On the first day of the new parliamentary session, over a hundred scientists and campaigners gathered in Parliament Square to greet MPs, as they arrived at parliament, to tell them that ‘the oil party is over’.
Multiple groups and veteran campaigners such as Chris Packham and Scientists for XR called upon politicians to stop oil and gas exploration, shocked by the granting of over 100 new licences, before the summer recess of parliament.
Scientists engaged with arriving MPs bearing ‘myth busting’ placards, addressing the realities on energy security, expense and carbon cost. Claire Coutinho, in her recent appointment as secretary of state for energy security and net zero, was also invited by Packham and the scientists to come and speak to them about the UK’s climate commitments.
“Scientists have been warning us for years about the accelerating climate crisis and now, of course, it’s come home to roost. We see it on the news. We see heatwaves, fires, floods drought. But are our elected representatives listening?
“On Sep 4th, Parliament returns from recess and scientists will be there en-masse to greet them with a clear message, that the science is clear, we don’t need any more oil and gas coming out of the ground. The Oil Party is over.”
‘The science is clear’
Dr Abi Perrin, researcher in photosynthetic microbes and environmental sustainability fellow at the University of York posted:
“On Monday 4th September, I’ll be joining scientists from across the country outside Parliament, because we need our elected representatives to understand and act on the science. And the science is clear. New oil and gas exacerbates the threat to every person and to countless species on Earth.”
Of course, the UK’s own ‘Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener’ in some ways embarrasses the current government with its clear declarations of the necessity to transition away from fossil fuels and ironically echoes the same words of Dr Perrin and Packham.
“But the good news is that there is, still, a path to avoid catastrophic climate change. The science could not be clearer: by the middle of this century the world has to reduce emissions to as close to zero as possible.
“Removing dirty fossil fuels will require the transformation of every sector of the global economy. It means no longer burning fossil fuels for power or heating.”
A new Friends of the Earth map published today shows there are already nearly 100 onshore fossil fuel developments in England and Wales, with more in the pipeline. Commenting on today’s rally, Friends of the Earth campaigner Danny Gross, said:
“Ministers must urgently act on the scientific warnings on the mounting climate crisis. The government’s climate action plan is not only inadequate; we believe it is unlawful too – which is why we are challenging it in the High Court. If the world is to face down the climate emergency, we must stop giving the go-ahead to new oil, gas and coal extraction – both offshore and onshore.
“We must end our reliance on increasingly costly gas, oil and coal. Prioritising energy efficiency and homegrown renewables would slash emissions, boost energy security, bring down bills and create thousands of new jobs.”
Pushing ahead with new fossil fuel extraction is a form of insanity
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (Green Party member Jenny Jones) told Yorkshire Bylines:
“Here in the UK, we aren’t feeling the full impact of our #ClimateCrisis yet, but we will very soon, and we won’t be prepared. Sadly, our government chooses to listen to developers and big business, not to the climate scientists who could explain very clearly what policies are necessary and very urgent.”
Professor Bill McGuire, author of Hothouse Earth and emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, told Yorkshire Bylines that:
“I have often felt that MPs – most of whom don’t have a science background – simply do not appreciate the critical nature of the climate emergency, nor just how it will impact on every aspect of our – and their – lives in the decades ahead. Opportunities to ‘educate’ them tend to be very few and far between, so tomorrow’s event – which will bring scientists and MPs together – is absolutely crucial.
“They must be made to understand why the decision to push ahead with new fossil fuel exploration is a form of insanity that cannot be allowed to happen if we wish to have any chance of keeping climate breakdown this side of cataclysmic.”
The government is ignoring climate commitments
There is renewed climate litigation against the UK government by groups such as the Good Law Project, Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth to ensure that the government tackles the climate crisis. The Good Law Project is arguing that the Climate Change Act 2008 requires the secretary of state to publish sufficient information to allow meaningful scrutiny of the government’s net zero policies, whereas ClientEarth argue that the revised carbon delivery budget plan from March 2023 breaches the Climate Change Act.
ClientEarth CEO, Laura Clarke, said:
“The government’s new plan to reduce emissions is not fit for purpose. It relies heavily on unproven and high-risk technological fixes at the expense of near-term action – yet the government ‘assumes’ that it will be delivered in full, despite these stark risks.
“People in the UK, and globally, need to see the UK take urgent, decisive climate action. But instead, we see hesitation and delay from the government and are almost certain to miss emission reduction targets.”
The UK’s independent climate change committee published a progress report in June 2023, where it was also critical of the missed opportunities and progress so far by the UK government. Their report stated that:
“However, despite over 3,000 pages of new detail, the Climate Change Committee’s confidence in the UK meeting its goals from 2030 onwards is now markedly less than it was in our previous assessment a year ago. A key opportunity to push a faster pace of progress has been missed.”
The Climate Change Act (2008) itself is remarkably clear on the necessary climate targets:
“(1)It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least [100%] lower than the 1990 baseline. ‘The 1990 baseline’ means the aggregate amount of net UK emissions of carbon dioxide for that year.”
The UK government is also at risk of not meeting its international climate commitments under the Paris agreement, where every country agreed to have a nationally determined contribution in order to reduce emissions. As of 2022, the UK government set a target of 68% by 2030.
“In its NDC, the UK commits to reducing economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.”
Therefore, we have the UK government now coming under pressure from UK scientists to make it accountable to: the international Paris agreement; its own legislation; its own net zero plans; and its own independent bodies set up by the government itself to ensure progress.
Public petitions are brushed aside
The government also responded to the public petition to stop new oil and gas extraction by releasing a statement from the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero, by highlighting the usage of carbon capture – a technology that hasn’t been shown to be scalable and which has often been viewed as effective permission to continue polluting. Their response read:
“The UK decarbonised more than any other G7 country between 1990 and 2021, but oil and gas are essential resources that still supply around three quarters of the UK’s overall energy use today.
“Even in 2050, when we have reached net zero, it is estimated that the UK may still be using a quarter of the gas we do now. While any remaining fossil fuel combustion will be fully abated by technologies like Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage, we will still need sources of oil and gas.
“The UK is fully committed to our climate commitments and has one of the most ambitious 2030 targets in the world, as well as being the first major economy to legislate for net zero. As we rapidly transition our own energy systems, we are supporting emerging economies to do the same and advocating the phase-out of coal power and an end to unabated fossil fuel use.”
Disinterest by regional elected representatives
All 54 Yorkshire MPs were contacted by Yorkshire Bylines, but only a desultory 5 responses in total were received by the time of publication, with two of those being generic automated responses. This response rate of 10% shouldn’t perhaps be surprising, as it also approximately matches the same percentage of MPs who signed up for an emergency climate briefing last year by the then chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.
It appears that this government is not listening to UK scientists, not listening to the public and constituents, not listening to international agreements, and not listening to its own laws. The question must be asked – in whose interests are they acting?