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‘Bold Plans’ or ‘Unbelievably Reckless’ ? The UK’s New Energy Strategy

The UK Government has announced a new energy strategy which will see the continued exploitation and expansion of fossil fuels. This includes :

 “a significant acceleration of nuclear, with an ambition of up to 24GW by 2050 to come from this safe, clean, and reliable source of power. “

Energy strategy is a power retained by the UK Government so whilst the Scottish Government was able to have a say in the expansion of offshore windfarms in our seas, when it comes to the valuable oil reserves lurking under Scotland’s waters, they have no say at all.

As well as the rapid expansion of nuclear the UK Government will also issue a licensing round for new North Sea oil and gas projects planned to launch in Autumn.

This comes as a bit of a shock – in more ways than one, given that we are in a climate emergency. It was only in August 2014, shortly before the referendum on Scottish Independence, that Sir Ian Wood, billed as a ‘ leading oil industry figure‘ stated that ” no more than 35 years of oil and gas production remain and that this must be taken into account in the economics of independence.” And he continued “What’s more, the rundown impact will begin to be felt by 2030, which is only 15 years from now.”

Well that was then and this is now – and Scotland voted to remain part of the UK. The Tory UK Government will be issuing the licenses to open up new fields for oil and gas.

The UK Government’s Energy Strategy also includes a commitment towards Offshore Wind, Onshore Wind, solar energy and heat pump manufacture.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said:

“We’re setting out bold plans to scale up and accelerate affordable, clean and secure energy made in Britain, for Britain – from new nuclear to offshore wind – in the decade ahead.

“This will reduce our dependence on power sources exposed to volatile international prices we cannot control, so we can enjoy greater energy self-sufficiency with cheaper bills.”

In January of this year the Scottish Government announced a major expansion of Offshore Wind Developments: 17, with a combined potential generating capacity of 25GW. Offshore wind rights are devolved to the Scottish Government and the licensing is managed through Crown Estate Scotland. The area of seabed covered by the 17 projects is just over 7,000km2.

Commenting at the time First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:

“It allows us to make huge progress in decarbonising our energy supply – vital if we are to reduce Scotland’s emissions – while securing investment in the Scottish supply chain of at least £1 billion for every gigawatt of power.

“This will be transformational. And because Scotland’s workers are superbly placed with transferable skills to capitalise on the transition to new energy sources, we have every reason to be optimistic about the number of jobs that can be created. “

In 2020 Scotland produced 97% of its electricity energy needs through renewables – mostly wind. This is exported south and distributed via the National Grid with Scottish consumers buying back their own energy at a more expensive rate than anywhere else in the UK. This year energy prices have rocketed leading to a cost of living crisis for millions of Scots, now having to choose between heating or eating.

The expansion of oil and gas is deeply concerning as we are in the midst of a climate emergency. The Scottish Government stated in 2021 that it will no longer support unlimited recovery of hydrocarbons including oil and gas.

Minister for Zero Carbon Housing Patrick Harvie in the SNP/Scottish Green Government Patrick Harvie said:

“The Scottish Government recognises that unlimited fossil fuel extraction, or “maximum economic recovery”, is incompatible with climate action.

“Scotland, and the world, can have a sustainable future and a fairer more equal basis for shared prosperity, but only if we leave the economy of the past behind us, and build a greener economy.”

The latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change) published just days ago states:

“Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach…Limiting global warming will require major transitions in the energy sector. This will involve a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use, widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency, and use of alternative fuels (such as hydrogen).”

IPCC

The report goes on to say that the next few years are crucial.

IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea said , “It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F). Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

But the UK Government is not listening to the urgency in that message as the development of new oil and gas fields will go ahead. Oil and gas is worth a lot of money.

2021 was tied for the sixth warmest year on NASA’s record, stretching more than a century. Because the record is global, not every place on Earth experienced the sixth warmest year on record. Some places had record-high temperatures, and we saw record droughts, floods and fires around the globe. Image credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/Kathryn Mersmann

The reaction to the Tory UK Government’s announcement has been mixed.

Professor John Underhill, Director of the University of Aberdeen’s Centre of Energy Transition, has welcomed the publication of a new energy strategy for the UK. 

He said:

“It recognises the role oil and gas currently plays, and the need to wean ourselves off that dependency by deploying renewable and decarbonising technologies like carbon storage at scale and at pace.

“We currently rely on oil and gas to fulfil 75 per cent of our total energy needs – including around 40 per cent for electricity – so while it is important that we move away from fossil fuel sources, it needs to be managed in such a way that it does not risk fuel poverty, a major impact on industry, or at worst, lead to the lights going off.

“The new strategy will go a long way to reassuring communities in Aberdeen and the north-east that there is a renewed commitment to jobs associated with the oil and gas industry and to developing new ones linked to the growth of renewable technologies to ensure a just transition, as set out a year ago in the North Sea Transition Deal.

“Although the strategy includes a commitment to a new North Sea licensing round in the autumn, it is worth emphasising that any gas and oil production that follows from an exploration licensing round is years away and so, is not a short-term solution for the UK’s gas supplies.

“Whilst the strategy paints a long-term picture, in the short term there may be a need to develop existing gas discoveries in the North Sea and West Shetlands and re-purposing depleted gas fields in the Southern North Sea as new sites for gas storage.

“These options also carry a lower carbon footprint than imports, are proven technologies, have lower environmental impact and are cheaper allow existing infrastructure to be used.”

In contrast environmental campaigners have said that the UK Government’s decision to expand oil & gas production is ‘unbelievably reckless’ due to the climate impact of fossil fuels.

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Climate & Energy Campaigner Caroline Rance said:

“It is unbelievably reckless for the UK Government to put its foot down on the accelerator and expand production of the oil and gas that is speeding us towards further climate devastation.”

“By doubling down on oil and gas they are keeping us locked in an unaffordable and destructive energy system that is only delivering billions in profits for oil companies whilst millions of people are forced to choose between heating and eating.

“There is a massive gaping hole where there should have been energy efficiency measures to improve people’s homes to make them warmer, greener and cut their bills.

“Whilst the announcement on growing offshore wind is a positive step, it is fatally undermined by new expanding fossil fuels and commitment to create a toxic legacy for thousands of years from new nuclear power.”

“The Scottish Government is due to publish its own Energy Strategy later this year and it must deliver what the UK Government has failed to do – commit to an end to new fossil fuels, increase renewables, provide support for insulating homes and deliver a Just Transition for workers and communities.”

Fiona Grahame

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