A private member’s bill to keep fossil fuels in the ground – where they belong

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Last year Theresa May’s government declared a climate emergency and put into law the aim to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

But here’s the rub. The UK government’s current primary objective for offshore oil and gas is to enable as much as possible to be extracted. This is written into the Petroleum Act 1998.

To many people it is a matter of common sense that opening up new oil and gas fields – and building new fossil fuel infrastructure – is incompatible with acting to tackle the climate emergency and meeting the net-zero target by 2050. It is also incompatible with our commitments to the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The bald truth is that even if current developed reserves of fossil fuels are realised, we will easily pass the aspirant 1.5 degrees centigrade rise in temperature agreed in Paris; in fact we will hit the 2 degree rise in global temperatures that the IPCC have said will be catastrophic for the planet. To put things into perspective, currently global temperatures have risen to 1 degree centigrade (compared to 1880). According to NASA, the last five years are, collectively, the hottest on record.

Attitudes are changing. The World Bank announced in 2017 that it will phase out finance for oil and gas extraction. Mark Carney, when he leaves the BoE at the end of January, will take up a new role as UN envoy for Climate and Finance. He has already penned articles warning that divesting in fossil fuels by large institutions is happening too slowly and has warned that up to $20 trillion of “stranded assets” could be wiped out by climate change. There is growing acceptance that an economic transition is already underway, and we ignore it at our peril.

A number of governments including France, Costa Rica, New Zealand and Belize have implemented full or partial bans on new oil and gas licensing. Similar measures are currently under consideration in Spain and Ireland.

If this Conservative government truly believes that our planet is indeed facing a climate emergency then it must act to remove the contradictions in its domestic legislation and strengthen its framework to meet the challenges of catastrophic climate change. A good start would be to call a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure and support my private member’s bill.

The essential aim of this bill is to stop the development of new fossil fuel infrastructure – both petroleum (which includes oil and gas) and fracking; to put in place plans to safeguard jobs and livelihoods of communities as we start to phase out existing fossil fuel infrastructure; and to stop the export of new fossil fuel infrastructure to other countries.

To do this we need to rationalise existing legislation, which currently pulls government ministers in different, incompatible directions. The Petroleum Act 1998, as amended by the Infrastructure Act 2015, confers a duty to maximise revenues from petroleum whilst the Climate Change Act 2008  commits government to aim for a target of net-zero carbon by 2050. My Private Members Bill  seeks to eliminate this incoherence in government policy.

* Shas Sheehan is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

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  • “A number of governments including France, Costa Rica, New Zealand and Belize have implemented full or partial bans on new oil and gas licensing. Similar measures are currently under consideration in Spain and Ireland”

    I’m no expert in oil and gas production, but surely these countries hardly have any oil and gas reserves. Have France stopped Total (a French super size oil and gas company) from developing new fields? It’s very easy to commit to policies that don’t cost you anything – the UK has a lot to lose!

  • Paul Barker 30th Jan '20 - 6:34pm

    The point, malc, is that we have far more to lose by not getting out of Fossil Fuels as quickly as we can. Its not just the obvious losses from Climate Change & rising Sea Levels, Business is already starting to shift & we know what happens to Businesses or Nations with outdated practises.

  • This well meaning initiative confuses the problems of demand and supply for fossil fuels. If global demand for oil and gas continues to rise then someone will meet that demand, Russia, Columbia, Vietnam etc, etc. We will have made a fine gesture but the net effect will be diddly squat.
    If, however, we reduce demand for fossil fuels then the price will fall, marginal projects and old fields will become unprofitable and the oil will indeed stay in the ground.

  • Re: “The point, malc, is that we have far more to lose by not getting out of Fossil Fuels as quickly as we can.”
    Yes, the UK needs to get moving or it will miss the opportunity to be a leader. Due to the stupidity and shortsightedness of successive governments the UK has procrastinate for decades on investing in alternatives with the aim of reducing our society’s and economy’s dependence on products and fuels derived from oil, coal and natural gas. With the result the UK has to import wind turbine blades, generators, solar panels etc. and nuclear reactors, instead of exporting…

    If the government has any sense (which I doubt) it would invest the £100+ Bn it is highly likely to commit to HS2 (and potentially assure the funding of the Conservative party for several decades from its construction industry sponsors), to building the UKs oil alternative sector encouraging others to invest and locate here. Instead expect more daftness and a sudden panic when the body politic wakes up and realises the nation is dependent on suppliers from nations with questionable track records…

  • Just in case anyone has forgotten:

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