Home Sustainability and Eco Friendly initiative news ‘Deeply irresponsible’: Government faces fresh calls to rethink pro-fossil fuels policies

‘Deeply irresponsible’: Government faces fresh calls to rethink pro-fossil fuels policies

‘Deeply irresponsible’: Government faces fresh calls to rethink pro-fossil fuels policies

The government is facing a fresh wave of calls for Ministers to reconsider their recent attacks on environmental policies, as politicians, scientists, doctors, and lawyers step up warnings that plans to issue new oil and gas licenses and roll back air quality schemes will undermine investment in the net zero transition and result in increased harm to public health.

Late yesterday, the BBC reported that 50 MPs and peers from all major parties have written to Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary Grant Shapps, urging him in the “strongest possible terms” to block plans to develop the giant Rosebank oil field.

In the letter, the cross-party group argued it would be “deeply irresponsible” to approve drilling in the oil field, west of Shetland, which is thought to hold around 500 million barrels worth of oil.

The group said the 200 million tonnes of carbon dioxide that could result from the project is “more than the combined annual CO2 emissions of all 28 low-income countries in the world”.

The letter argued that approval “risks putting the delivery of our climate targets out of reach” and could “weaken the UK’s climate diplomacy”.

Green MP Caroline Lucas, chair of Parliament’s all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on climate and one of the signatories of the letter, said: “Approving Rosebank in the middle of a climate emergency would be morally obscene. If the government refuses to block this vast new oil field, it will be complicit in this climate crime.

In response, a Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson said no decision has yet been taken on the proposed Rosebank field, but they again reiterated the government’s view that it is possible to develop new oil and gas projects and still meet net zero goals. “More widely, we are building a future diverse energy mix that is cleaner, cheaper and more secure and avoids an increased reliance on foreign oil and gas imports, helping us remain a trailblazer in our ambitions to reach net zero by 2050,” they said.

The government’s defence of plans to issue over 100 new oil and gas licenses for projects in the North Sea has been fiercely criticised by climate scientists, energy experts, and campaigners, who insist that while oil and gas may still have a role in the energy mix in 2050, analysis from the International Energy Agency and others has shown that any additional production capacity is highly likely to breach global goals to keep temperature increases below 1.5C.

Critics have also questioned the government’s claims that domestic oil and gas inherently has a lower carbon footprint than imports, noting that the bulk of the UK’s imports come from Norway, which boasts a lower carbon footprint that North Sea production.

At a meeting with energy bosses this week, Shapps defended the government’s strategy and called on oil and gas firms to ramp up investment in the North Sea. But he was also reportedly at pains to stress that the government remains fully committed to meeting its net zero goals and want to see investment increased in renewables, nuclear, and carbon capture and storage projects, alongside any new oil and gas projects.

Separately, the Guardian reported today that hundreds of doctors have called on Labour leader Keir Starmer and London Mayor Sadiq Khan to continue to back measures to tackle air pollution, warning that they see the “devastating health consequences” in patients every day.

The paper said it had seen the letter from 400 doctors, which urges the Labour leadership to continue to advance air quality initiatives and resist calls from a “vocal minority” to water down schemes.

In the wake of last month’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, the Labour leadership blamed the planned expansion of the London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) for the Party’s surprise defeat. Starmer controversially called on Khan to “reflect” on his plan to expand the scheme to London’s outer boroughs from later this summer.

In response, Khan insisted the expansion of the scheme would continue, while also calling on the government to provide more funding to a scrappage scheme that provides drivers of older vehicles with grants to help them upgrade.

Khan also this week boosted the budget for the scrappage scheme provided through the Mayor’s Office to £160m, confirming every Londoner with a non-compliant car or motorcycle is eligible for grants of up to £2,000. Meanwhile, businesses are able to claim £7,000 for every scrapped van, while charities can secure payments of £9,000 for scrapping old minibuses.

“I have always said that expanding the Ulez to the whole of London was a difficult decision but it’s a decision I remain committed to seeing through,” he said. “I’m not prepared to step back, delay or water down vital green policies like Ulez . . . but I have continued to listen to the concerns of Londoners and I’m determined that no Londoner and no London business is left behind.”

The letter from doctors stressed that there was a compelling case for expanding air quality measures. “As health professionals who see the devastating health consequences of air pollution daily, we implore you to stand firm in your commitment to expand Ulez to benefit the people of outer London,” it stated. “Air pollution affects every one of us from before we are born into old age. It not only causes respiratory conditions such as asthma, but also heart attacks, heart arrhythmias, strokes, child developmental disorders, lung cancer and dementia. Ulez works. It has already saved lives and prevented many illnesses and hospital admissions.”

