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Future North Sea projects could be scrapped if they fail new UK climate tests

Future North Sea oil and gas projects could be scrapped if they fail to pass a series of tests to prove they are compatible with the UK’s emissions targets.

The UK Government launched a consultation on the design of a new “climate compatibility checkpoint” for the sector.

It will be carried out before each future licensing process to ensure they are only awarded if they align with the UK’s commitments, including the target of reaching net zero by 2050.

New projects could potentially still be allowed if they can show that their proposed emissions are less than those that come from importing fossil fuels.

Warnings over hostile environment

Greens said the UK Government is guilty of “arrogance” in the face of calls to end new exploration.

Business leaders warned creating a hostile environment for investment in Scotland’s energy sector could put the future of whole communities at risk.

Clearly we are expecting there to be future licenses.

– Greg Hands

UK energy minister Greg Hands said it should not be assumed the checkpoint will actually lead to any reduction in new licenses.

And he said it is not clear what impact the checkpoint would have had on developments such as Cambo, off the coast of Shetland, or other controversial new projects.

Greg Hands MP, minster for business and energy

“Clearly we are expecting there to be future licenses,” Mr Hands told journalists on Monday.

“Homegrown oil and gas is generally more climate friendly than imports. That is something which I think the government is keenly aware of.”

Mr Hands said he is “firmly against voices saying that what we need to do is close down the sector”.

He added that because the UK will be dependent on fossil fuels for some time “we need to make sure the UK continental shelf continues to produce a big part of our gas needs”.

‘We do not need more fossil fuel projects’

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, previously said to reach net zero by 2050 “we do not need any more investments in new oil, gas and coal projects”.

The UK refused to join an alliance of countries fixing a date to phase out production at the COP26 climate summate last month.

Mr Hands struggled to explain how the government’s plans are compatible with the IEA position.

“Looking at what the IEA said, it was very much a kind of global scenario,” he said.

“We do not think that our North Sea transition deal, the climate compatibility check points, and future licensing rounds are incompatible with the IEA’s global scenario.”

After being challenged repeatedly for clarification, Mr Hands said the IEA position “provides a global assessment of this issue and each individual country will have their own individual pathway to addressing climate change”.

Arrogance and hubris

Scottish Greens climate and energy spokesman Mark Ruskell called on the UK Government to listen to the IEA and UN scientists.

He said: “It takes a fair amount of arrogance and hubris to think that the International Energy Agency’s evidence-led call for there to be no new exploration for fossil fuels applies everywhere but the UK.

Mark Ruskell MSP, Scottish Green spokesman on climate change.

“But from the exceptionalism of Brexit to the disregard of their own Covid rules, arrogance and hubris is exactly what this UK Government is all about.

“No one is talking about closing down the sector overnight but pretending that oil and gas can continue to expand is a betrayal of future generations, and of the communities who need investment in alternative jobs and energy solutions.”

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