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31st July 2023

New oil and gas licences detrimental to health

The UK government’s decision to open at least 100 new oil and gas projects in North Sea must be withdrawn urgently.

The announcement today that at least 100 new oil and gas licences will be issued for the North Sea is a decision by the UK government that undoes decades of leadership on climate change just when true commitment cannot be delayed.

Last week, United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres warned that we are entering a period of global boiling as heatwaves were felt across many countries, and July 2023 was reported to be the hottest month on record. 

In the UK, more than 3000 excess deaths were recorded in England and Wales during the heatwaves between June and August 2022, and without adequate action heat-related deaths are expected to rise to about 7000 a year by the 2050s. Health leaders have consistently warned of increasing risk to life with a higher frequency of extreme health events as the planet continues to warm. People’s capacity to work and exercise outdoors is also affected by temperature and humidity, impacting on mental and physical health. 

The Lancet has reported that more than 60% of health professionals are very worried about climate change and the implications for health. In the wider population, climate change is the second biggest concern facing adults in the UK (75%) according to the Office for National Statistics; the rising cost of living being the main concern (79%).

The mining and burning of fossil fuels are the primary drivers of global heating and multiple organisations including the UN, International Committee on Climate Change and World Health Organisation have called for an urgent transition to renewable energy and an end to our reliance on fossil fuels. 

Antonio Guterres has said to global leaders, “You cannot claim to be green while your plans and projects undermine the 2050 net zero target and ignore the major emissions cuts that must occur this decade.”

In the UK, the Climate Change Committee has reported that emissions from refineries and oil and gas production have increased from 2021 to 2022. They downgraded the government’s progress on renewables due to the lack of a credible strategy for decarbonising electricity supply by 2035 including commitments for offshore wind (four times current level) and solar (five times current level).

The 2022 Lancet Countdown report showed that in 2020-21, the UK government continued to commit significantly more resources to supporting fossil fuel-based energy than clean energy sources. If the government is to meet its ambition of having 95% of its electricity come from low carbon sources by 2030, it needs to rapidly accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. The contrary approach of expanding UK reliance on domestic production of gas and oil will take a decade or more to deliver and do nothing to alleviate fuel poverty.

Instead of issuing new licences for fossil fuels, an ambitious programme of retrofitting, insulation and clean heat generation in all homes and public buildings can reduce fuel consumption and cost. As well as cutting greenhouse gas emissions, such actions create jobs, improve health, and if done in the right way through targeted subsidies can help alleviate poverty and the need for social security. A just transition away from fossil fuels will also improve the UK’s national energy security. 

The UK government’s decision to issue new oil and gas licences is detrimental to the health of humans and nature, and our ambitions to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It should be urgently withdrawn.