For weeks now, climate scientists and activists have looked increasingly aghast at the unrelenting heat and floods ravaging our baking earth.
The pace and scale of the daily climate disasters have alarmed them. And our daily climate breakdown shows no sign of stopping.
As I write, this emergency continues. In Beijing, unknown numbers of people are dead, with dozens more missing after four days of relentless rain. Another strong storm, Typhoon Khanun is on its way to the region, due to hit Japan in just hours.
The devastation is not confined to land. Currently, about 44 percent of the global ocean is in a heat wave, with catastrophic consequences for marine life and coral. The sea temperature in Florida has even reached hot tub levels.
Day after day, the climate is now making the news. As the headline in the Washington Post notes, “It’s not just hot. Climate anomalies are emerging around the globe.”
With July set to be the warmest on record, last week, Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, said “the era of global boiling has arrived.” Guterres added: “Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning. It is still possible to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C, and avoid the very worst of climate change. But only with dramatic, immediate climate action.”
The dramatic climate breakdown last few weeks should have been enough evidence for any politician to pause and reflect. And decide now really is the time for radical action to stop burning fossil fuels.
But not so the UK Government.
In October last year, the UK launched its latest licensing round for the exploration of North Sea oil and gas, with some 900 blocks available.
Instead of revoking those licenses in the light of the alarming evidence of our climate emergency, yesterday the Conservative Government re-affirmed the licensing round. It doubled down on fossil fuels, with Prime Minister Rish Sunak, pledging to “max out” on the UK’s reserves by offering over a hundred new licenses.
His Business Secretary tweeted:
Today we are saying no to @JustStop_Oil and their political wing the Labour Party
We will power ahead with new oil and gas because it’s in the best interests of the British people, of our economy and of our national security pic.twitter.com/KO8zujUkdM
— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) July 31, 2023
The announcement was, in part, political theatre meant to signal that the Conservative government take issue with the opposition Labour Government, which has pledged to stop new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea.
The Tory Government also tried to also spin the news that somehow this was great for UK national energy security, despite the fact that any oil and gas is traded on the global market, as commentators were quick to point out. Tessa Khan from Uplift explains it well in this thread:
This is not news. The oil & gas regulator, the NSTA, launched a new licensing round in October last year. Today's headlines are about that licensing round, which will result in awards being made to companies in the next couple of months:https://t.co/hD9sqMnwae
— Tessa Khan (@tessakhan) July 31, 2023
The Conservative government’s announcement was also widely condemned, even from within the Tory party.
One former Conservative Minister, who used to be the Government’s “Net Zero Tsar “reacted that it was the “wrong side of history” and “the wrong decision at precisely the wrong time.” He added it was on the wrong side of a future economy that will be founded on renewable and clean industries and not fossil fuels.”
Other political commentators were equally scathing:
The vast majority of new oil & gas will be exported abroad & sold at global prices. It won't improve our energy security, and it won't make our energy bills cheaper either. What it will do is wreck our climate – and Rishi Sunak is complicit in its damage. Spot on @ZackPolanski ? https://t.co/vywSxNZ0Jb
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) July 31, 2023
Hundreds of new oil and gas licenses as the climate breaks down
This rump of a government is shovelling money to its cronies in its final months
How can Sunak look his daughters in the face as he destroys their future?
— Green??Molly (@GreenPartyMolly) July 31, 2023
Michael Bloss, a Green MEP from Germany, told the Guardian newspaper that the UK had lost all credibility on climate. “The UK has lost its leadership on this issue. The International Energy Agency said in 2021 that there must not be new fossil fuel exploration in order to try and keep [the goal of limiting heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels] alive.”
So too, were leading scientists and academics:
Sir David King, a former government chief scientific adviser and founder and chair of the climate crisis advisory group, said that the current heat and fires covering the Northern Hemisphere right now “means oil, gas and coal must be phased out quickly. And that means this will be another stranded asset.”
King added: “The public will surely see this as a desperate act of electioneering, putting our future at severe risk. Britain can no longer claim to be leading on the climate crisis and that is shameful.”
