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HomeUK NewsAlok Sharma criticises government’s oil and gas bill

Alok Sharma criticises government’s oil and gas bill

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Alok Sharma, former business secretary and president of the Cop26 climate talks, has voiced his concerns that the government’s new oil and gas bill, which recently passed its second reading in the Commons on Monday (22), neither reduces household energy costs nor generates employment.

Instead, he argues, it contradicts the UK’s commitment to phasing out fossil fuels, The Guardian reported.

The bill, which garnered 293 votes for and 211 against, saw no opposition from Tory MPs, with Sharma choosing to abstain. It mandates the North Sea Transition Authority to conduct annual calls for new offshore oil and gas license applications.

This move comes despite warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, consisting of hundreds of experts, who have clearly stated that awarding new oil and gas licenses is incompatible with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Exceeding this threshold could lead to a climate disaster, adversely affecting the lives of millions.

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Furthermore, this legislation seems to be at odds with the promises made by UK ministers at the previous year’s Cop28 conference in Dubai, where they committed to phasing out oil and gas production.

Addressing the inconsistency between the UK’s climate commitments and current legislative actions, Sharma highlighted the contradiction in minister Graham Stuart’s position at the Cop28 conference.

Sharma recalled Stuart’s tweet from the conference, emphasising the need for an unabated phase-out of fossil fuels to achieve climate goals.

However, Sharma pointed out, the bill under consideration solely aims to increase oil and gas production licenses, a move he believes does not align with the commitment to transition away from fossil fuels.

Sharma expressed his skepticism about the bill’s ability to reduce energy bills or create jobs, countering the assertions made by Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho.

He emphasised that the bill is intended to enhance domestic energy security, but raised concerns over the practical impact.

Sharma explained that the North Sea’s oil and gas, owned by private companies, are not under government control regarding their sale, implying that this may not lead to lower energy bills.

He also highlighted the loss of 200,000 jobs in the oil and gas sector over the past decade, despite the issuance of hundreds of new drilling licenses, questioning the bill’s potential for job creation.

Sharma further argued that the expertise and skills prevalent in the oil and gas sector could be effectively redirected towards renewable energy sources. He advocated for the government to shift its focus towards the development of more wind and solar power, as well as nuclear energy.

Ed Miliband highlighted that Sharma’s criticism of the bill was echoed by several prominent Tories, including former net zero tsar Chris Skidmore, who resigned as an MP in protest of the government’s plans, and former prime minister Theresa May.

The shadow energy secretary condemned the bill as “climate vandalism,” addressing the Commons with a critique of its inadequacy.

“We face massive challenges as a country but it isn’t the scale of our problems that is apparent today, it’s the smallness of their response.” He said the bill was “risible” and ineffective in enhancing Britain’s energy security.

However, Coutinho defended the bill, arguing that it would bolster energy security in both the UK and Europe. She acknowledged the practical constraints, stating, “We do not live in a world where we can simply turn off oil and gas.” Coutinho highlighted the North Sea’s resources, describing the UK as “blessed” for its access to these fossil fuels.

Some Tory MPs voiced reservations about the bill. Vicky Ford, representing Chelmsford, expressed concerns about the bill’s global perception, suggesting, that by approving these licenses, the UK risks being seen as backing away from promises made on climate change.

Ford, alongside Jerome Mayhew, another member of the Conservative Environment Network, indicated their intent to support the bill initially, but planned to later endorse amendments aimed at compelling the UK’s oil and gas sector to adopt more carbon-efficient practices.

May, known for signing net zero targets into law, was also speculated to oppose the bill. However, her absence from the Commons led to her abstaining from the vote.

Skidmore strongly opposed the bill, urging his former colleagues to reject it.

He said, “As I stated in my resignation letter, the future will judge harshly any MP that votes for new additional fossil fuels. Today’s legislation makes no economic sense, will deliver no additional energy security, and breaks the UK’s international commitments on climate action.”

Ami McCarthy, a political campaigner for Greenpeace UK, also criticised the government’s decision, stating, though the government has secured a victory in this vote, it’s a loss for the planet and all its inhabitants.

She said, “Literally no one benefits from this nonsensical, climate-wrecking bill except the oil and gas industry and its shareholders.”

Adding to the critique, Alasdair Johnstone from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit remarked that the North Sea’s oil and gas reserves are dwindling, and this bill merely distracts from genuine solutions for the UK’s energy independence.

Johnstone said that the key to achieving UK’s energy independence is to lessen the country’s reliance on gas.

He suggested that the focus should be on developing renewable energy sources and enhancing insulation in homes, particularly those that are cold and damp.

He noted, however, that the government’s performance in these critical areas has been a matter of some concern.

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