UK urged to follow Denmark in ending North Sea oil and gas exploration

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Britain must end all oil and gas extraction in the North Sea as a matter of urgency if it is to maintain its position as a credible climate champion. That was the stark warning issued by green campaigners yesterday in the wake of last week’s decision by Denmark to halt its exploration for new North Sea reserves as part of its commitment to cut carbon emissions and tackle climate change.

The Danish decision is an embarrassment for Boris Johnson who announced last week that Britain would take a lead in the battle against global heating by cutting national carbon emissions by 68% by 2030, a rate faster than any other major economy.

However, the UK has not announced plans to end exploration in the North Sea for new gas and oil fields or to halt extraction there – despite the established link between global warming and fossil fuel extraction and burning.

By announcing its North Sea ban last week, say campaigners, Denmark has undermined Johnson’s attempt to portray himself as a world climate leader next Saturday when he is scheduled to co-host a virtual Climate Ambition summit of world leaders.

“If the UK is to be a real global climate leader, it must follow Denmark’s lead by stopping issuing new oil and gas exploration licences and delivering a managed phase-out of oil and gas extraction,” said Ken Penton, UK climate campaigner for the international NGO, Global Witness. “This must include funding a just transition for oil and gas workers and their communities to ensure they can benefit from the new green economy and do not suffer the fate of UK coal miners and their communities.”

The Danish government voted on Thursday to cancel the country’s next North Sea oil and gas licensing round, 80 years after it first began exploiting its hydrocarbon reserves. Denmark’s 55 existing platforms, spread across 20 oil and gas fields, will be allowed to continue extracting fossil fuels but the decision to end the hunt for new reserves will guarantee an end to Denmark’s fossil fuel production.

Helene Hagel from Greenpeace Denmark said the parliamentary vote would allow the country to “assert itself as a global frontrunner and inspire other countries to end our dependence on climate-wrecking fossil fuels”.

In contrast to the Danish decisions, Johnson concentrated his attention last week on issuing new targets for emissions following advice, issued by the UK’s climate change committee, that the costs of cutting them had fallen rapidly in the past few years. This would make it easier to change the UK’s target of reducing emissions by 57%, compared with 1990 levels, to a more ambitious 68% by 2030.

Johnson said the new target should boost the UK’s chances of reaching its goal of being a net zero emitter of greenhouse gases by 2050. At the same time, he outlined commitments to phase out diesel and petrol cars, boost offshore wind farms and invest in hydrogen fuel technologies.

However, critics say the plan lacks detail while business leaders have warned that considerable investment will be needed to bring about these new emission goals.

“We are going to need innovations that will help us to develop ways to store energy and exploit hydrogen as a fuel,” said Alison Doig, of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.

“These innovations may take time to develop, however. That means we will have to act very quickly over other issues such as heating inefficiencies in housing and phasing out petrol and diesel cars. There is a real urgency about this issue and we should be clear about the need to move very quickly if we want to achieve our climate goals.”

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