The UK’s official advisor on climate change has said it would support a government presumption against future oil and gas exploration.
For the first time, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) said there should be controls on the supply of oil and gas, with tighter limits on production, to restrict global temperature rise to 1.5C.
In a letter today to the business secretary, the CCC said:
“An end to UK exploration would send a clear signal to investors and consumers that the UK is committed to the 1.5°C global temperature goal. That would also help the UK in its diplomatic efforts to strengthen climate ambition internationally.”
The CCC also said:
- Increases in UK production would have, at most, a marginal effect on UK energy prices and a revival of fracking would not cut household bills
- Extra domestic oil and gas production would support a larger global market, possibly leading to additional consumption and higher emissions
The CCC has previously said the UK needs to make large and rapid reductions in the consumption of oil and gas.
Oil consumption would need to fall by 46-62% by 2035 and 84-98% by 2050. Unabated gas, without the use of carbon capture and storage, would need to fall by about 65% by 2035 and be virtually eliminated by 2050.
Onshore oil and gas companies regularly claim that domestic production would displace imports and would not increase total global volumes or emissions.
But responding to proposed government climate tests for new oil and gas licences, the CCC said it had not been able to establish for certain what effect new UK extraction would have on global emissions.
The CCC said UK production, particularly of gas, had a smaller carbon footprint than the international average.
But extra oil and gas extraction could lead to higher overall global consumption the CCC said. Some academics have estimated that 20-60% of extra production would lead to additional consumption.
The CCC said:
“We see a role for policy to limit extraction of oil and gas on climate grounds, alongside policies to reduce the burning of these fuels
“We would support a tighter limit on production, with stringent tests and a presumption against exploration.”
The organisation’s chief executive, Chris Stark, said there was a “huge danger of global oversupply of oil and gas”. With no supply side policies, there was a risk that extraction would far exceed the amount of fossil fuels that could be burnt under climate commitments.
He said there was no guarantee that additional domestic production would remain in the UK. Currently the UK is exporting oil and gas, even though it is a net importer and despite high energy prices.
On the impact of increased production on prices, the CCC said:
“Oil and gas prices faced in the UK are set internationally. The best way of reducing the UK’s future exposure to these volatile prices is to cut fossil fuel consumption on the path to Net Zero – improving energy efficiency, shifting to a renewables-based power system and electrifying end uses in transport, industry and heating.
“Any increases in UK extraction of oil and gas would have, at most, a marginal effect on the prices faced by UK consumers in future.”
The CCC’s chair, Lord Deben, said fracking was also not an answer to rising gas bills:
“Any gas which was produced from fracking would cost the world price. It will not be cheaper. It will be the same price as the world demands so you won’t get any effect on the bills.
“If we weren’t prepared to pay that price in Britain it would be exported.”
He said the amount of fracked gas that could be produced would be limited by “reasonable environmental restrictions”. It would take “a serious period” of time to get any fracked gas out of the ground, he said, by which time demand for gas should be falling significantly.
The CCC welcomed the concept of the government’s climate compatibility checkpoint. But it said the proposed tests were too narrow. It also criticised the focus on new licensing. Fields, such as Cambo, off Shetland, that have a licence but have not begun production would not be covered by the tests. The committee called for a broader assessment of limiting emissions in the oil and gas sector:
“We encourage you to set stringent tests to the licensing of exploration. Equivalent tests should also apply to later development stages, such as consenting of production.”
Ryan Morrison, just transition campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland, said:
“In advising Ministers to support a tighter limit on oil and gas production and a presumption against exploration, the UKCCC are adding their voice to the growing chorus urging the UK Government to end its plans to expand the supply of climate-wrecking oil and gas.”
“The UK Government must finally listen to the science and scrap their plans to dish out more licences and approvals to the oil and gas companies who are hellbent on destroying the climate for their own profit.”