U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks at COP27

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks at the COP27 climate conference on November 7, 2022 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

(Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

'Gleefully Encouraging the Arsonists': UK Government Commits to More Fossil Fuel Drilling

"The U.K. government is blatantly in denial about climate breakdown."

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced Monday that his government will approve hundreds of new licenses for oil and gas drilling in the North Sea, drawing anger from climate advocates who say he's doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry amid a nightmarish wave of extreme weather.

Paying lip service to the nation's net-zero emissions target, the Tory leader also laid out plans for two new carbon capture and storage facilities in Northeast Scotland and the Humber, lining up behind an oil industry-backed approach to reining in pollution that critics say is a false solution to the global climate crisis.

"Burning oil and gas is driving extreme weather and killing people on every continent, yet Rishi Sunak is gleefully encouraging the arsonists to go and put more fuel on the fire," said Mary Church, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth Scotland. "By committing to future licensing rounds on the same day, it's clear to see that carbon capture is little more than a greenwashing tactic by Big Oil to try and keep their climate-wrecking industry in business."

Major fossil fuel giants such as Shell and BP have maintained oil and gas facilities in the North Sea for years. According to a recent analysis by Greenpeace, oil and gas licenses approved by the U.K. government over the past two years are set to generate as much carbon dioxide as Denmark emits annually—roughly the equivalent of 14 million cars.

"History will view this as an act of gross criminality. Our future sacrificed for the profits of a tiny elite."

Philip Evans of Greenpeace U.K. said Monday that Sunak's new announcements are "nothing but a cynical political ploy to sow division, and the climate is collateral damage."

"Just as wildfires and floods wreck homes and lives around the world, Rishi Sunak's government has decided to row back on key climate policies, attempted to toxify net zero, and recycled old myths about North Sea drilling," said Evans. "Relying on fossil fuels is terrible for our energy security, the cost of living, and the climate. Our sky-high bills and recent extreme weather have demonstrated that."

"Rishi Sunak knows that any oil and gas from the North Sea will just be sold on the international market, making oil companies even richer at the expense of the rest of us. How will this help our bills exactly?" Evans asked, countering the prime minister's claims that new drilling will enhance the U.K.'s "energy security."

"If Sunak were serious about boosting our energy security while keeping energy bills down," Evans continued, "he'd remove the absurd barriers holding back cheap, homegrown renewables and launch a nationwide insulation program to tackle energy waste in our homes."

Nick Dearden, director of the U.K.-based advocacy group Global Justice Now, wrote that "history will view this as an act of gross criminality. Our future sacrificed for the profits of a tiny elite."

"The talk of securing our independence couldn't be further from the truth," Dearden added. "This leaves us on the hook for £billions, even if the next govt rescinds these contracts, as they must, the fossil fuel elite will pocket a fortune at our expense."

In addition to the new drilling license commitments, the Financial Timesreported Sunday that the U.K. government has "made it cheaper for industry to pollute in Britain compared with the E.U. by watering down reforms to the carbon market."

"The U.K. government is blatantly in denial about climate breakdown," said Church.

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