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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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Net Zero Minister's Statements Signal Shift In UK Climate Policy

  • Graham Stuart is pushing carbon capture as a key strategy in the energy transition, suggesting that oil and gas are not inherently problematic but their emissions are.
  • The UK's recent announcement of new oil and gas leasing in the North Sea contrasts with previous commitments to phase out fossil fuels.
  • Critics and experts argue that the UK's current policy does not align with its net zero goals, with Stuart maintaining that the UK is not the primary concern in global climate efforts.
UK

Recent statements from the United Kingdom's net zero minister suggest that the nation may be scaling back its decarbonization commitments at the COP28 UN climate summit beginning later this month in Dubai. Graham Stuart, the net zero minister has hinted that the nation will be placing a bigger emphasis on carbon capture and storage while backing off of pathways toward phasing out fossil fuel exploration and production.

In his statements to the Members of Parliament (MPs), Stuart said that “there is nothing fundamentally wrong with oil and gas, it’s emissions from oil and gas that are the problem and that we must focus on,” he said. Stuart went on to say that production of fossil fuels is not to blame, but rather that demand for fossil fuels is the problem that must be addressed. 

By saying that oil and gas themselves are “not the problem” for the climate, just the carbon emissions associated with their use, Stuart seems to be laying the groundwork for an approach that increasingly employs carbon capture and energy storage as a key strategy. Carbon capture and storage “refers to a suite of technologies that enable the mitigation of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from large point sources such as power plants, refineries and other industrial facilities, or the removal of existing CO2 from the atmosphere,” in a definition from the London School of Economics and Political Science. The approach is viewed as a promising part of the fight against climate change and many climate activists hope that it will be deployed at scale to remove existing carbon from the atmosphere. 

Using carbon capture to offset new emissions, however, is largely seen as a false solution, or as a distraction to more meaningful climate action. Instead of removing carbon from the atmosphere and thereby improving our progress toward climate change mitigation, this tack merely offsets new emissions while encouraging the sustained use of fossil fuels. For this reason, carbon capture is frequently seen as a tool for greenwashing more so than a tool for robust climate policy. 

Stuart’s statements come hot on the heels of an announcement that the UK would be pursuing new oil and gas leasing in the North Sea, revealed in a speech by the British monarch King Charles III last week. Critics have been quick to point out that this development stands in opposition to the United Kingdom’s own espoused climate goals. 

The announcement also contradicts the country’s stance at last year’s COP27 UN climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, when the UK joined a group of more than 80 countries explicitly calling for the phaseout of fossil fuels. The Guardian anticipates that the UK will likely make the same demand at Cop28 in Dubai, which does not seem to be aligned with the nation’s own energy policy. 

While the UK government is adamant that its climate policy is rock-solid, experts on the matter strongly disagree with this stance. The UK’s statutory advisers, the committee on climate change (CCC), has stated in no uncertain terms that the UK is not on a pathway to meet its net zero goals. But according to Stuart, “If you really care about climate change, the last country you need to worry about is the UK.” He went on to tell the MPs, “We are not the problem, it’s encouraging others to follow us on the net zero pathway, that is the biggest challenge.”

Stuart is right about one thing – this is not a UK problem. It’s a global problem. A new United Nations-backed report shows that coal, oil and gas production is expected to grow dramatically in the coming years on a global scale. The United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia are expected to drill for more oil and gas in 2030 than at any point in their histories. 

“Governments are literally doubling down on fossil fuel production; that spells double trouble for people and planet,” António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, said in a statement accompanying the release of the new UN report. “We cannot address climate catastrophe without tackling its root cause: fossil fuel dependence.”

It’s certainly true that fossil fuels can’t be phased out overnight, and that the immediate end of the oil and gas industry is a naive hope. Stuart is right in putting focus on energy demand – the world population is growing and nations are developing, driving up energy needs. Being unprepared to meet that need will result in serious shocks and pains for global populations. But new sources of clean energy have to be the priority if we are to have any hope of avoiding planetary catastrophe, and these can’t be developed at scale without ambitiously supportive policy. 

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By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on November 13 2023 said:
    The UK has always been a trailblazer in matters relating to climate change and net-zero emissions.

    UK Net Zero Minister Graham Stuart is admitting that oil and gas aren’t the problem. It is emissions from them that are the problem that the UK should focus on.

    This is in line with calls from US oil supermajors not to reduce the production of oil and gas but their emissions.

    Recent statements by the UK government suggest that the nation may be amending its climate change goals by:

    1- Placing a bigger emphasis on carbon capture and storage.

    2- Admitting that oil and gas themselves are not the problem for the climate but their emissions.

    3- The announcement that the UK would be pursuing new oil and gas leasing in the North Sea.

    4- The decision by the government to delay the banning of ICEs from 2030 to 2035.

    In my opinion, the only sane and practical energy strategy is for fossil fuels and renewables to coexist and work together to provide the global needs for electricity. The higher the share of renewables in electricity generation the less gas and coal will be needed.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Global Energy Expert

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