It was just a simple question.
It went largely unnoticed in April, when Chancellor Rishi Sunak wrote a letter to the Bank of England saying they should “have regard to the Government’s new energy security strategy and the important role that the financial system will play in supporting the UK’s energy security – including through investment in transitional hydrocarbons like gas”.
The Chancellor also trotted out oil-industry PR spin that fossil fuel investment would help the government’s goal of getting to net zero in 2050.
It’s like a drug dealer telling a heroin addict their help in funding another heroin lab would help them go clean in 30-years time!
But what struck was the chancellor’s choice of words: “transitional hydrocarbons like gas”. There are only three major hydrocarbons used in the UK: coal, oil and methane gas. The fossil fuel industry has long argued that gas should be regarded as a transitional fuel, to be burnt instead of coal and oil, as it has lower carbon emissions, as we build up our sources of renewable energy.
So, the Chancellor’s phrase begged the question: does he also regard oil and coal as “transitional hydrocarbons”? Because if he does, then the whole concept of transitional hydrocarbons becomes even more nonsensical than it already was. It would mean the government’s official position was to promote investment in all destructive fossil fuels as “transitional”.
So I posed a simple question to both the Treasury and the Bank of England: Do they consider oil and coal to be “transition hydrocarbons”?
The Treasury refused to answer not once but twice, simply referring me to the government’s energy security paper.
Similarly, the Bank of England refused to answer the question by saying: “We are not in a position to comment on matters which are for government to determine, such as the characteristics of the UK’s transition pathway to net zero or the tools to achieve it. This includes the definition of transitional hydrocarbons in the context of the government’s energy security strategy.”
This is a farce. Especially since the Chancellor wrote to the Bank of England in the previous year to change its remit to one that assists the government in getting to the 2050 net zero carbon target. This was seen as a major step forward, as the Bank of England’s role is crucial to making it harder for UK banks to pour billions into new fossil fuel investments. That money is needed instead for renewables, storage and energy efficiency if we are to have any remaining chance to avoid runaway climate breakdown.
Yet, the Treasury outrageously asserts that this year’s letter calling for promotion of fossil fuel investments did not cancel last year’s letter calling for actions to achieve net zero but rather “supplemented” it!
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Is it any wonder that more and more people, despairing at how the UK government sides with banks, oil companies and media outlets intent on the destruction of our future, are turning to civil disobedience?
A Just Stop Oil spokesperson told this column: “The letters from the Chancellor and Kwasi Kwarteng outlining the UK Government’s policy of backing new oil and gas will be used as evidence in their future court trials.”
They added: “To plan actions knowing they will result in the deaths of countless millions and loss of entire nations is a criminal act of staggering proportions. This has been pointed out to them by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who called new fossil fuel investments ‘moral and economic madness’.”
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