The government’s climate advisor has warned about the risks of investing in fracking.
Ministers could lift the fracking moratorium in the light of a scientific report due to be submitted tomorrow (30 June 2022).
But Lord Deben, chair of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), said at a briefing:
“We won’t be using gas for any major purposes except with carbon capture and storage after a point, at the very latest, in the middle of the 2030s.
“So if you’re going to invest in these circumstances, you have to realise that that is absolute. And so that will restrict what you might want to invest in.
“To invest in it in the way in which you think that somehow or other that will be changed, …. that would be a grave error of investment and would be misleading to the people who put up the money.”
The moratorium on fracking was imposed in November 2019 following a series of earthquakes caused by operations at Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road in Lancashire.
The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, commissioned the British Geological Survey to review the science around fracking for shale gas, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Lord Deben, speaking on the latest progress report to parliament on reducing carbon emissions, published today, said:
“The urgency of moving away from fossil fuels, securing energy supplies and cutting carbon emissions has never been clearer.”
He said the CCC had not opposed fracking, as long as it met three tests, set out in 2016, that still applied:
- Emissions must be strictly limited during shale gas development, production and decommissioning, requiring tight regulation, close monitoring and rapid action to address methane leaks
- Overall gas consumption must remain in line with UK carbon budgets, displacing imports, rather than increasing consumption
- Emissions from shale gas production must be accommodated within UK carbon budgets, offset by emissions reductions in other areas
Last week, the shale gas industry challenged the use of the third test during a meeting with MPs and said there could be 50 years’ worth of shale gas onshore. Yesterday, campaigners said shale gas companies could be eligible for tax breaks for investment in exploration if the moratorium on fracking were lifted.
Coal mine is “indefensible”
Lord Deben also strongly criticised the proposed new coal mine in Cumbria. He said:
“It is absolutely indefensible. 80% of what it produces will be exported. So it is not something largely for internal consumption.
“What it claims to do is that it will provide for a particular industry coal, which is, at the moment, imported from elsewhere. That doesn’t mean to say that that coal will not be produced elsewhere anyway, largely in America. So, it doesn’t reduce the amount of coal that is produced. All it means is that we create another example of Britain saying one thing and doing another.”
Friends of the Earth said government decisions on fracking and the Cumbrian coal mine represented two major tests of the government’s commitment to climate change. Mike Childs, the organisation’s head of policy, said:
“The government must seize the opportunity to show that its talk on climate change isn’t just hot air and that it really means business.
“It must reject calls to keep the economy locked into yet more costly and polluting fossil fuels, and build a clean, safe and affordable future.”
“Strategy won’t deliver net zero”
The 600-page CCC report, the largest of its kind, warned that the government’s current strategy would not deliver net zero emissions by 2050.
There were major failures in the delivery programmes for achieving the UK’s climate goals, the report said.
Policies were in place for most sectors of the economy but there was “scant evidence of delivery” against the headline goals so far. The CCC said:
“This is a high wire approach to net zero”.
The CCC said government had credible plans for more than a third of the UK’s required emissions cuts to meet the sixth carbon budget in the mid 2030s. Another quarter could be met “with a fair wind”. But more than a third could not be relied on to deliver the necessary emissions reductions.
Lord Deben said:
“The UK is a champion in setting new climate goals, now we must be world-beaters in delivering them.
“In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, the country is crying out to end its dependence on expensive fossil fuels.
“I welcome the Government’s restated commitment to Net Zero, but holes must be plugged in its strategy urgently.
“The window to deliver real progress is short. We are eagle-eyed for the promised actions would not meet its emissions targets in 2030 or for the sixth carbon budget in the mid 2030s.”
The strongest progress has been on deployment of renewable electricity and adoption of electric cars, the report said.
Emissions from electricity generation have fallen by nearly 70% in the last decade, the CCC said. Offshore wind had shown that in the right conditions costs could be cut dramatically and low-carbon solutions deployed rapidly.
The rise in the use of electric cars was already ahead of CCC and government growth projections, the report said.
But the CCC said there was a “shocking gap” in the policy for better insulated homes. The UK continued to have some of the leakiest homes in Europe and insulation installations remained at rock bottom, the CCC said.
Progress in reducing farming emissions had been “glacial”, the report added.
Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, said:
“it’s clear that the UK government is falling woefully short on both honouring international climate change commitments and meeting its legally binding carbon targets.
“But it’s not too late to act. The lack of investment in home energy efficiency must be urgently addressed – starting with a nationwide, council-led, street-by-street home insulation programme, focussing on those most in need first. This would reduce energy demand, slash bills and significantly reduce emissions.”
More reaction as we get it.