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Britain’s North Sea Decision: Waning Leadership at Home and Abroad

Felipe Sánchez is a Policy Fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute and previously served as Senior Policy Adviser in the Strategy Unit at the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

At the end of July – hottest month ever recorded — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Announced new oil and gas licenses will be granted in the North Sea.

The UK government argued that increased domestic oil and gas production is the key to reducing energy bills, carbon emissions and reliance on dictators. However, the argument does not hold up.

Framing the decision in this way masks the fact that more 80 percent of the crude oil produced in the UK is exported for reasons related to market dynamics and process optimisation. On the other hand, most of the natural gas produced in Great Britain is consumed internally, mainly for heating. Therefore, the underlying problem at the heart of energy bills, emissions and security is linked almost exclusively to the UK’s reliance on natural gas.

UK Energy Secretary Grant Shapps says issuing new licenses alongside existing fields will reduce lead times associated with exploration and extraction to less than a decade. But that means these licenses won’t have an impact on energy bills today and, given the declining costs of extracting North Sea gas resources, they won’t have a significant impact on bills years from now, either. when the gas is finally used.

Therefore, instead of doubling the extraction, our research at the Stockholm Environment Institute suggests that producers in mature production regions, such as the North Sea, should prepare transition strategies to ensure that no one is left behind. And the fastest way the government can help lower bills, avoid emissions and reduce dependency is by increasing support for energy efficiency measures to reduce the total amount of natural gas needed.

This does not mean putting up with cold homes. It means a significant public investment to deploy the isolation of some of The least energy efficient housing stock in Europeand simplified schemes for replacing inefficient gas boilers. The government is already taking measures on both fronts, but it is estimated that the current isolation scheme will take 300 years to improve British homes, and the boiler replacement scheme has already been considered inappropriate by the Lords Committee on Environment and Climate Change.

So instead of using green issues as a political wedge after the Uxbridge by-election — since such efforts have been widely interpreted — should focus on fixing existing schemes. Add to the mix a turbocharger for clean energy, grid upgrades and transition technologies that bring about a step-change in capacity, and you have a comprehensive strategy with short- and long-term measures to address the UK’s reliance on natural gas.

Furthermore, as well as failing to address the root of the problem at home, the decision to grant more licenses also tarnishes the UK’s climate leadership abroad – the kind of leadership it demonstrated by being the first country to put in place a legally binding framework to reduce carbon emissions. , enshrining in law a world-leading net-zero emissions commitment by 2050 and leading global climate efforts as chair of the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2021.

Unfortunately, these green credentials were already being eroded by the ministry. procession of oil executives at COP26; the extension of the license for the controversial Cambodia oil field, which is located in protected deep marine waters; and the missed opportunity to implement truly climate-sensitive programs Future license checkpoints.

Instead of all this, the UK government should pay attention to the learned lessons of its North Sea neighbor Denmark, specifically, the benefits of the country’s consistent and unwavering commitment to the clean energy transition and phasing out of fossil fuels, even under geopolitical pressure. Denmark has also shown great dedication to a just transition through its support for the oil and gas communities at home, as well as its leadership in climate diplomacy abroad.

However, even more than Denmark, the UK’s historical leadership in technology and innovation gives it unique responsibility and ability to transition. Britain led the way during the industrial revolution, cementing its place on the world stage, stimulating trade and the creation of national wealth, while also setting the planet on a path to global warming.

The UK must not shy away from taking a leading role in the global clean energy revolution and seizing the economic opportunities that come with it.

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