Routine flaring on oil and gas fields should be banned by 2025, a review of the government’s net zero strategy has concluded.
In a key recommendation, the author, the Conservative MP Chris Skidmore, said:
“Industry should accelerate the end to routine flaring from 2030 to 2025.”
This is the second report this month to call for a ban on flaring in the next two years. A cross-party report by the House of Commons environmental audit committee made the same recommendation on 5 January.
Mr Skidmore was commissioned by the former prime minister, Liz Truss, to review UK proposals to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Last year, the government accepted a ruling by the High Court that its net zero strategy was unlawful. The landmark judgement agreed with arguments by Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and Good Law Project that the strategy failed to show how the UK’s legally-binding carbon budgets would be met.
Mr Skidmore said today that the UK had successfully started to replace fossil fuels with greener, cleaner alternatives.
But he said the country was falling behind on some targets and needed a new approach. Delaying climate action risked damaging UK economic prospects, he said:
“to reach net zero we need to go even faster on making changes to the power and fuels we use – and make sure the UK benefits from growth in these new technologies. Rolling out these technologies will require a step change in how we approach energy security, infrastructure, and supply.”
The review ran to 340 pages and had 129 recommendations.
It said flaring was responsible for 22% of carbon emissions on oil and gas fields. About 70% of oil and gas field emissions were from powering equipment on platforms, it said.
The offshore industry published a Methane Action Plan in 2021 to reduce emissions and flaring. This committed the industry to a 50% methane emission reduction by 2030, compared with 2018 levels. Shell has committed to zero routine flaring by 2025.
The Skidmore report said:
“We recommend that industry follows suit”.
It said the industry regulator, the North Sea Transition Authority should improve transparency on progress against the emissions and flaring targets at a company level by the end of this year.
The review made no specific reference to onshore oil and gas. But it also called on the government to:
- Ensure all new oil or gas fields were designed for conversion to electrification
- Ensure that Climate Compatibility Checkpoint in oil and gas licences was an effective tool to shape policymaking
- Consider requiring fossil fuel producers to meet a 10% target for carbon storage by 2035
- Include a net zero fund for clean offshore technologies in the 2023 consultation on long-term tax treatment for the North Sea
- Publish a strategy by the end of 2024 to include roles and responsibilities for electrification of oil and gas infrastructure, including planning process, timetables and regulation
The report says the UK must “double down on production of renewables, nuclear and hydrogen and other low carbon fuels to give our future energy system a homegrown, secure platform”. But it added:
“in the short term we still need oil and gas to secure our energy independence and as transition fuels towards 2050.”
It predicted the UK would continue to be dependent on gas for heating buildings and marginal power production. Demand for fossil fuels would fall in some parts of the economy, such as surface transport, the report said. But demand could rise in other parts, such as petrochemicals. The report concluded:
“That is why, only when absolutely necessary for security, we need domestic production and storage of fossil fuels to reduce our vulnerability to international oil and gas imports.”
It said replacing imported LNG (liquified natural gas) with domestically-sourced gas did not have to come at the cost of meeting UK carbon budget targets. Gas from the UK continental shelf could create less than half as much greenhouse gas as imported LNG, the report said. But it added:
“we must do more to make the extraction of oil and gas cleaner. Importing gas via pipeline from Norway produces a lower average emissions intensity than UK domestic production. We must therefore find ways to make extraction as clean as possible and avoid stranded assets.”
The review also called for planning rules to be scrapped for roof-top solar panels and it recommended the phase out of gas boilers by 2033, two years earlier than planned.
The campaign group, Client Earth, said:
“Last year the High Court ordered the UK government to strengthen its net zero plans after our legal win. This review further confirms that it must set out more ambitious climate policy that goes further and faster in cutting energy costs and emissions.”
The shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, said:
“This underlines the Tory dither and refusal to tackle the climate crisis or boost our energy security. And it reveals the failure to grasp the opportunities for good, new jobs across Britain. Only Labour can deliver a fairer, greener future for Britain.”
The Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, said:
“This Net Zero Review must spell an end to government’s current approach of ducking, dodging and delaying action. That means turbo-charging onshore wind and solar, with solar panels on every new roof – and it means locking out climate-wrecking fossil fuels for good.”
Doug Parr, chief scientist of Greenpeace UK, said there was a strong overall message in the review:
“We’re in a different era from 2010s. UK faces bigger economic risks from getting left behind than going too fast. China, US, EU are in a clean tech race. Join in or get squashed.”
Friends of the Earth said:
“The idea that climate action and economic growth are at odds is seriously outdated. It’s time for the government to wake up and act! A green transition is vital for the future of our planet, and for our economy too.”
WWF UK said:
“Chris Skidmore’s comprehensive review makes it clear that meeting climate targets is the key to our future prosperity. The government must accept the recommendations of the review & begin the real work to deliver on its climate promises.”