A north-east legal academic has branded the government’s climate checkpoint for new oil and gas licences as a “wave-through test” and a missed opportunity for the UK to show climate leadership.
Daria Shapovalova, a senior lecturer and co-director of the University of Aberdeen’s Centre for Energy Law, alleged there was a lack of research guiding the UK government’s final climate compatibility checkpoint, and voiced concerns over the discretionary power of the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) in its application.
The government released the findings of its long-awaited consultation on the proposed checkpoint earlier this month, paving the way for the NSTA to launch the 33rd Licensing Round – the first such licensing since 2020 – expected in the coming weeks.
The checklist is designed to tackle the dual challenges of climate change and energy security by ensuring new North Sea projects can go ahead, while ensuring emissions are kept to a minimum.
In a Twitter thread published on Thursday Ms Shapovalova said while she had expected the final version of the checkpoint would be “less robust than the proposed draft”, she was dismayed that the result was “way worse” than expected.
“It’s non-statutory, meaning it will only serve as a procedural info gathering exercise, discretion for final decision is on the NSTA,” she wrote.
As a result she said there was no way to judicially challenge the test based on its substance – a factor she branded “concerning” given the manner in which previous legal attempts to challenge new oil and gas developments have been dismissed.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has been approached for comment.
2 It somehow rejects both the application of equity, saying poorer states won’t benefit AND the inclusion of production gap analysis. So where is market research? Stance is ‘proactive unilateral production cuts won't help the world reach net zero’ – no explanation for this view.
— Dr Daria Shapovalova 🇺🇦 (@daria_arctic) September 29, 2022
Of the six potential tests considered in the government’s consultation, only three are included in the final checkpoint, meaning proposed analyses of Scope 3 emissions impacts, global equity and the impact of UK output on global production will not be taken into account.
Ms Shapovalova criticised the lack of research on the latter two issues, noting there is no explanation for the government’s apparent stance that proactive unilateral production cuts will not help the world reach net zero.
On the former issue, she notes that the government asked stakeholders how Scope 3 emissions could be measured and monitored and included as part of its consultation, but has now claimed they are irrelevant to the final checkpoint.
The UK “could have really led the way here,” she concluded, “and instead we ended up with a wave-through test.”
Up to the challenge
Trade body Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) has also faced questions over the role of the checkpoint, and whether a commitment to continued licensing would undermine the UK’s credibility as a climate leader.
Speaking during a briefing on Thursday the organisation’s market intelligence manager Ross Dornan said the certainty of the criteria applied to further rounds would be helpful to industry and investors.
“It’s really important for securing the future of our production that we’ve got that vision of the future. We want to see the 33rd round, that’s important, but we also want confidence that the 34th, 35th rounds, for example, are going to follow that.
“In the future, I think the compatibility assessment actually can help with that, because we now know the tests which government are taking into account.”
In its response to government earlier this year, the UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) said it supported “stringent” tests on North Sea licensing as part of the checkpoint, but stopped short of recommending an end to exploration.
Meanwhile, Greenpeace, Uplift and Friends of the Earth Scotland all condemned the plans to issue new offshore licences, with the former NGO considering legal action to halt the process.
However, Mr Dornan remained sanguine on the prospect of continued activity.
“We’re confident as a sector that new licencing is compatible with our net zero requirements…and we’re confident that it will stand up against challenge,” he said.