The government has been accused of sending mixed messages on climate change after refusing to halt new exploration licences for North Sea oil and gas.

Campaigners had urged the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy to follow the lead of Denmark and rule out new licences as part of a review launched last September.

Instead, the government says it’s introducing what it calls a Climate Compatibility Checkpoint before each future oil and gas licensing round to “ensure licences awarded are aligned with wider climate objectives”.

It says it will consider domestic demand for oil and gas and how the sector is reducing its emissions.

Critics of the initiative say it’s at odds with the government’s pledge to show leadership on the climate in the year the UK hosts the critical COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

The Climate Change Committee, the independent body which advises the government how to get to net zero, says oil and gas will continue to form part of the UK’s energy mix on the road to achieving this goal by 2050.

The offshore oil and gas industry say they’re pleased that has been recognised by the government.

Deirdre Michie, chief executive of the industry representative body OGUK, told Sky News: “Ongoing exploration and production of oil and gas is compatible with net zero. While a checkpoint adds rigour and transparency, we need to ensure it does not add complexity to the process.

“As a result, the UK can continue to optimise its own indigenous resources to provide the oil and gas it needs, rather than having to import more and offshore it’s associated emissions. 

“This approach will also help to protect the jobs and expertise in our world-class supply chain that will be key to the success of the new industries like CCS and hydrogen.”

But the announcement has left green groups disappointed.

Mel Evans, head of Greenpeace UK’s oil campaign, said: “Refusal to rule out new oil and gas licences when the evidence is already clear that they are incompatible with UK climate commitments is a colossal failure in climate leadership in the year of COP26.”

The government says the deal supports 40,000 direct and indirect jobs in the industry delivering new skills, innovation and infrastructure.

In return the sector has pledged to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 and make sure its production is as sustainable as possible.

Gabrielle Jeliazkov, of the campaign group Platform, said: “The government has made another bailout to the oil and gas industry sound like the green revolution.

“This announcement talks big but in reality, there is no retraining or reskilling funding for workers, no clear conditions to ensure secure, well paid jobs and relies on controversial and unproven technologies.”

OGUK estimates there are currently the equivalent of upwards of 10 billion barrels of oil in the North Sea.

That includes five billion in sanctioned projects; two billion with extraction licences but no development plans; and possibly four billion barrels which has not yet been discovered or licenced.

Currently around 1.6 million barrels of oil and gas are extracted from the North Sea a day – last year around 590 million barrels were extracted in total.

There are currently around 285 fields in the North Sea producing oil and gas along with around 200 rigs. Some are hundreds of miles off the UK’s coast.

The furthest away is close to Norwegian waters and the nearest is just 20 miles from the coast just north of Aberdeen.

The Buzzard field in the North Sea is the largest field and produces around 100,000 barrels of oil and gas a day.

Sky News is set to launch the first daily prime time news show dedicated to climate change.

Hosted by Anna Jones, The Daily Climate Show will follow Sky News correspondents as they investigate how global warming is changing our landscape and how we all live our lives.

First airing on Wednesday 7 April, the show will also highlight solutions to the crisis and show how small changes can make a big difference.

(c) Sky News 2021: ‘A colossal failure’: Green groups criticise failure to halt North Sea oil exploration

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