07 November, 2023
Current News, by Lena Dias Martins

This morning (7 November), the King’s Speech confirmed reports of government support for new North Sea oil and gas licenses.

Speaking at the State Opening of Parliament, King Charles spoke of new legislation set to be introduced aiming to strengthen the UK’s energy security, and reduce reliance on international energy markets.

“This bill will support the future licensing of new oil and gas fields,” said King Charles, “helping the country to transition to net zero by 2050, without adding undue burdens on households.”

This concurs with the government’s earlier release, which revealed that annual oil and gas licensing in the North Sea will be mandated, allowing the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) to invite applications for new oil and gas production licenses on an annual basis.

Renewable energy investment and grid connections were also addressed within the King’s speech, which promised that ministers will “seek to attract record levels of investment in renewable energy sources and reform grid connections.”

Late last week (3 November), the UK and Germany signed a new clean energy agreement that aims to remove regulatory barriers for renewables projects, building upon a previous hydrogen-based agreement signed earlier this year.

The close of the speech focused on supporting developing countries transitioning to net zero and holding those that failed to meet these commitments responsible for their work.

“My government will continue to lead action on tackling climate change and biodiversity loss, support developing countries with their energy transition and hold other countries to their environmental commitments,” read King Charles.

The speech follows prime minister Rishi Sunak’s September announcement, which saw the government delay the sale of new internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by five years to 2035, alongside other heat decarbonisation targets, a move the prime minister said was to avoid undue costs on struggling UK households.

However, responding to the announcement, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) stated that “the cancellation of some net zero measures is likely to increase both energy bills and motoring costs for households,” and demonstrated that the UK’s position as a global leader on climate change has come under scrutiny.

New North Sea licences dubbed ‘little more than political posturing’
Members of the energy industry and energy charities have expressed concern over the effect the government’s support for continued oil and gas development could have on long-term renewable investment.

Rot Beslow, founder and chief executive of renewable energy generator Low Carbon said that a “stable regulatory and policy environment that gives certainty to business” is critical to delivering net zero. Especially in the context of increasing international investment competition such as the US’ Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

“The quickest and most affordable way to achieving a sustainable future is by creating renewable energy infrastructure and that needs strategic investment, supported by a supportive regulatory framework that gives clear policy signals to investors,” added Bedlow.

Sam Richards, from the pro-growth campaign group Britain Remade, shunned the new North Sea license legislation as “little more than political posturing that is unlikely to increase domestic oil and gas production.”

Richards urged the prime minister to stop “wasting time” and instead focus on building offshore and onshore wind farms, accelerate new grid connections, as well as build a new generation of large and small nuclear power stations.

“Britain hasn’t even got out of the starting blocks when it comes to small modular reactors (SMRs). While the US has an approved design and SMRs are being built in China and Poland, we don’t even know where these new mini nuclear plants will be allowed to be built,” said Richards.

“Government urgently needs to spend more time working on getting more new nuclear built, and less time on political games.”

Dr Ashok Sinha, CEO of the climate solutions charity Ashden, pointed out the unfortunate timing of the new licenses announcement, just three weeks ahead of COP28.

“This is the opposite of the leadership required to secure a global agreement at the talks to phase out fossil fuels and will do nothing to lower energy bills or increase energy security,” warned Sinha.

“The fact that the UK also recently declined to sign the latest High Ambition Group of countries statement which called for international solidarity to put in place financial system reforms responsive to the multitude of crises the world faces today is another blow to our reputation for leadership. Such decisions are a dereliction of duty both to UK citizens and to the world.

“The focus must be on investing in and upscaling the solutions which decrease emissions, create jobs and benefit communities – and there are plenty. We have the technology and know-how, we just need to show the will and vision.”

Juliet Phillips, senior policy advisor for E3G, added her own warning, stating the the licenses showed that the government is “out of touch with the realist of the cost-of-living crisis.”

“A much quicker and cheaper way for the UK to achieve energy security and lower household bills is by investing in homegrown renewables, as well as boosting energy efficiency and clean heat measures,” concluded Phillips.

“However, the only reference to energy efficiency was in relation to scrapping standards for private rented properties that could have saved tenants £8bn over the next decade. Rather than saving people money on their energy bills, the government is condemning hundreds and thousands to continued fuel poverty.”