Cop26: UK snubs pact to end oil and gas as small group of nations forge path away from fossil fuels

Campaigners say Boris Johnson ‘will lose what’s left of his climate credibility’ if he fails to rule out new oil and gas projects

Daisy Dunne
Climate Correspondent
Thursday 11 November 2021 12:45
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Cop26 host the UK has declined to join an international alliance aiming to end new oil and gas projects, leaving a small group of other countries led by Costa Rica and Denmark to forge a path away from fossil fuels.

France, Greenland, Ireland and Sweden were among around a dozen nations and regions to join the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance at the Cop26 summit on Thursday.

Announcing the pact to a crowded press room, Danish climate minister Dan Jorgensen said: “We hope today will mark the beginning of the end of oil and gas.

“When I talk to scientists, citizens and activists, they all want one thing more than anything else: bold and tangible action. Not talk, action. That is what the alliance is here to deliver.”

Costa Rica’s minister of environment Andrea Meza said tackling the climate crisis required a “decisive phase out of oil and gas production”.

“We invite other national and subnational governments to join Boga and align their oil and gas production with the goals of the Paris Agreement,” she said.

The world’s largest oil producers, the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Canada and China, have not joined the alliance.

Though the UK is not a signee to the pact, Wales has joined and the alliance is currently “in talks” with Scotland, Mr Jorgensen announced on Thursday.

He refused to comment on the UK’s decision to not join the alliance, but told reporters: “How can you defend wanting to be carbon neutral in 2050, as some countries do, but still wanting to produce oil and gas and selling it others? That, in our view, does not add up.”

At the sidelines of the launch of the alliance, the Welsh government’s deputy minister for climate change Lee Waters told The Independent: “It’s all very well talking about what you’re going to do in 2050, what matters is what you’re going to do now.

“It’s action not words that matter on climate change and we know that the sooner you make the change the greater the impact those emissions savings have.”

The Independent’s Stop Fuelling the Climate Crisis campaign has been shining a light on fossil fuel production in the UK in the year that the country hosts Cop26.

An influential report from the world’s energy watchdog released in May said there can be no further fossil fuel expansion anywhere if global climate targets are to be met.

And accelerating the phase-out of fossil fuels is likely to feature in the final agreement from the Glasgow summit, which is scheduled to be finalised on Friday evening.

Despite this, the UK has refused to rule out the possibility of new oil and gas licences in the North Sea, instead creating a “climate compatibility checkpoint” that it claims will ensure any new fossil fuel production will be in line with its efforts to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

This claim has been disputed by scientists and environmentalists.

“UK prime minister Boris Johnson will lose what’s left of his climate credibility if he fails to rule out new oil and gas and presses ahead with proposals for a new oil field at Cambo, after he’s told other countries to ‘pull out all the stops’ at Cop26,” said Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK.

“For this initiative to be effective, many more countries need to join and make firm commitments in their national policies to rule out all new fossil fuel projects and permits immediately.”

“It is disappointing that the UK government has not signed up to this welcome initiative,” said Lyndsay Walsh, Oxfam’s climate policy adviser.

“The UK may have led the way on committing to net zero emissions, but it must now address the epic contradiction of continuing to grant oil and gas licences in the North Sea.”

Ahead of the conference, The Independent obtained a letter to Mr Johnson from 70 climate scientists urging him to commit to ending new oil and gas investment in the UK.

“Boris Johnson could lead the world toward a bright future if he would announce such a plan or firm intentions to construct such a plan,” Dr James Hansen, a former Nasa scientist known for his role in raising the alarm on the climate crisis, told The Independent in October.

“Without such, Cop26 will be just like the prior Cops, a bulls**t session where leaders promise to pursue goals for some period in the distant future.”

Fred Njehu, Greenpeace Africa’s senior policy advisor, said the new initiative announced on Thursday brought welcome attention to the need to move away from oil and gas production.

“For too long oil and gas has got away with being ignored as the world focuses on getting rid of coal. But the time for them hiding behind their dirty big brother is over,” he said.

“Burning oil and gas is driving the climate crisis and it’s right that these countries are finally shining the light on them.”

A UK government spokesperson claimed that “no other significant oil and gas producing nation has gone as far as the UK in supporting sector’s gradual transition to a low carbon future”.

“While the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels continues to fall, there will continue to be ongoing but diminishing need for oil and gas over the coming years while we ramp up renewable energy capacity, as recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee,” the spokesperson said.

“The UK will continue to work with international partners on supporting the transition away from fossil fuels towards clean energy so we can create jobs, build new industries and drive economic growth.”

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