No support for oil and gas without strings attached: a letter to Kwasi Kwarteng

Coalition calls for greater ambition and transparency in Sector Deal for oil and gas industry


To: Kwasi Kwarteng MP
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Dear Minister,

We are writing in connection with the UK’s net zero commitment – something on which we welcome your frequently stated commitment. As temperatures in the Arctic Circle have recently been as hot as ever recorded in the UK, the urgency of that goal becomes ever starker. 

In a recent statement alongside an Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) spokesperson, you announced your intention to “work tirelessly with all partners to deliver a dynamic Sector Deal”, and “support the industry in becoming more sustainable, achieving net zero emissions by 2050.”  We write to convey our concerns and ambitions regarding the form of such a Sector Deal. We would appreciate an opportunity to meet and discuss this with you as discussions with OGUK continue. Public money must be used for public good, with formal conditions in place to ensure it delivers for both the climate and for workers and communities. To achieve a green recovery, it must be directed towards transformational projects, not continuing business as usual. 

The UK has performed better than others to-date on greenhouse gas emissions reductions. However, as the urgency to act grows, the UK’s actions to reduce emissions have begun to fall far short of what the science demonstrates is necessary. A report by the UN Environment Programme in November 2019 stated that, “unless global greenhouse gas emissions fall by 7.6% each year between 2020 and 2030, the world will miss the opportunity to get on track towards the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement”. Moreover, Paris builds on the concept of “common but differentiated responsibility”, giving a clear ethical steer that wealthier nations must demonstrate leadership in cutting emissions. Consequently, the UK annual cut in emissions ought to be significantly higher than the global average of 7.6% p.a.

This demands that the UK takes responsibility for all oil and gas produced in the UK and aligns policy with expert analysis that shows the production and use of new oil and gas is incompatible with Paris. The UK’s 5.7 billion barrels of oil and gas reserves in already-operating fields would exceed the UK’s share – and under the current Maximising Economic Recovery strategy it is proposed the UK would extract nearly 20 billion barrels in total. If all countries took the same approach – phasing out coal power while maximising oil and gas extraction – resulting warming would significantly exceed 2°C. To limit average global temperature increases to 1.5°C, oil and gas companies must stop all new oil and gas development and limit extraction of oil and gas from existing reserves, leaving at least 9% of oil and 6% of gas current reserves in the ground. 

‘Halving’ operational emissions

OGUK’s stated intention is to “halve operational emissions in the next decade” as part of “a clear pathway to becoming a net zero basin by 2050”. This is not as impressive as it sounds. It is not enough to reduce operational emissions from the process of extracting oil when the oil itself, when burned, generates a much greater volume of emissions. Just 15% of oil and gas lifetime emissions are operational (extracting and refining) with 85% from end use combustion. It is disingenuous of OGUK to talk of “net zero” while proposing minor adjustments.

There appears to be a lack of conditionality and proper transition plan associated with OGUK’s proposal. A reliance on technologies to enable the ongoing extraction and burning of fossil fuels, rather than transition to renewables, is totally insufficient. If we are to meet the Paris goals, OGUK’s aim to be a net zero basin by 2050 is tackling the problem from the wrong end  – merely seeking to trim around the edges, leaving the bulk of the industry as is. To meet the UK’s climate commitments we need an energy sector that is fully driven towards zero carbon.

Energy Sector Deal

We would therefore ask for more detail on the proposed Sector Deal. We believe it is important to consider who it is designed to assist. We would suggest that shoring up existing infrastructure to last another five-ten years in an extremely volatile global oil market will not best serve the needs of oil and gas workers, their families and communities, as they are likely to feel the shocks of that volatility most harshly. This cannot be the best use of public investment to ensure a just transition. Rather, any Sector Deal must complement a wider, robust, fair transition plan that tackles climate change while supporting new industries that offer good green jobs.

The Government should choose to make genuinely green industries the future for all workers. The UK is already a global leader in offshore wind. Many other sectors (e.g. tidal) play to our strengths. Further investment in onshore renewables (e.g. onshore wind, solar, geothermal, energy efficiency and heat pumps) is essential to accelerate the clean energy transition, and would create substantial opportunities to enable a just transition for oil and gas workers. These technologies already represent the most cost effective, job-intensive, and rapid to deploy low-carbon options. An investment of £100bn over the lifetime of this parliament would create around 1.8m green jobs. We are sceptical about delivery and climate credentials of hydrogen from CCS; if CCS is used to permit pumping out yet more oil, it fuels the problem rather than solving it. Further, neither CCS nor hydrogen are expected to deliver emission reductions this decade. Government is already planning to make offshore wind the backbone of the UK energy system, and with the right planning and investment this could support thousands of jobs and create significant new economic opportunities, particularly on the UK East Coast. Oil and gas workers should be offered opportunities to reskill to secure jobs in these clean sectors and supply chains, offering secure and sustainable careers. 

At an unprecedented moment where so many face job insecurity and personal loss, public money should be targeted at these sustainable industries. Any oil and gas Sector Deal must comply with UK domestic and international climate change commitments, and we ask you to confirm it will:

  1. not provide policy or financial support for oil and gas extraction in conflict with UK domestic and international commitments, including any new exploration and production,
  2. set conditions to protect workers and prevent public money solely benefiting shareholders, by including job and salary protection, union recognition and negotiation, with no additional compensation funding for senior management, 
  3. focus on ensuring transition away from oil and gas as soon as possible,
  4. include a Just Transition Package offering fully-funded skills transfer and entry points into the clean industries and supply chains.

As we look for ways to build back better from the current crisis, we call on you to reconsider your approach to energy, oil and gas to ensure the swiftest transition to industry and technology supporting a zero carbon energy system, with the associated supply chains and supporting infrastructures, to offer workers and communities a secure, resilient, green future.

Yours sincerely,

  • Doug Parr, Chief Scientist, Greenpeace UK
  • Gina Hanrahan, Head of Policy, WWF Scotland
  • Gareth Redmond-King, Head of Climate Change, WWF UK
  • Nina Skorupska CBE, Chief Executive, Renewable Energy Association
  • Chris Hewett, Chief Executive, Solar Trade Association
  • Clive Lewis MP, Labour MP for Norwich South
  • Caroline Lucas MP, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion
  • Shaun Spiers, Executive Director, Green Alliance
  • Ryan Morrison, Just Transition Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Scotland
  • Gabrielle Jeliazkov, Lead Campaigner for a Just Transition, Platform
  • Ken Penton, Climate Campaigner, Global Witness
  • Fatima Ibrahim and Hannah Martin, Co-directors, Green New Deal UK
  • Daniel Randall, Assistant Chair, Bakerloo branch, RMT
  • Mac McKenna, Industrial Relations rep, Morden & Oval branch, RMT
  • Phil Rowan, International officer, Finsbury Park branch, RMT