TOAs Chairman of Mission Zero, the independent review of net zero for government, I have met countless champions of innovation and witnessed the ingenuity and unwavering ambition to drive net zero across the UK.
The imperative to reduce carbon across the economy has never been stronger. It is therefore worrying that, at a time when the UK should be embracing a renewable future, Norwegian state oil company Equinor has applied to open the UK’s largest undeveloped oilfield: Rosebank, in the North Sea.
The evidence is clear that the development of new oil and gas fields is incompatible with limiting warming to 1.5°C. When the UK government chaired Cop26, we commissioned the International Energy Agency (IEA) to develop a roadmap to net zero by 2050. In this groundbreaking report, the IEA concluded that no more projects would be approved of oil and gas, a conclusion echoed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The UK’s climate change committee has also suggested that an end to oil and gas exploration would strengthen the country’s diplomatic role and send a clear signal to investors and consumers that it is committed to meeting its international climate goals.
This month, Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, called out companies and governments planning to build new large-scale fossil fuel projects, suggesting that by doing so, they were betting that the world would miss its climate targets.
Rosebank alone has the potential to produce 500 million barrels of oil, that’s enough to produce the equivalent emissions of operating 56 coal-fired power plants for a year. The analysis shows that this new field alone would be enough to exceed UK carbon budgets for the oil and gas industry, even if the sector’s emissions reduction aspirations are met. It would also severely undermine the terms of the government’s North Sea transition agreement, intended to support the movement of the oil and gas sector towards more sustainable areas, such as offshore wind power.
That would mean that other sectors of the economy, already doing their part to reach net zero, would have to cut their emissions even further and faster to allow the UK to stay within its carbon budgets. Furthermore, fields like Rosebank may inhibit the UK’s transition away from fossil fuels due to competition for critical and limited supply chains shared by both industries, including ports, shipping and skilled labour.
Net zero brings with it huge opportunities for the UK economy and has the ability to support the leveling of regions across the country, creating a joint sense of purpose and pride of place. However, instead of boosting the economy, the Treasury will effectively support the development of Rosebank to the tune of £3.75bn. Overall, the public purse could lose more than it gains, which could result in a loss of over £100m if the oil field goes ahead. If passed, it will impoverish the UK but enrich the Norwegian state. Norway already has a sovereign wealth fund worth trillions built from its heavily taxed oil and gas assets.
There is no doubt that the oil and gas industry has transformed Britain. But while North Sea stocks have historically formed a key component of the UK’s energy security strategy, we now find ourselves in the unenviable position of being overly reliant on fossil fuels. As a result, we have been left vulnerable to gas prices set on the international market, and household energy bills over the past year have been the highest in Western Europe, leaving 7 million households in poverty. despite the billions of pounds spent on an energy price cap. .
Parliament’s environmental audit committee, of which I am a member, and my independent review of net zero found that energy security and achieving net zero are increasingly going hand in hand. Accelerating our transition away from fossil fuels by rapidly increasing our supply of renewable energy and reducing demand through energy efficiency not only has the support of the UK public, but also has the potential to create jobs in energy industries clean jobs that could more than triple the number of oil and gas jobs lost.
The UK is already reaping the rewards of being the first major economy to enact net zero by 2050. In this global race, net zero companies are already contributing £70bn to the UK economy, which represents a real opportunity for resilience and growth.
We must not allow the industries of the past to dictate our future. By saying no to Rosebank, we will be sending a clear signal that the UK and our North Sea are open as a center of climate excellence and a hub for new technology and skills, and we will ensure we are ahead of the pack on drive ambition. globally.
Chris Skidmore is Conservative MP for Kingswood, the former energy minister who enacted the net zero law and chair of the independent net zero review.
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