The head of the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) has expressed criticism towards Jeremy Hunt for his claims that the government can still achieve its climate goals while permitting companies to extract additional oil and gas from the North Sea.
On Sunday, Piers Forster, the current head of the CCC, openly questioned the chancellor’s actions after Jeremy Hunt relied on the committee’s forecasts to support his government’s bill for oil and gas licensing. The bill will be voted on by MPs on Monday, and it is expected that a number of Conservative members will join forces with Labour to oppose it.
On Saturday, Hunt stated on BBC’s Today program that the independent climate change panel in our country has made it clear that even when we achieve net zero emissions by 2050, a considerable amount of our energy will still come from fossil fuels. Additionally, domestic oil and gas is four times less polluting than imported sources.
Forster responded to Hunt’s comments on Sunday, tweeting: “Our earlier advice is still current. UK oil and gas consumption needs to fall by over 80% to meet UK targets. This and Cop decision makes further licensing inconsistent with climate goals.” Forster was referencing the Cop28 climate conference decision to transition away from fossil fuels, to which the UK has signed up.
According to Hunt, the claim that UK gas is four times cleaner than imported gas is not from an unbiased source, as the independent body is not the source. The oil and gas industry is the source of this figure, which has been challenged because it does not include the emissions from burning gas, which make up the majority of its carbon footprint.
The CCC has recommended against searching for additional fossil fuels, stating: “Halting exploration in the UK would demonstrate to investors and consumers the UK’s dedication to achieving the 1.5C global temperature target.”
The recent dispute between Hunt and Forster, which has become public, follows the resignation of Chris Skidmore, a former Conservative minister, who stepped down as an MP due to concerns regarding oil and gas licensing.
In his resignation letter, Skidmore stated that he can no longer support a government that is dedicated to a harmful course of action. He believes that remaining silent and not taking action would only perpetuate an unsustainable status quo.
On Saturday, Hunt expressed his disappointment at the departure of his esteemed colleague Chris Skidmore. However, he strongly disagrees with the reasons Skidmore gave for resigning.
Some Conservative MPs have not been as tactful in expressing their disapproval of Skidmore. Damian Green, who previously served as the de facto deputy prime minister, stated that he was appalled by Skidmore’s decision and disappointed in him. He also mentioned that Skidmore’s seat was already going to be abolished and he was planning on stepping down, making a by-election unnecessary. Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, labeled the resignation as self-indulgent and disloyal.
However, Forster commended Skidmore for his efforts in promoting green energy, describing his recent assessment of net zero as “impressive, timely, and greatly needed.”
The government has faced previous allegations of misrepresentation by its independent climate advisory group. In the past year, researchers have spoken up against energy secretary Claire Coutinho’s incorrect statement that the CCC had advised for a quarter of the UK’s energy to be sourced from fossil fuels by 2050. The CCC has verified that it has never made this statement.
The CCC has requested that the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, refrain from misinterpreting their recommendations. Sunak made incorrect statements implying that the CCC had recommended a meat tax and car-sharing program be implemented by the government.
The Treasury has been reached out to for a statement.