We are facing multiple intertwined social and environmental crises.
The cost of living continues to rise due to spiralling gas prices and the highest rate of inflation we’ve seen in 30 years. Meanwhile, the IPCC’s latest report says it’s ‘now or never’ if we are to stave off climate disaster.
Issuing its final warning on Monday, scientists announced that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must peak by 2025 to give the world a chance of limiting future heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
These warnings are not new.
In May 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that there is no room for new oil & gas (O&G) fields in its pathway for the global energy sector to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.
The good news: taking rapid action to decarbonise our energy supply now would address the climate crisis, whilst also shielding consumers from soaring bills by providing cheaper energy.
The bad news: the UK Government’s new British Energy Security Strategy (BESS) misses this opportunity for a win-win.
Instead, it gambles on our future with slow, expensive, and environmentally destructive solutions.
The strategy’s focus on nuclear and oil & gas sends the wrong signals
The BESS, announced on Thursday, includes vast increases in nuclear power and new O&G fields, showing concerning disregard for 1.5C climate pathways and the current cost of living crisis.
New modular nuclear reactors and O&G fields approved today won’t be producing energy for at least ten years.
This means more GHG emissions from 2032 – 7 years after global emissions must peak – and no help for consumers struggling to pay their bills today.
Once new O&G fields are eventually running, these projects will also not provide energy security.
Seventy-five per cent of the resource in the 30 new North Sea fields up for approval in the next three years is oil rather than gas the UK relies on. Eighty per cent of UK oil is exported to global markets.
It is vital that the UK Government makes a commitment to no new O&G to adhere to scientists’ warnings and send strong policy signals to banks, which continue to finance new O&G projects at an alarming rate, and other investors.
The emissions financed by the UK finance sector make it a bigger polluter than Germany or Canada. Between 2016 and 2021, HSBC and Barclays alone provided US$107.44 billion to 50 oil & gas expanders.
Investing in renewables and energy efficiency would be a smarter bet
We urge the Government to revisit its BESS to include bolder renewable energy targets and increased investment in home insulation – the fastest, cheapest and cleanest ways to decarbonise energy and stabilise prices.
There are 649 individual onshore wind and solar projects which already have planning permission. If built they would generate more energy than the total amount generated by all the Russian gas the UK currently imports annually.
Whilst the BESS includes ambitious offshore wind targets – which we welcome – its targets for solar power are less ambitious and for onshore wind they are non-existent (despite it being cheaper and faster to install than offshore wind).
But perhaps the most glaring omission from the BESS is home insulation.
Over the last month, there have been calls from experts for a new, far more ambitious energy-saving programme.
E3G analysis shows that 25 per cent of UK gas demand could be eliminated by 2030 and end UK dependence on Russian gas within a year with such a programme.
It could also help reduce the energy bills of poorly-insulated homes by £500 on average.
Bolder action is required to secure a safer, cleaner future
This BESS leaves our chances of securing a climate-safe planet and an affordable energy system hanging dangerously in the balance.
Even before plans to increase O&G production were made official, NGO ClientEarth announced that it is taking the Government to court over its inadequate net-zero plans.
The Government must revisit its BESS now before locking the UK into more high-carbon energy.
Failure to prioritise renewable energy sources and home insulation over fossil fuels presents a missed opportunity on two counts – to lead our highly-emitting finance sector by example and to tackle social and environmental crises head-on.