The UK’s Secretary for Energy Security and Net Zero has insisted that the country will still meet its net-zero targets, despite this week’s announcement that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will approve “at least 100” North Sea oil and gas licences. 

Grant Shapps’ statement comes as he meets with leaders of energy companies including EDF, SSE, Shell and BP for a summit on 2 August. Energy companies will discuss their plans to collectively invest more than £100bn ($127bn) into the UK energy economy over the coming year.  

“Energy industry leaders can see that this government will back home-grown, secure energy – whether that’s renewables, our revival in nuclear, or our support for our vital oil and gas industry in the North Sea,” Shapps said in a government statement. 

Sunak’s announcement on Monday that the UK will “max out” its North Sea resources has worsened a fierce row with environmentalists, opposition parties and members of Sunak’s own Conservative Party opposing the plan. The UK Government has set a net-zero target for the middle of this century. 

“We would rather make sure that we are producing it here, and doing it in a cleaner way than importing it from abroad, generating more CO₂. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that we need to reduce oil and gas reliance by 4% per year. If we dig every viable oil and gas well, the UK’s reliance would still fall by 7%,” Shapps told reporters

He went on to emphasise the industry’s importance to employment in the North Sea, particularly in Scotland.

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UK oil and gas policy is “dangerous”, António Guterres says 

UN Secretary General António Guterres condemned the announcement from the UK Government. He described Sunak as a “dangerous radical” pursuing “moral and economic madness”.  

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), no new oil and gas fields can be developed if the globe is to reach net zero by 2050.  

“Yes, we’ll have more oil and gas licences, but we’ll still meet our net zero targets because we’re also massively investing in all these renewables as well,” said Shapps on Wednesday, a claim which is not supported by the IEA’s research

Earlier this year more than 700 UK scientists and academics signed a letter to Sunak urging the UK Government to halt the licensing of new oil and gas. 

“If the UK allows any new development of oil and gas fields, it will severely undermine [former] claims of leadership by contributing to further oversupply of fossil fuels, and making it more difficult for the world to limit warming to 1.5°C,” the letter read. 

The UK Government also announced new funding for the Acorn carbon capture project this week. The government said the project would assist in meeting net-zero targets, but carbon capture has not yet proven to be effective at scale