climate change

UK: Energy security takes priority over net-zero climate targets

Oil drilling platforms in the North Sea. Photo credit:  Credit: Martin Langer / Alamy Stock Photo.

By Anders Lorenzen

What a difference six months make. UK’s climate rhetoric from Prime Minister Boris Johnson during COP26 seems almost unrecognisable now, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

On Friday last week (8th of April) the government released its energy security strategy seeing a comeback for fossil fuel investments.

Opens up the door to new fossil fuels investments

While there has not been an official change of policy on the net-zero strategy and climate goals, the energy strategy released by the government opens a door, that up until now had seemed closed, for new fossil fuel projects.  And at the same time, it closes the door that had appeared to be open on onshore wind, again making the cheapest form of new energy in the UK harder to build. 

Buried far down in the energy security strategy after all the positive wording on how much the government has achieved on clean energy, it admits that by 2050 the UK may still use a quarter of the gas we use now, even though the UN and the International Energy Agency (IEA) have both said that by then all fossil fuels use should have almost entirely been phased out.   

The Russia Ukraine war setting UK energy policies

Clearly motivated by the insecurity of reliance on Russian gas, the UK government outlined in the strategy that in order to reduce reliance on fossil fuel imports we must utilise North Sea oil reserves. This is clearly more than opening a door for new oil and gas projects in the North Sea – angering climate campaigners. “The North Sea will still be a foundation of our energy security”, it reads. They added that currently, the UK continental shelf is home to around 290 offshore installations, over 10,000 km of pipelines, 15 onshore terminals and over 2,500 wells.

And so, it seems that there are no plans to reduce North Sea oil and gas activity for the foreseeable future, and indeed estimates suggest that there are 7.9 billion barrels of oil reserves and resources under the UK’s seas and 560 billion cubic metres of gas.

However, the government was keen to point out that the North Sea drilling sites should also be developed for CO2 storage, that hydrogen is increasingly to be used as an alternative to natural gas, and the technology should also be applied to support the offshore wind sector. They added that the industry is set to invest billions in the development of nascent clean technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture.

The UK government also scaled back heralding a new age for onshore wind in the country, caving into Tory MP’s anger about onshore wind farms in their constituencies, as well as fear of a backlash on the net-zero strategy. They also re-opened the door to the possibility of fracking.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its latest climate report that carbon capture and storage (CCS) should be considered in some situations in order to meet climate targets.

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