The British government cannot invest in North Sea oil and at the same time claim global climate leadership


On February 28, four days after Putin launched the fossil-fuel-funded invasion of Ukraine, UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement glowing barrage against world leaders for their catastrophic failure on the climate emergency. It was the beginning of the terrifying Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). into the already unfolding climate catastrophe across the world.

While the speech received little media attention, I have never seen such anger and desperation from the head of the UN. In fact, when Extinction Rebellion was released four years ago, his words could have been picked up by any speaker.

“Many ecosystems are at the point of no return – now. Carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frog’s march to destruction – now. This abdication of leadership is criminal.” (emphasis mine)

“The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of setting fire to our only home,” he continued. “Science tells us we need to cut emissions by 45 percent by 2030. But global emissions are expected to increase by nearly 14 percent. That means catastrophe. Coal and other fossil fuels are suffocating humanity.”

And what was the response from the UK government, currently President of the UN Climate Change Conference? On the same day, the British Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng tweeted: “We rely on North Sea funding. Good for jobs, energy security and tax revenue to fund public services,” even though he admitted it would do nothing to drive down domestic fossil fuel prices.

The British Chancellor has previously supported £11bn new Investments in North Sea Oil. Instead of stewing in my anger, I put the following questions to the minister.

1. Does the Foreign Secretary accept that by saying that Britain must maximize economic returns from fossil fuels, he is telling all other nations to do the same? Is Britain a special case compared to impoverished nations with oil reserves? And if so, why?

2. How does North Sea Oil Investments agree with the IEA that all new fossil fuel investments must be phased out by the end of 2021 to have any hope of net zero in 2050?

3. Why is the SoS misleading the public by saying that proponents of the IEA moratorium want to “turn off the taps” when it comes to investing in new capacity, rather than turning off the current taps, which is being advocated?”

Below is an excerpt of the answer. A government spokesman said:

“We cannot have a cliff where oil and gas are abandoned overnight. Turning off the taps would jeopardize energy security, British jobs and industry and we would be even more dependent on foreign imports.”

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My feelings on this are best summed up by the UN Secretary-General, who said: “You cannot claim to be green while your plans and projects undermine the 2050 net-zero goal and ignore the big emissions cuts that are happening this decade have to. People see through this smoke screen.”

I think the end of Guterres’ speech expresses much more eloquently than I could the appropriate response to Kwasi Kwarteng’s position:

“Fossil fuels are a dead end – for our planet, for humanity and for the economy. A rapid transition to renewable energy is the only path to energy security, universal access and the green jobs our world needs.

Delay means death. I know people everywhere are worried and angry. I am also. Now is the time to turn anger into action. Every fraction of a degree counts. And every second counts.” Indeed. The British government cannot invest in North Sea oil and at the same time claim global climate leadership

Grace Reader

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