The UK government’s policy on allowing the extraction of new oil and gas from the North Sea is “downright dangerous”, the co-leader of the Scottish Green Party has told Sky News.
The MSP’s comments are an escalation in an increasingly heated row over drilling for fossil fuels in UK waters, symbolised by the controversial Cambo oil field, which is due to receive final government approval for extraction to go ahead.
Lorna Slater, whose party is newly powerful after striking an agreement with the SNP, said: “The UK government’s position to continue oil and gas extraction in the North Sea (and) to issue new licences is not defensible.”
“I think he’s being downright dangerous.
“It is dangerous to continue on the path that we are on – millions of lives are at risk. You thought living through a pandemic was bad? You haven’t lived through the breakdown of your biosphere yet.”
The International Energy Agency and the United Nations have recently warned that there must be no new oil and gas extraction if the world is to meet its emissions targets.
Last year, the UK’s Oil and Gas Authority issued 113 new licenses.
But the government insists that what is happening in the North Sea does not threaten the UK’s legally enshrined commitment to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
David Duguid, the MP for Banff and Buchan and the under-secretary of state for Scotland, said the oil and gas fields in question have already been licensed and are “factored into our net zero objectives”.
“This is not a new license,” he told Sky News, citing the Cambo oil field, which has been licenced since 2001, as another example.
“This is an oilfield that has been appraised and explored. The reserves available to us from the oil field are already factored into our net zero objectives.
“Whether we export some of that oil and gas or it is for our own use, it is much better to have access to that oil and gas on our doorstep and under our control.”
Mr Duguid also said the UK and the world as a whole are still “dependent to a large extent on oil and gas”, even if it’s a “reducing demand”.
“While we still have that demand we need to source that oil and gas responsibly from somewhere,” he argued, adding that the UK government’s targets for net zero by 2050 already takes into account licenced oil and gas fields “not yet sanctioned for extraction”.
Campaigners say that this position is supported by creative accounting that does not “count” the emissions that will be produced when UK-extracted fossil fuels are burned overseas.
They also argue the issue threatens the moral authority of the British government just weeks away from hosting a crucial UN climate change summit in Glasgow called COP26.
It may become legally uncomfortable, too, with climate change lawyers challenging the approval of drilling in the North Sea in the courts.
In recent weeks, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has written to Mr Johnson asking him to reassess licenses in fields that have been approved but where extraction has not yet begun, because of the urgency of the climate crisis and the need to shift away from fossil fuels.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said that Cambo should not go ahead.
Sky News has previously reported that a third of the oil companies operating in the North Sea are receiving more in tax refunds than they are paying out because of the huge costs of decommissioning.
Sky News has launched the first daily prime time news show dedicated to climate change.
The Daily Climate Show is broadcast at 6.30pm and 9.30pm Monday to Friday on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.
Hosted by Anna Jones, it follows Sky News correspondents as they investigate how global warming is changing our landscape and how we all live our lives.
The show also highlights solutions to the crisis and how small changes can make a big difference.