The interconnection between oil, finance and the challenges for the UK to keep its emissions at 1.5% is horrifically complex. It raises serious alarm bells at the conflicts that are currently going on between different parties with different interests. The oil of the North Sea has been an invisible cog at the core of quite literally everything in the UK from our phones to the shoes on our feet, and it now faces a rocky future as both investors and activists demand change. The voices of young activists, oil company executives, economists and pension fund managers all have a different story to tell but the truth is, we have a mere five or so years to control our oil addiction and yet still, the licensing of new oil fields are popping up left right and centre.
Oil companies are convinced that they can continue to keep drilling while keeping to net zero ambitions through adopting new technologies such as carbon capture, but climate activists and specialists are not convinced of the effectiveness of these technologies. The technology of carbon capture hasn’t been proven and is still being tested, however the problem, is that we live in a world where carbon emissions don’t have a monetary worth and so there’s not much reason for companies to invest in a technology that does nothing but reduce emissions. This conflict between climate solutions and the financial industry is an ongoing battle that’s evident everywhere you look. There are other emission reducing technologies which seem to be more attractive to investors such as solar farms and electric vehicles however the worry that, in the time it would take for these technologies to be so widely used that they’re making a big enough difference to our planet. 80% of our domestic heating is still powered by natural gas.
A recent BBC documentary called “Black Black Oil” reveals the hidden infrastructure of oil in the North Sea and the buried pipelines that flow through the stock markets of London. However, as climate change becomes more of an urgent conversation, the secrets of the offshore rigs and its damaging effect to our planet, are being let out to the public eye. It’s obvious that the oil industry of the North Sea is not in line with the new climate promises set out by the government and so oil workers livelihoods are under threat and large investment houses are pulling out to protect their assets and their reputations. On the flip side, climate activists, and increasingly the wider public, are more motivated by the thought of the absolute chaos that will occur, should our government keep licensing new oil fields such as the Cambo oil field off Shetland.
The UK government in fact, faced fresh legal challenges over fears that they’re still waving through plans for oil drillers to keep exploring the North Sea despite knowing full well the recent evidence of its impact on the environment. Sam Hunter Jones, a lawyer at Client Earth, accused the government of being “asleep at the wheel” and said ministers risked making decisions based on out-of-date climate assessments unless it adopted new criteria reflecting growing international evidence against new fossil fuel developments.
There are many complexities of transitioning away from oil and gas as a society and as this article highlights, every party involved has a conflict in interest. The question remains – can we transition away from our oil addiction quickly enough to save our planet from a temperature rise greater than 1.5 degrees?
It’s clear that the UK can’t have a cliff edge where oil and gas are abandoned overnight as this would put energy security, jobs and entire industries at risk. However there’s an extremely fine line between the gradual transition away from oil and the need to reduce carbon emissions by enough to save our planet.
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