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Sunak slammed for UK's 'reckless' oil and gas plan

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily | Updated: 2023-08-02 07:00
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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) talks to a staff member at a gas plant in Peterhead, Scotland, on Monday.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been accused of moving toward "a culture war on climate" after announcing plans to issue hundreds of new licenses for oil and gas drilling in the North Sea.

Sunak's Downing Street office said the move would "boost British energy independence" and "reduce reliance on hostile states". The announcement came a day after he gave newspaper interviews promoting himself as "the motorist's friend", in the face of opposition from environmental and clean-air campaigners.

Ed Miliband, shadow climate change secretary for the opposition Labour Party, accused Sunak of opening up a new frontier in the culture war, which is increasingly dividing British party politics, to make up for"13 years of failed Tory energy policy", and against a backdrop of wildfires and climate change issues across Europe.

Even one of Sunak's own Conservative members of Parliament, Chris Skidmore, called it "the wrong decision at precisely the wrong time".

"Now more than ever, it's vital that we bolster our energy security and capitalize on that independence to deliver more affordable, clean energy to British homes and businesses," Sunak said before a trip to Scotland to promote the new policy.

"Even when we've reached net zero in 2050, a quarter of our energy needs will come from oil and gas. But there are those who would rather that it come from hostile states than from the supplies we have here at home.

"We're choosing to power up Britain from Britain and invest in crucial industries such as carbon capture and storage, rather than depend on more carbon-intensive gas imports from overseas."

The announcement came less than two years after the British government hosted the COP26 climate summit in Scotland, and has drawn an angry response from opponents.

Mark Ruskell, climate and energy spokesman for the Scottish Green Party, called it an "utterly reckless decision that will leave a long and destructive legacy".

'Total disregard'

"It shows a total disregard for our environment and for future generations. If these licenses go ahead, it will be a big leap toward climate chaos," he added.

Andrew Bowie, minister for nuclear and networks, defended the position, saying it was about energy security "but in no way detracts from our drive to net-zero".

Sunak has frequently been criticized for his perceived apathy toward environment policies, with his use of flights rather than trains or alternative, greener forms of transport for domestic journeys highlighted.

In June, a report by the parliamentary Climate Change Committee said the government's efforts to increase environmental measures were "worryingly slow" and its chairman John Deben, a former Conservative environment minister, said the United Kingdom had lost its way in global leadership.

"How can we ask countries in Africa not to develop oil?" he said. "How can we ask other nations not to expand the fossil fuel production if we start doing it ourselves?"

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