Rishi Sunak has shown no indication that he is considering dumping the government’s legal commitment to achieve net zero by 2050. Nor, so far, has he indicated that he will relax any of the controversial targets for the next decade or so, such as banning new gas boilers or petrol and diesel cars. But his visit to Aberdeenshire today does mark a very sharp change in direction from the government’s green policy in Boris Johnson’s day. Sunak’s policy can be summed up in three words: Just Continue Oil.
For years, government policy has been predicated on the idea that oil and gas are declining, doomed industries and that therefore there is little point in investing or supporting them. Instead, the future lies in renewables. Now Sunak say he intends to issue hundreds of new oil and gas licences in the North Sea. Moreover, these are not just intended to satisfy immediate demand, to fill a hole while Britain transitions to a glorious green future. The most telling words from Sunak today are these: ‘Even when we’ve reached net zero in 2050, a quarter of our energy needs will come from oil and gas.’
How could we achieve net zero while still using large quantities of fossil fuels? Sunak, along with energy secretary Grant Shapps, who made an announcement to this effect at The Spectator’s energy summit in April, has revived the government’s interest in Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS). This involves extracting carbon dioxide from the exhaust streams of power stations, or even plain air, and turning it into either liquid or solid form so that it can be stored, hopefully, for ever after. The UK government has set aside £20 billion for investment in two CCUS plants: one in Humber and another in North East Scotland.