Sharma has to learn to say “No.”
As we head towards the delayed COP26 climate change conference in November, the press seems to be leading on many slightly tangential issues – the carbon impact of COP26 President Alok Sharma’s pre-conference diplomacy, the PM climate spokesperson’s diesel car (her annual mileage is less than half the UK average so no biggie) and the PM’s ‘joke’ about Margaret Thatcher’s closure of coal mines giving the UK a head start.
But the thing that should be getting more attention is the Government’s forthcoming approval of a new North Sea oil field and continual support for new oil and gas exploration licenses. Sharma defences this approach by saying “Future [fossil fuel] licences are going to have to adhere to the fact we have committed to go to net zero by 2050 in legislation. There will be a climate check on any licences.”
I am (morbidly) fascinated by how that climate check will work in practice. Carbon capture and storage has not yet demonstrated its ability to deliver at scale in practice and trying to offset our current climate emissions through, say, tree planting as we simply don’t have the land to do so. I can just imagine the weasel words which will be used to pass that check.
My view is this is ‘cakeism’ – the idea we can have our cake and eat it. If we are to meet the 1.5°C warming limit we must start choking off the hydrocarbon economy at source. If that oil and gas gets on the market, it will almost certainly get burnt – even if we slash demand, a surplus of supply will drive down prices until someone, somewhere decides it’s a bargain they can’t ignore.
So Sharma and the UK Government need to learn to say ‘No’. I often say that the litmus test of commitment to Sustainability is not so much what you start doing, but what you stop doing. Killing off unsustainable activity is the crucial step to a low carbon economy whether at the macro- or micro-economic scale. It makes a massive public statement of intent and creative destruction stimulates innovation.
So my advice to Mr Sharma and Mr Johnson is to get tough and learn to say ‘No’ to new hydrocarbon sources. Our grandchildren will thank them.