Others took to Twitter:
The Tories are the political wing of Big Oil. They don't give a toss about the best interests of the British people. This must not stand. https://t.co/jAWDwm9WQx
— Colin Davis (@ProfColinDavis) July 31, 2023
This Tory government's aim to "max out" on North Sea fossil fuels up until 2050 is the most duplicitous and cynical abuse of power, and a devastating lack of vision and leadership. Can't wait to see them gone. https://t.co/YLQlZQRBkM
— Kate Raworth (@KateRaworth) July 31, 2023
.@RishiSunak By these weasel words you prove yourself to be a liar and a contributor to murder.
As the world collapses around us, we will not forget this.https://t.co/Z6zIFVxKAS
— Bill McGuire (@ProfBillMcGuire) July 31, 2023
As well as other leading green commentators and groups:
Please screen-grab this tweet and keep it handy when food prices soar , water-wars break out , your house burns down , your business is washed away , polar bears are extinct or in a few years time when a desperate and angry young person asks you who was responsible for killing… https://t.co/BlD9BBi8dG
— Chris Packham (@ChrisGPackham) July 31, 2023
Retarded policy makers in the UK see the global heatwave unfolding, shrug it off, take a jab at protesters and stuff their pockets with oil and coal money. https://t.co/oP1ArnKrP7 pic.twitter.com/ID7GlSMJ1B
— Leon Simons (@LeonSimons8) July 31, 2023
Oxfam’s climate policy adviser, Lyndsay Walsh, said: “Extracting more fossil fuels from the North Sea will send a wrecking ball through the UK’s climate commitments at a time when we should be investing in a just transition to a low-carbon economy and our own abundant renewables.”
Mike Childs, from Friends of the Earth, added: “Climate change is already battering the planet with unprecedented wildfires and heatwaves across the globe. Granting hundreds of new oil and gas licences will simply pour more fuel on the flames while doing nothing for energy security as these fossil fuels will be sold on international markets and not reserved for UK use.”
Apart from doubling down on North Sea oil and gas expansion, Sunak yesterday also announced increased Government support for the controversial technology of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). Despite decades of investment, tthe evidence points to CCS being a flawed and expensive technology that will not solve the climate crisis.
Two distinguished British academics, Kevin Anderson, a professor of energy and climate change at the Universities of Manchester, Uppsala (Sweden) and Bergen (Norway) and Dan Calverley, are equally scathing.
Writing on the Climate Uncensored website, they argue that CCS is “not proven at scale, nor has been shown to be economically viable; that the proposed capture of CO2 is dwarfed by the CO2 emissions from the proposed new oil and gas fields.”
They concluded: “A few million pounds spent on CCS and a fanfare announcement do not substitute for the portfolio of policies so urgently required of our leaders if we are to play our fair part in delivering on the Paris 1.5 and 2°C commitments.”
Another leading British academic, James Dyke, an Associate Professor in Earth System Science at Exeter University was interviewed recently by OCI for its report on methane certification.
Writing in the Independent newspaper, Dyke says that CCS “isn’t just a disaster for the environment, its entirely unworkable.”
Dyke writes: “You can understand carbon capture and storage as running the fossil fuel industry in reverse.” Rather than extracting carbon, companies “will capture carbon dioxide from industrial processes or even directly from the atmosphere, then pipe it down into empty oil and gas deposits.”
The “good news,” wrote Dyke, is that this “avoids all the issues with trees and land use that besets traditional offsetting. The bad news is it doesn’t work.”
As to reiterate the point that CCS simply does not work, one leading clean tech website, Renew Economy, highlighted in June that there were “problems” at two long-running Norwegian CCS, meaning. The two projects are called Sleipner, and Snøhvit. Although both are held up as the success stories of CCS, a new report has found that Sleipner has “struggled with carbon dioxide unexpectedly migrating upwards,” while “Snøhvit saw storage capacity cut from an estimated 18 years to less than two once the operation was underway.”
The research “not only indicates the level of regulatory oversight governments need to have over CCS storage sites, but casts doubt on whether the world has the technical prowess, regulatory strength, or the multi-decade commitment of capital and resources required to safely sequester carbon dioxide for the long term.”
It is not long since Britain had the presidency of the climate conference, the COP. Then the world looked at Britain for climate leadership. Now, the world is watching British climate failure.
It is watching Britain locking in decades of carbon extraction at the same time as spending billions on a failed technology, like CCS. The price of this expensive failure will not only be picked up by British taxpayers, but by all of us.