Alok Sharma criticizes the oil and gas bill passed in its initial stage by the government.
According to Alok Sharma, the current oil and gas legislation being reviewed by the House of Commons will not result in reduced energy expenses or job creation. Instead, it will violate the UK’s commitment to gradually eliminate the use of fossil fuels.
The bill for offshore petroleum licensing was approved in its second reading on Monday evening, with 293 votes in favor and 211 against. There were no opposing votes from Conservative MPs, and Sharma, who previously held a prominent role in the Cop26 climate talks, chose to abstain. The new legislation would require the North Sea Transition Authority to conduct yearly reviews for potential new offshore oil and gas licenses.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, composed of numerous scientists, the world must refrain from issuing any new oil and gas licenses in order to keep global warming at or below 1.5C compared to pre-industrial levels. Exceeding this threshold would result in catastrophic consequences and negatively affect the livelihoods of millions. During last year’s Cop28 conference in Dubai, UK officials pledged to gradually reduce the use of oil and gas.
Speaking about UK minister Graham Stuart, who attended the conference, Sharma stated: “My esteemed colleague tweeted during Cop28 that it is imperative to completely phase out fossil fuels in order to achieve our climate objectives. However, we are now faced with a bill in this house that solely aims to increase oil and gas production licenses. I am disappointed to say that I do not believe this bill aligns with our commitment to move away from fossil fuels.”
He stated that the proposed legislation would not decrease energy costs or generate employment opportunities, despite the assertions of Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho. Sharma clarified, “The purpose of this bill is to enhance domestic energy security. However, it is important to recognize that the North Sea’s oil and gas resources are owned by private companies and the government has no control over who they are sold to. As a result, it may not directly result in lower energy bills. In addition, we must acknowledge that despite the issuance of hundreds of new drilling licenses, the oil and gas industry has still experienced a loss of 200,000 jobs in the past decade.”
He stated that expertise in the oil and gas sector could easily be applied to green energy and suggested that the government should prioritize increasing wind power, solar energy, and nuclear energy.
Ed Miliband noted that numerous members of the Conservative party, including former net zero advisor Chris Skidmore (who resigned as an MP in protest of the government’s plans), former prime minister Theresa May, and Alok Sharma, have all expressed criticism of the bill.
The opposition’s shadow energy secretary described the bill as “environmental sabotage”, stating in Parliament: “We have significant obstacles ahead as a nation, but what is clear today is not the magnitude of our issues, but rather the inadequacy of their proposed solution.” He criticized the bill as “laughable” and argued that it would have no impact on Britain’s energy reliability.
According to Coutinho, the legislation will enhance energy stability in both the UK and Europe. She acknowledges that we cannot rely on oil and gas indefinitely in our current global climate. She also notes that the UK is fortunate to have access to the North Sea and its reserves of fossil fuels.
Several Conservative Members of Parliament raised worries about the legislation. Vicky Ford, the MP for Chelmsford, stated: “There is a growing perception around the world that by issuing these licenses, the UK may be reneging on our commitments to combat climate change.”
Although the Conservative Environment Network member, Jerome Mayhew, and she are planning to vote for the bill, they have also expressed their intention to vote for amendments in the future. These amendments would require the UK oil and gas industry to adhere to lower carbon practices.
There was speculation that Theresa May would defy the party line as she reportedly did not support the bill, despite being the prime minister who passed the net zero law. However, her absence from the Commons led to her decision to abstain.
Skidmore implored his fellow lawmakers to oppose the proposed legislation. In his resignation letter, he emphasized that history will not look kindly upon any member of Parliament who supports the use of new fossil fuels. He also argued that the bill lacks economic justification, will not enhance energy security, and goes against the UK’s global obligations to combat climate change.
Ami McCarthy, political campaigner for Greenpeace UK, expressed disappointment in the outcome of the vote, stating that while the government may have won, the true losers are the planet and its inhabitants. She also criticized the bill for its lack of benefits for anyone except the oil and gas industry and its shareholders.
Alasdair Johnstone, a member of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, stated that the North Sea is facing a decline that is beyond repair. This diversion only takes away from finding real solutions to ensure the UK’s energy independence. The key lies in decreasing our reliance on gas. This can be achieved by expanding renewable energy sources and improving insulation in cold and damp homes, areas where the government’s actions have been uncertain.