Britain said on Monday it will grant hundreds of new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea in a bid for energy independence, ignoring calls from environmental campaigners and the United Nations to stop the development of new fossil fuel projects.
The plans announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak include a pledge to invest 20 billion pounds ($26 billion) in carbon capture and storage projects as Sunak maintained the government’s commitment to eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050.
Sunak, who is traveling to Scotland to formally unveil the package, said Britain will still need fossil fuels even after the country reaches its net zero target. He said it is better to produce oil and natural gas at home rather than rely on foreign leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose invasion of Ukraine sent global energy prices soaring around the globe.
“We have all witnessed how Putin has manipulated and weaponized energy — disrupting supply and stalling growth in countries around the world,’’ Sunak said in a statement. “Now more than ever, it’s vital that we bolster our energy security and capitalize on that independence to deliver more affordable, clean energy to British homes and businesses.’’
The plan comes as Sunak faces pressure to roll back expensive environmental commitments as his Conservative Party scrambles to attract voters amid opinion polls showing that the party is likely headed toward a crushing defeat in the next general election.
But U.N. scientists and environmental campaigners are calling on governments around the world to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels after a summer of record high temperatures, drought and floods linked to man-made climate change. Burning oil and gas to power vehicles, factories and electricity generating stations releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide, the main driver of global warming.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has raised concerns that governments were backtracking on their commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions at a time when they should accelerate their efforts.
“The problem is not simply fossil fuel emissions, it’s fossil fuels — period,” Guterres told reporters last month in New York.