A new poll reveals that most people doubt the UK government's leadership in tackling climate change. This sentiment surfaces as the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, deemed controversial by many, smoothly passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons with a 283 to 211 vote margin.
The bill mandates annual oil and gas licensing rounds by the North Sea Transition Authority, has sparked debate, and remains on course for enactment, barring any intervention from the House of Lords. Despite the lack of inclusion in the last Conservative manifesto, a significant rebellion against the bill did not materialize.
Notably, former Energy Minister Chris Skidmore resigned in protest. Alok Sharma, former Business Secretary, and COP26 President expressed his inability to support the bill, citing its contradiction with the UK's climate commitments.
Skidmore wrote on social media platform X yesterday: "As I stated in my resignation letter, the future will judge harshly any MP that votes for new additional fossil fuels. Today's legislation makes no economic sense, will deliver no additional energy security, and breaks the UK's international commitments on climate action."
Government officials, however, argued that the annual licensing would ensure investor certainty, bolster energy security, and potentially lower carbon emissions by replacing more carbon-intensive fossil fuel imports, all while safeguarding jobs in the oil and gas industry.
Writing on X, Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho said: "Even the independent Climate Change Committee's data shows that we're going to need oil and gas in the decades ahead. Today, Parliament faces a choice. Do we back 200,000 British workers and use our supplies? Or do we send thousands of jobs and tax revenue abroad?"
However, earlier this month, the Climate Change Committee's (CCC) interim chair, Piers Forster, reiterated that the advisory body regards new oil and gas drilling as inconsistent with the UK's climate goals, especially given the government signed up to the international commitment to transition away from fossil fuels at last year's COP28 climate summit in Dubai.
"Our earlier advice is still current," he said. "UK oil and gas consumption needs to fall by over 80 percent to meet UK targets. This and COP decision makes further licensing inconsistent with climate goals."
Meanwhile, environmental campaigners yesterday slammed the passage of the Bill.
"The government may have won this vote, but the planet and everyone on it has lost as a result," said Greenpeace UK's political campaigner, Ami McCarthy. "Literally, no one benefits from this nonsensical, climate-wrecking Bill except the oil and gas industry and its shareholders.
"The government has failed to act in the national interest tonight, and those MPs who chose not to rebel have placed themselves on the wrong side of history. Voters don't want more oil and gas; they want cheap, clean, renewable power and a safe and habitable planet. And this shameful dereliction of duty will come back to haunt the Conservatives at the next election."
Jamie Peters, the climate coordinator at Friends of the Earth, accused the government of "yet more clickbait politics which offers very little of substance."
"As people endure another winter of soaring energy prices, with last week's plummeting temperatures especially hard for the millions struggling to afford to heat their homes, the Prime Minister's relentless posturing and efforts to woo the oil and gas industry will do nothing to improve our energy security or lower bills," he said. "This bill simply serves as a message that the government is siding with wealthy oil and gas companies rather than showing the strong leadership needed to guide us out of the interlinked cost of living and climate crises. Far from being at the forefront of the global race to a zero-carbon future, the UK risks being left behind as other nations embrace emerging clean industries."
Alasdair Johnstone from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) think tank, which yesterday published new research showing how the transition to electric vehicles would do more to reduce fossil fuel imports than the development of further North Sea oil and gas fields, questioned whether the bill was necessary given annual licensing rounds could already be undertaken.
"Given the North Sea Oil and Gas Transition Authority itself concluded that legislation for annual licensing rounds was unnecessary, this has been, at best, a questionable use of parliamentary time," he said. "The North Sea is in terminal decline, and this only serves to distract from actual solutions to securing the UK's energy independence, which lie in reducing our need for gas in the first place. That means building out renewables and insulating cold, damp homes, areas where the government's recent track record is questionable."
In a telling survey conducted by Greenpeace, 55% of over 4,000 respondents disagreed with the government's claim of leading on climate change, including a significant portion of respondents from Conservative strongholds. Furthermore, 44% supported Skidmore's resignation in protest of the government's climate stance.
"These survey results are yet another sign that Sunak's climate rollbacks and fossil fuel expansion plans aren't resonating with voters, including those in Conservative heartlands," said Greenpeace UK climate campaigner Georgia Whitaker.
"Ministers know that new North Sea oil and gas will make no difference to household bills and have admitted that approving the Rosebank oil field will not boost our energy security. So if Sunak is pushing this agenda solely to revive his plummeting ratings, he's clearly miscalculated - and Conservative MPs will pay the price."
In a development closely linked to the ongoing climate policy debates, Lord Frost, a notable Conservative Party peer, and trustee of the climate-skeptic Global Warming Policy Foundation, has been appointed to the House of Lords select committee on environment and climate change. This decision has sparked significant backlash from environmental groups and opposition parties, primarily due to Lord Frost's history of challenging the net zero agenda and making statements that downplay the severity of the climate crisis.
Lord Frost's stance on climate issues, particularly his controversial comments during a House of Lords debate last year, has been a focal point of criticism. According to a report by The Guardian, he had suggested that the rising global temperatures, a direct consequence of the climate crisis, could be advantageous for the UK, positing that it would lead to fewer deaths from cold temperatures. This viewpoint, aligning with broader climate skepticism, has raised concerns about the implications of his appointment on the committee's approach to environmental and climate change issues.