Forget global warming, "the era of global boiling has arrived". So said United Nations Secretary General António Guterres following confirmation from scientists that July 2023 was on course to be the world's warmest month on record.
He went on to say "The air is unbreathable, the heat is unbearable, and the level of fossil fuel profits and climate inaction is unacceptable. Leaders must lead. No more hesitancy, no more excuses, no more waiting for others to move first. There is simply no more time for that."
A number of countries, including France, Ireland, Denmark and Portugal have already committed to issuing no new oil and gas licences because of the clear need to combat climate change.
By contrast, in the last few days, the UK government has issued over 100 new licences to drill for oil and gas in the North Sea. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described the new licences as 'pragmatic and proportionate" action against climate change. The government argues that the policy will bring increased energy security to the UK as well.
The government will also invest in two carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects, located at St Fergus, northeast Scotland and at Viking CCS in the Humber region of eastern England. CCS captures carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuel and stores it underground, rather than allowing it to be released into the atmosphere. Britain aims to have storage for 20 to 30 milllion tonnes of CO2 by 2030.
But not all in Mr Sunak's party agree. Conservative MP and former science minister Chris Skidmore described the new licences as "the wrong decision at precisely the wrong time, when the rest of the world is experiencing record heatwaves."
In contrast to the current government's policies, Labour has said that it would invest heavily in renewable energy sources, like wind energy and also in nuclear power. It has pledged to ban any new oil and gas licences, but would continue to use existing oil and gas supplies for the coming decades.
It typically takes around 28 years from when oil and gas licences are granted to when they start producing fossil fuels, meaning that licences granted now will not start producing fossil fuels until the 2040s or 2050s - right at the time when the UK should be reaching net zero.
Back in 2021, energy watchdog the International Energy Agency said that there was no room for new oil and gas expansion anywhere in the world if the planet was to reach net zero by 2050. The same year, a study published in Nature said that 60% of oil and gas reserves must stay in the ground if the world is to stand any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
In March of 2023, a letter urging an end to the issuing of new oil and gas licences, signed by more than 700 UK academics, was sent to Rishi Sunak. It is disappointing that both this letter and the scientific evidence appear to have been ignored.