There is no such thing as ‘net zero oil & gas’: We respond to the King’s Speech

  • Posted: 13 Nov 2023

We were pleased to see the government seeking ‘record levels’ of renewable investment, as well as promising an acceleration in grid connection times, but its decision to issue new oil and gas licences is a big disappointment.

Last week saw the first king’s speech in a generation, outlining the government’s legislative agenda for the year ahead. Below we summarise the updates relating to green policies and share our thoughts on where we would like to see more clarity and commitment as we look forward to COP28 and the government’s next significant update: the Autumn Budget.  

What were the measures relating to clean energy?  

As part of the speech, the government announced that it is aiming to attract record levels of investment into renewables, but very little detail around how this would be achieved. What investors need is certainty – not just a line in a speech. Research by Energy UK has found that between now and 2050, an additional £500 billion will need to be invested into the UK power sector in order for us to meet our net zero goals. This represents a big growth opportunity but also makes stability and certainty absolutely crucial for the sector.  

In addition to investment, the announcement noted plans to reform grid connections, which is one of the major barriers developers are currently facing and is keeping hundreds of gigawatts of wind, solar and battery storage locked in a years-long queue. Again, it’s great to see this issue recognised but the devil is in the detail, and we await further clarity on how this challenge will actually be overcome.   

It’s fair to say that these positives were largely overshadowed by the announcement that the government plans to legislate annual North Sea oil and gas licensing rounds, based on the argument that it would help the “country to transition to net zero by 2050, without adding undue burden on households”. This is something that Thrive absolutely disputes. There is no net zero future that includes oil and gas. Are we not seeing the proof of that on a near daily basis? We know that burning fossil fuels to generate energy releases huge amounts of polluting CO2 into the atmosphere, leading to global heating which is causing dangerous freak weather events around the world. There is also no proof that oil and gas will have a positive impact on energy security – especially as these resources will be sold and consumed on the global market – or that it will help the thousands of households dealing with fuel poverty as a result of the ongoing energy and cost of living crises.  

This comes after prime minister Rishi Sunak recently back pedalled on other green policies. In September, he announced that he was delaying the ban on petrol cars, extending the deadline to replace gas boilers and even cancelling new energy efficiency regulations for private landlords which could cost their tenants almost £8bn in higher bills over the next decade. 

How should we be moving forward?  

We believe that the best way to boost energy security, reduce household bills for consumers and achieve net zero is to accelerate our transition to a homegrown, renewables-based energy system. Onshore wind and solar are amongst the cheapest ways to generate electricity today, however these naturally replenished energy sources are massively underutilised. What we need to see is the government back up its commitment to achieving record levels of renewable investment through solid policies that not only allow these projects to be built but actively encourage them. And we’re not alone in this thinking.  

As Conservative MP Chris Skidmore outlined in his independent Mission Zero report, net zero is the economic opportunity of the 21st century – giving the impression that it’s an expensive luxury, rather than a necessity, is dangerous. In fact, consultancy Cambridge Econometrics, on behalf of the Climate Change Committee, found that the UK will see around 2% additional GDP growth due to new jobs, increased economic activity, lower fossil fuel imports and cost savings such as reduced household bills because of the transition. 

We also know that the window for avoiding the worst effects of the climate emergency is getting rapidly smaller. A recent study by Imperial College London estimates that the world will exhaust its remaining carbon budget for limiting global warming to 1.5°C by the end of this decade if emissions continue at current levels. Now is not the time to be slowing down. Instead, the UK should be seizing the opportunity and setting an example for developing economies to follow suit. Unfortunately, the issuing of new oil and gas licences is another setback and directly contradicts this need for acceleration.  

As always, Thrive’s response is action. We will continue to invest in and build new onshore wind, solar and geothermal energy as we know that these projects are what will allow generations to come to enjoy a fairer, cleaner world.