In its report ‘Net Zero Roadmap’, published earlier this month, the International Energy Agency gave cautious optimism for the world to limit post-industrial global warming to the Paris Agreement limit of 1.5c. Its director Fatih Birol said that a rapid uptake of solar power and electric vehicles was encouragingly in line with net zero by 2050 and that clean energy investments had seen a 40% increase over the last two years.
That optimism was cautious because greenhouse gas emissions remain stubbornly high and the weather events we have seen all round the world show that the world climate is changing with ‘frightening speed.’ Birol encouraged countries, many of whom, including the UK, have a net zero target of 2050, to bring their target dates forward saying that one of the most important challenges to keeping within the 1.5c limit is the lack of international co-operation. “Advanced economies…’ said Birol ‘…have special responsibilities in fighting climate change.”
As far as the UK is concerned, Dr Birol might have saved his breath. In spite of its position as an ‘advanced economy’ and the special responsibility which comes with that status, in spite of its legally binding path to net zero by 2050, it is not long since the Tory government approved the opening of a new coal mine in Cumbria. It has, in the interests of landowners and householders who don’t like them in their ‘back yards’ made it all but impossible to build on-shore wind farms in the UK. Last week, after his party’s surprise win in the recent Uxbridge by-election, attributed by the winning Tory candidate to a local campaign against measures to lower vehicle emissions in London, Prime Minister Sunak, scenting votes and posing as a champion of hard-pressed, hard-working families facing a fictitious choice between action on climate change or alleviating the effects of a capitalist-made cost of living crisis, chose to pull back on government commitments to ban new petrol and oil driven vehicles by 2030, to phase out gas boilers, to force private landlords to make their rental properties more energy efficient and to enable householders to insulate their houses.
Today Sunak’s government topped it all by approving the licences for private companies to explore for oil and gas in the Rosebank oilfield off the Shetland Islands. Bleating that neither the row-back on climate change measures announced last week, nor the expected massive increase in oil production from Rosebank would in any way interfere with the UK’s 2050 target for net zero, Sunak and his ministers argue that the oil will be for the benefit, in uncertain times, of UK energy security and that since the UK has to import oil in any event, it makes sense for the country to produce its own – with a knock on effect for the bills of the nation’s hard workers.
Let’s look at some facts;
The two companies granted the licences are Ithaca and Equinor. Ithaca is British, however the leader of the two companies Equinor is Norwegian.
80% of UK produced oil is exported into an international ‘pool’ – Rosebank oil will be no different.
The price for the oil which is produced will be set by the international markets.
The oilfield will have a limited lifespan, anticipated to be around ten years
The expected yield is around 500m barrels. Burning that amount of oil will produce as much carbon dioxide as running 56 coal-fired power stations for a year.
The cost of extracting the oil will be high. Equinor says that it will not cost the UK ‘a single pound’ the companies will however receive tax breaks estimated to be in the region of £4bn – revenue that will be lost to the UK and, of course the profits will be substantial.
Without any trace of irony, Equinor says that it ‘vows to develop the lowest carbon footprint for the project’. They are currently looking at sourcing power from an onshore wind farm in the Shetlands – clean energy that could be applied for domestic or industrial use instead employed to produce high-polluting fossil fuels.
The UK is currently being vilified around the world for its shameful abandonment of any pretence that it wishes to ‘lead the world’ in carbon emission reduction. The sad fact is that the country has made some progress in emission reduction and renewable energy, but having started from a very low baseline; it’s a bit like comparing the progress of some one building a house from scratch against someone else who only has to put the roof on. Now, any advances that have been made are to be lost against the monumental folly of the Tories recent decisions.
The messages from the Tory government could not be clearer; in climate change action, as in immigration, the UK will put up to fingers to the world and go its own way – deaf to those who make the compelling case for urgent action; blind to the daily reports of the effects of burning fossil fuels, all in in the interests of private profit and vote-chasing. Some environmental groups are looking at the possibility of legal action – it has worked before in holding the government to its climate targets – but don’t hold your breath. Nor can Labour be relied on to undo the damage done by the Tories, where they have junked their £28bn green economy plans, have refused to pledge to reverse the effects of Sunak’s announcement last week and now say that, should they get into power, whilst they will not grant any new oil or gas licences, they will not rescind any granted before they come to power – which, of course, includes the Rosebank licences.
What is it about ‘action needs to be taken – and taken now!’ that Rishi Sunak and his party don’t understand? Climate disaster doesn’t take any account of the cost of living – it won’t wait for more favourable economic conditions to allow a more comfortable transition to clean energy. It is to the shame of the UK that as more and more people lose their lives or their homes; as the world continues to burn it will be Prime Minister Sunak and his government pouring oil on the flames.