Countries led by Denmark and Costa Rica have formed an alliance to help phase out the production of oil and gas to tackle climate change – but the UK is not involved.
Announcing the alliance, Danish climate minister Dan Jorgensen said he hoped it would mark “the beginning of the end of oil and gas”, and invited other countries to join them.
National and subnational governments Denmark, Costa Rica, France, Ireland, Wales, Sweden, Greenland and Quebec are core members of the alliance, while Portugal, California and New Zealand are associate members and Italy is supporting it as a “friend”.
Core countries joining the alliance are committing to end new licensing for oil and gas exploration and setting an end date for their exploration, and associate members are taking other measures that contribute to aligning oil and gas production with globally agreed goals to limit dangerous warming.
Mr Jorgensen said they were in conversations with other countries including Scotland – and wanted to spark the debate over future production.
Meeting the goals in the Paris climate treaty to limit temperature rises to “well below 2C” and try to limit them to 1.5C requires significant reductions in coal, oil and natural or fossil gas.
And the International Energy Agency (IEA) has called for no new oil and gas exploration projects to be given the green light from this year in order to meet the 1.5C target.
But the alliance warns that governments are planning to increase fossil fuel production by an average of 2% per year, which by 2030 would result in more than double the production consistent with limiting temperatures to 1.5C.
Questioned on Wednesday on whether the UK would support the alliance to phase out oil and gas, the Prime Minister did not rule it out – saying he wanted to move beyond hydrocarbons completely in the UK.
He said: “We’ll look at what Denmark and Costa Rica are proposing, and I would certainly encourage everybody to move beyond coal and beyond hydrocarbons.”
But the UK is not among the countries signing up to the alliance as it is launched at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, where countries are under pressure to increase action to cut emissions to curb dangerous warming.
A Government spokesperson said no other significant oil and gas producing nation has gone as far as the UK in supporting the sector’s gradual transition to a low carbon future.
“While the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels continues to fall, there will continue to be ongoing but diminishing need for oil and gas over the coming years while we ramp up renewable energy capacity, as recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee.
“The UK will continue to work with international partners on supporting the transition away from fossil fuels towards clean energy so we can create jobs, build new industries and drive economic growth.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said they were in conversations for Scotland to join the alliance at some level.
She told the PA news agency that she wanted to end Scotland’s reliance on fossil fuels “as fast as possible”, but in a way that did not leave workers in the oil and gas sector “on the economic scrapheap”.
The UK and Scottish governments have come under fire over the potential development of the Cambo oil and gas field in the North Sea, off Shetland, which is thought to contain up to 800 million barrels of oil.
Research by Carbon Tracker has found the oil field – for which the UK Government is being urged to reject an extraction licence – would only be financially viable if the world fails to limit global temperature rises to “well below” 2C.
Carbon Tracker founder Mark Campanale said: “Moreover, Cop26 is showing the world the urgency of the climate crisis and if we are to keep 1.5 alive, this means this project is clearly amongst the first to fall by the wayside.”
He added: “The IEA has said that no new oil, coal or gas is needed in a 1.5C scenario and Cambo is blatantly one of those projects.”
A Business Department spokesperson warned against a “cliff edge” where oil and gas production stopped suddenly, which would put jobs and energy security at risk and make the UK more dependent on imports.
“Our new climate compatibility checkpoint will ensure that our aim of eliminating our contribution to climate change by 2050 is at the forefront of any decision made around granting oil and gas licences in the future,” they said.
Responding to the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, Oxfam’s climate policy adviser Lyndsay Walsh said: “It is disappointing that the UK Government has not signed up to this welcome initiative.
“The UK may have led the way on committing to net zero emissions, but it must now address the epic contradiction of continuing to grant oil and gas licences in the North Sea.”