In related news, lawyers this week accused the government of “trying to weaken existing legal protections for the air we breathe” through the post-Brexit watering down of environmental rules.

The Guardian reported that the government’s own post-Brexit watchdog, the Office for Environment Protection (OEP), has written to Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey to warn that parts of the national emissions ceiling regulations (NECR) should not be deleted as planned under the government’s Retained EU Law Act.

In her letter, Dame Glenys Stacey, chair of the OEP, warned parts of the regulations to be deleted require the government to prepare and implement plans to reduce pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and ammonia, and undertake a review if emissions are projected to exceed targets.

In response the government insisted the planned changes were designed only to reduce administrative burdens and aid transparency. “These targets remain unchanged and there has been no reduction in the level of environmental protection,” a Defra spokesperson said. “As the secretary of state said in her response to the OEP, we remain committed to achieving the reduction targets set out in the national emission ceilings regulations and are maintaining the reporting provisions to ensure there is transparency on our progress.”

However, lawyers and environmental campaigners rejected the government’s argument, insisting that at a time when the Ministers have repeatedly attacked the ULEZ expansion in London they are also moving to weaken national air quality rules.

“While air quality in the UK is already at public health crisis levels, this government is now trying to weaken existing legal protections for the air we breathe,” Emily Kearsey, a lawyer at the charity ClientEarth, told the Guardian. “This is wholly unacceptable – particularly from a government that has committed to making the UK an environmental leader.”

Meanwhile, the government is also facing calls from its own ranks not to further water down key decarbonisation policies. The Times reported today that more than 40 Conservative MPs and peers have signed a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urging him to resist calls from other Tory backbenchers for the government to delay the 2030 ban on the sale of new internal combustion engine cars and vans.

The calls come as new polling shows that a plurality of the public are in favour of the policy, with 46 per cent saying the government should stick with the planned 2030 ban and 34 per cent saying it should be delayed.

“Much is being made by this government of being on the side of motorists, but this polling shows that any action to weaken or remove the phase-out dates for new petrol and diesel cars would be opposed by more people than would support it,” said Colin Walker, head of transport at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit think tank, which commissioned the poll.

The news follows calls earlier this week from industry groups, which also urged the government to stand by its current plans to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles. Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “Manufacturers are heavily invested in decarbonisation, and committed to meeting – and in some cases, beating – the 2030 target.”

Sunak has insisted he remains fully committed to the 2030 target date, but reports have suggested there is a split within Cabinet over plans for a new Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which is due to be introduced from next year and would require manufacturers to produce rising numbers of zero emission models each year.

Supporters of the ZEV mandate have warned that without it the government will struggle to ensure sufficient manufacturing capacity is built up to deliver on the 2030 target date for ending the sale of new internal combustion engine cars and vans.

In addition, energy giant OVO today published the results of separate polling that showed that 60 per cent of people would be more likely to vote for a political party that promised “significantly more action” to meet net zero goals. In contrast, only 17 per cent said they would be less likely to vote for such a party.

“Recent commentary around a political ‘watering down’ of the UK’s net zero policies risks undermining the UK’s energy security and longer-term economic success,” said Raman Bhatia, chief executive of OVO. “In the run up to the election, both parties have a responsibility to consider how to set a clear pathway to net zero, not run away from it,”

The latest wave of calls for the government to temper its recent attacks on green policies came as five Greenpeace activists were bailed, after being arrested for climbing onto the roof of the Prime Minister’s constituency home and draping the Yorkshire manor house in a oil-black fabric to protest his support for new fossil fuel projects.

“Our activists have come down, having delivered their message to the Prime Minister who’s holidaying 5,000 miles away,” said Greenpeace UK climate campaigner, Philip Evans. “It’s time for Sunak to decide which side he is on – Big Oil’s profits or our future on a habitable planet? 

“The oil and gas that Sunak wants to ‘max out’ will not lower our bills and it won’t make the UK more energy secure, since it is owned by the multinational fossil fuel giants that extract it, not the UK. Don’t believe these lies. The only way we can get cheaper energy, warmer homes, lower bills and a safe, habitable planet is if we transition as fast as possible to a clean, renewable energy system and properly insulated homes.”

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