A leading climate scientist has clashed with the head of the Oil and Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) on his view there is “no scope” for fossil fuels if the world is to meet climate goals.
Mike Berners-Lee, a renowned author on carbon footprint, gave the unflinching view that fossil fuels “absolutely have to stay in the ground”, for the world to keep global warming within two degrees.
Speaking during a new webinar series for the OGTC, the author of “There is no Planet B” warned that even offsetting emissions with technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS) is not feasible for the sector.
The Lancaster University professor said: “I think it is a tempting idea that we might be able to keep taking the fossil fuel out of the ground and we’re just going to have negative emissions to compensate.
“We are going to need all these technologies as far as we can possibly develop them without taking any unnecessary fossil fuels out of the ground. We can’t trade our negative emissions against unnecessary fossil fuel extraction.
“There is no scope for offsetting against unnecessary oil and gas.
“Fossil fuels, which absolutely have to stay in the ground, are going to have to become too expensive to be worth extracting.
“If you don’t think there’s going to be a carbon price or something equivalent that leads to fossil fuel being too expensive to be taken out of the ground, and/or illegal, then I think you really have to plan for the world heading for a very bad place in the next not many years.”
The view, which broadly conflicts with the industry’s net zero goal by 2050 and its claim to still be required for the country for decades to come, led to a clash with the OGTC’s chief executive Colette Cohen.
She said: “None of your scenarios consider the fossil fuel industry being able to get to net zero. You consistently talk about us really needing to be eliminated as an industry.
“But if we could get to net zero, which is our aspiration, why then couldn’t fossil fuels be part of an integrated energy solution?”
Mr Berners-Lee replied by saying “there is some role” for negative emissions, but he wanted “to manage expectations”.
He added: “I’ve looked through all the negative emissions possibilities – from the natural ones like planting trees, through to enhanced rock weathering to BECCS and direct air capture – and none of them are going to deliver the sort of scale that would enable the oil and gas industry to carry on as it had done, or in any way.”
Mr Berners-Lee added that there was a role for the skills of the sector to transfer over to renewables, which offers a “huge opportunity”.
Ms Cohen retorted: “You are considering existing technology, we’re very much looking at the next generation of technology that would maybe enable this kind of just transition, which is such a challenge for society.”
“Call out greenwashing”
The author was invited on as part of the OGTC’s new Insight 60 webinar series, exploring tech that will enable energy transition and net zero targets to be met
While hydrogen will also play a role, Mr Berners-Lee said carbon pricing will be critical to accelerating CCS, while solar will be the “big deal” at global level, augmented by other renewables.
He also said the industry should call out “greenwashing”, such as oil majors not committing to Scope 3 emissions targets – tackling emissions of customers using their products.
“I think I’ve seen a lot of greenwash in the energy sector and I would ask all of you to call it out whenever you see it.
“It includes strategies that sound as though they’re getting on top of climate change but actually involve more extraction of fuel. It involves intensity targets that gloss over the fact that, actually, there’s still a lot of carbon emissions associated because the scale of extraction is going up.
“Targets that don’t include Scope 3 – the emissions from burning fuel, which is absolutely essential to include.
“Anyone who talks about extracting fuel ‘but it’s ok because we’re going to export it to other countries to get it off the UK’s books’.
“Those would be examples of greenwash that I would implore us all to call out loudly whenever we see them.”