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Latest 08 May 2024

As government climate plan ruled unlawful, Tories hand out fossil fuel bonanza

Ingvar Tjostheim / Shutterstock

Firms are set to cash in on a tranche of licences to look for oil and gas in the North Sea, handed out on the same day the High Court ruled ministers’ plan to reach net zero is inadequate.

On Friday, the High Court told the government to rewrite its failing plan to reach net zero. And what did the Tories do? That same day, the net zero department’s North Sea Transition Authority handed out 31 exploration and drilling licences to oil and gas companies.

Some of these schemes will encroach on sites already earmarked for offshore wind power. And Perenco UK landed new licences just days after the company was slapped with a record £225,000 fine from the North Sea Transition Authority for venting 59 tonnes of gas from one of its gas processing plants without prior approval.

This fossil fuel bonanza has been branded “deeply irresponsible and divisive” by the government’s former net zero champion, Chris Skidmore.

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“Instead of wind powering new oil, the investment should instead be in more wind and renewables,” Skidmore told the Guardian. “More fossil fuels will only create stranded assets and stranded jobs at a time when demand for oil and gas is falling.”

Our joint challenge with Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth saw the government’s net zero strategy – the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan – ruled unlawful yet again. For the second time in two years, the High Court has ordered ministers to come up with a revised plan that’s fit for purpose. But the Tories are doubling down on their policy to “max out” fossil fuel reserves.

The North Sea Transition Authority insisted that licences are offered to firms meeting “stringent criteria” including technical competence, corporate governance, licensee fitness, financial viability and environmental assessments from the government’s Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning.

“Every company that has been offered a licence meets these criteria,” the authority said.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and Perenco UK were approached for comment.

The Tories have been recklessly handing out fossil fuel concessions for too long. It’s time for the government to listen to the courts and tackle the climate emergency with the urgency it demands.