The Government must “explain and demonstrate” how new oil and gas exploration is in line with its climate commitments, Cop26 President Alok Sharma said.
Mr Sharma was speaking to MPs representing a number of parliamentary committees ahead of the latest UN climate summit, Cop27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, just minutes after it was announced he was no longer a minister attending Cabinet after new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle.
Grilled on Government policies which have prompted an angry reaction from environmental campaigners, including lifting the ban on fracking and 100 new licences for offshore oil and gas, he said he did not support fracking.
And he pointed to a warning from the International Energy Agency (IEA) that there can be no new fossil fuel projects going forward if the world is to meet its goal to limit global warming to 1.5C – beyond which the most dangerous impacts of climate change will be felt.
“In terms of new oil and gas licences, I think what the UK Government, indeed every government, has to demonstrate is how are the policies that we’re putting forward consistent with legally binding commitments on, in our case, getting to net zero by 2050, or indeed our near-term carbon budgets,” he said.
He added: “The onus is very much on the Government to explain and demonstrate how any of these policies are indeed consistent with the legally binding commitments.”
Mr Sharma, who chaired the Cop26 summit in Glasgow and will negotiate on behalf of the UK at Cop27, also told MPs that the world was making climate progress with the deployment of renewables and electric vehicles but it is “frankly” not fast enough.
He said the IEA had put out a report that projects there would be a rise of less than 1% in emissions globally, significantly less than last year, due to the “very fast deployment of renewables and electric vehicles across the world”.
“So there is progress, technology is being deployed, but frankly just not fast enough,” he said.
The number of coal projects was down significantly, financing for coal was much harder to secure and renewables accounted for 90% of new additions in 2021, while countries are accelerating renewables following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
“I think as a result of it, we will see the pace of renewables and installation accelerate faster than it would otherwise have done.”
He also suggested that “disappointing” backsliding by countries at the last G20 meeting, including “unfathomably” starting to question climate science, had started to reverse at the UN General Assembly.
In the UK, he said the Government had strong commitments and Mr Sunak had committed to insulating millions of homes, but he said the Government needs to deliver on its net zero strategy and speed up the process of insulating homes.