line with the UK’s climate targets—and undermine the net zero strategy laid out by the UK Government. The CCC, the Government’s own independent climate advisors stated in a letter to Ministers in 2022 that: An end to UK exploration would send a clear signal to investors and consumers that the UK is committed to 1.5°C [which] would also help the UK in its diplomatic efforts to strengthen climate ambition internationally”.

The new oil and gas licences not only go against expert advice but also against the wishes of the growing, cross-party alliance behind the Climate & Ecology Bill, which is supported by 175 MPs and Peers, 500 organisations—representing millions of people across the UK—235 local councils, and 42,000 members of the public.

We will continue to work in a cross-party way to campaign for a science-led approach to the climate-nature crisis by building up further MP support for the CE Bill. If enacted, the CE Bill would bring about a serious, UK-wide plan to transition the UK to a cheaper, cleaner energy future—prevent further oil, gas and coal production—and maximise our chance of meeting the Paris Agreement limit of keeping warming below 1.5°C.

We share the frustration at this decision and we stress that Rishi Sunak should not only listen to experts like the CCC, IEA and IPCC; but that he should also listen to the youth in this country, who continue—not only to campaign against the policies announced this week—but also express their climate anxiety as a result; knowing that the consequences of these actions undermine their future.

Despite this frustrating announcement, the Zero Hour team will continue to promote the latest science, and keep building cross-party support for the CE Bill, to ensure we do all we can to secure a liveable future.

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