March 24, 2021


Romain Ioualalen, Senior Campaigner, Oil Change International,
Laurie van der Burg, Senior Campaigner, Oil Change International,

UK Undermine Its Own Claim to Climate Leadership By Failing to End Oil and Gas Licensing in the North Sea

LONDON, U.K. — Today, the United Kingdom announced a “North Sea deal to protect jobs in the green energy transition” that campaigners say fails to meet the UK’s responsibility to lead in a phase-out of domestic oil and gas extraction.

In a positive step, the announcement includes further details on the earlier announced commitment to end public finance for fossil fuels, which will apply immediately. Yet, on the domestic oil and gas production side, the government’s plan falls far short of the immediate end to new licensing called for by climate groups. It sets emission reduction targets for operational emissions, commitments for investments in replacing fossil fuel-based power supplies on oil and gas platforms with renewable energy, and investments in carbon capture usage and storage and hydrogen production. The announcement also introduces a “climate compatibility checkpoint” before each future oil and gas licensing round.

Romain Ioualalen, Senior Campaigner at Oil Change International, said:

“The UK government wasted an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to climate leadership. Ending overseas finance for fossil fuels is a groundbreaking step, but the UK just scored an own goal by deciding to delay action on its domestic oil and gas production.

“Making future licensing rounds conditional on vaguely defined Climate Compatibility Checkpoints is a subterfuge aimed at concealing a simple fact: handing out new licenses for oil and gas is not compatible with limiting warming to 1.5°C. Wealthy oil and gas producing countries such as the UK have a responsibility to lead in phasing out extraction, a reality that the government ignored today. Other countries such as Denmark, New Zealand, and France have already ended oil and gas licensing rounds, and the UK is now a laggard in this respect.

“The government’s objective to decarbonize oil and gas production is misguided: powering oil rigs with renewable energy doesn’t make the oil clean. The vast majority of emissions associated with North Sea oil and gas come from burning the fossil fuels, not extracting them. In 2019, emissions from the extraction process amounted to just around 5 percent of the total emissions caused by burning UK-produced oil and gas.[1]

“Supporting the workers of the oil and gas sector through the transition is an essential goal, but the decision to invest in CCS and fossil-based hydrogen is a dangerous distraction that prolongs the lifetime of fossil fuels assets when we need to rapidly phase them out.”

Laurie van der Burg, Senior Campaigner at Oil Change International, said:

“The government’s immediate end to public finance for fossil fuel projects overseas is a true world first, but it is clearly hypocritical to continue issuing new licenses for domestic oil and gas production. The climate crisis demands a clearcut ban on new licenses, which is also needed for the UK to be credible in its efforts to push other countries to follow in ending their public finance for fossil fuels overseas. That is the kind of leadership the world needs from the UK to make 2021 the year in which the public finance balance tips from fossils to renewable energy.

“The G20 countries still provide nearly three times as much public finance for fossil fuels as for clean energy every year, actively hampering the energy transition. If the UK steps up its game domestically, as this year’s G7 president and COP26 host, it would be uniquely positioned to ensure other governments follow suit.”



For more on the climate and equity imperatives to end UK licensing of oil and gas, see the report: Sea Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction, Oil Change International, Platform, and Friends of the Earth Scotland, May 2019.

  1. Data from oil and gas consultancy Rystad Energy indicates that UK oil and gas extraction caused 13.1 Mt of CO2 pollution in 2019. By contrast, OCI estimates that burning the oil and gas produced in the UK in 2019 caused approximately 240 Mt of CO2 pollution. This is based on Rystad Energy UCube data showing the UK produced 402 million barrels of oil and 1.2 trillion cubic feet of gas in 2019, and applying global average emissions factors for combustion to those quantities, based on IPCC guidelines.