Will Labour be brave enough to reject oil licences in the pipeline - Dr Richard Dixon

The answer to ‘is extracting this proposed new amount of fossil fuel ok for the climate?’ is always no

The news that the UK government proposes to accept annual applications for new oil and gas projects rather than on the current multi-year cycle, shows the power of the oil industry.

The Labour Party, expecting to be the next government, has said that they will grant no new oil and gas licenses, but that they will honour any that are granted before they come to power. This is because they don’t want to be sued by companies which have a government license. Although better than the Conservatives’ ‘drill ever last drop’ strategy, this half-hearted policy basically says we would like to stop climate change but not if we’re going to end up in the courts.A total of 27 new licenses were granted this month and there are nearly 100 more already in the licensing system that might be granted before the UK general election. The industry’s successful lobbying for annual applications means they can push through even more climate-wrecking schemes before the election, which will be in January 2025 at the latest.The Conservatives of course say that any new licence will be tested against whether producing the new oil and gas would be compatible with the UK’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. The SNP also refer to this climate compatibility test when challenged on North Sea oil. But this test is a fiction. With climate change accelerating, global emissions continuing to rise and 2023 heading to be the warmest year ever, the answer to the question ‘is extracting this proposed new amount of fossil fuel ok for the climate?’ is obviously no every time.This raises a tricky question of where Labour will draw the line. Clearly a license like that recently given to the massive Rosebank development falls under their definition of licenses already granted. However when a company has applied for a new license they have clearly spent money working out the details, so Labour could again be afraid of being sued to recover these costs. The current round of applications has taken more than a year to result in new licences, so the new annual applications system means that a new Labour government could find that there are dozens of applications in the pipeline. Will they be brave enough to reject all of these?Meanwhile a group of 50 cross-party MPs and peers has written to Rishi Sunak urging him to lobby other countries to phase out fossil fuels in the run up to the COP28 climate talks in Dubai, which starts at the end of this month. Current international agreements talk about a ‘phase down’ of coal, ignoring oil and gas. Sadly, there is little prospect of a strong commitment about a phase out from the Dubai meeting and the UK has fatally damaged its credibility by being so gung ho for fossil fuels at home.The UK’s enthusiasm for oil and its recent backsliding on climate policies has not gone unnoticed. The UN Secretary-General himself has said that he will be seeking assurances that the UK is still serious about tackling climate change.Here and globally the oil industry must be laughing into their champagne as countries like the UK continue to do their bidding and the UN climate process is tied in knots.Dr Richard Dixon is an environmental campaigner and consultant



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