A new round of oil and gas drilling in the UK is “entirely compatible” with Britain’s net zero targets, energy minister Graham Stuart told The National on Tuesday.
Mr Stuart – who also backed the UAE’s presidency of Cop28 to “build consensus” on the switch to renewable energy at the summit in Dubai – said it would make “no environmental sense” to import fossil fuels from abroad instead of producing them domestically.
Britain expects to use some North Sea fossil fuels even beyond its net zero target date of 2050. It hopes to mitigate the effects with emerging technology such as carbon capture.
Mr Stuart said the government “firmly believes that UK oil and gas production is part of the solution not the problem”.
An offshore industry summit in Aberdeen, Scotland, was told on Tuesday that oil and gas would remain “a large part of the supply” for decades on world markets.
Summit president Kamel Ben Naceur, a former chief economist of the UAE’s Adnoc, said it would be “very ill advised” to cut funding for new oil and gas exploration.
The recent announcement by Mr Sunak was “a major step to ensure security of supply in the coming years,” he said.
Ministers are relying on findings by the North Sea Transition Authority that Britain’s offshore gas is almost four times cleaner than liquefied natural gas imports from overseas.
Mr Stuart – a minister of state in the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero – described the new licences as a way of managing Britain’s “fast-declining” oil and gas production.
Asked by The National whether the role envisaged for oil and gas would disappoint Britain’s partners at Cop28, he said it was “entirely compatible” with the drive for net zero.
“Managing that with new licences is not going to lead to increased production. it’s still going to decline, we will remain a net importer,” he said.
“Not maximising production here against ever higher environmental standards, while importing from abroad with much higher emissions attached, makes no environmental sense.”
Figures released on Tuesday by the North Sea authority said emissions from the sector fell for a third consecutive year thanks to fuel efficiency measures and cuts in wasteful gas flaring.
It said emissions decreased on 78 per cent of offshore platforms between 2018 and 2022. However, it said “bold measures” would be needed to halve greenhouse gas output by 2030.
The authority’s director of strategy Hedvig Ljungerud said the industry “can’t hide from the fact that there is more work to do”.
Britain is looking to offshore wind turbines as a major source of clean electricity. Ministers are also expected to relax rules around onshore wind amid a rebellion among Mr Sunak’s MPs.
Mr Stuart declined to say whether the UK would support a global renewable energy target, as proposed by Germany, when Cop28 negotiations begin in Dubai.
But he said Britain was “very keen to see stretching targets on renewables” and supported efforts in the area by Dr Sultan Al Jaber, the summit’s president-designate and UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology.
“We support those including Dr Sultan Al Jaber at examining that and looking to build consensus to get behind it,” said Mr Stuart, who said he would continue to “work closely” with the president-designate.
Dr Al Jaber has made fast-tracking the energy transition one of four priorities for Cop28, where he says his “north star” will be keeping the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C within reach. Mr Stuart said Britain “supports him entirely in that endeavour”.