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No big North Sea fossil fuel country has plan to stop drilling in time for 1.5C goal

UK, Germany, Netherlands, Norway and Denmark have failed to align oil and gas policies with Paris pledges, say campaigners

None of the big oil and gas producers surrounding the North Sea plan to stop drilling soon enough to meet the 1.5C (2.7F) global heating target, a report has found.

The five countries – the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark – have failed to align their oil and gas policies with their climate promises under the Paris agreement, according to the campaign group Oil Change International.

North Sea governments must act urgently, said Silje Ask Lundberg from Oil Change International, who co-wrote the report. “Failure to address these issues not only undermines international climate goals, but also jeopardises the liveability of our planet.”

The report found that policies in Norway and the UK were furthest from the Paris climate agreement because the countries were “aggressively” exploring and licensing new oil and gas fields. In 2021, the International Energy Agency found there was no room for new oil exploration in its pathway to net zero emissions.

Tessa Khan, the founder of the climate campaign group Uplift, said the UK was in a tiny club of countries driving a crisis for little public gain. “This government is set on squeezing every last drop out of the North Sea, yet we know we’ve already discovered more oil and gas than it is safe to burn.”

An oil platform in the North Sea
An oil platform in the North Sea. Photograph: Reuters

The report criticised the Netherlands for looking to increase its oil and gas production, and Germany, which produces only small amounts of oil and gas, for failing to set policies to move away from the fuels.

Denmark, which has halved production in the past five years, ranked best because it has set an end date for oil and gas production and cancelled new state-initiated licensing rounds. The country also co-founded the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance of countries working to phase out the fuels worldwide.

But campaigners have called on Denmark to close loopholes that allow new licensing in limited circumstances and to move the end date from 2050 to the early 2030s.

Helene Hagel, the head of climate policy at the Danish branch of Greenpeace, said Denmark was doing an “admirable job” on the global stage but its plans at home could jeopardise its credibility. “We might be the least disappointing in a class of underachievers, but to be Paris-aligned, we need to stop increasing production and phase out production within 10 years.”

The five North Sea countries bear some of the greatest responsibility for having heated the planet and have more money than most to spend on clean energy. They have also often claimed to be leaders at international climate summits.

Truls Gulowsen, the head of the Norwegian branch of the environmental group Friends of the Earth, said he was not surprised Norway ranked “rock bottom” of the countries analysed in the report. “Despite having all the tools in the world to ensure a just transition, our government’s choice is to continue to be Europe’s most aggressive oil and gas explorer. This is completely out of place, and totally unaligned with the Paris agreement and our climate responsibility.”

The report scored the five countries’ oil and gas policies against nine indicators. They ranged from stopping the approval of new developments and setting an end date for production to rapidly reducing demand and ensuring a just transition.

Campaign groups have called on rich governments to move away from oil and gas faster to give poorer countries more time to catch up. Last year the Civil Society Equity Review project found North Sea producers would have to cut production 80% by the end of the decade and phase out production in the early 2030s.

The UK Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said it did not recognise the claims and that even with new licences it expected oil and gas production to decline faster than the average rate needed to align with the 1.5C pathway.

“We are now a net importer of oil and gas and failing to support domestic production will make the UK more dependent on imports, often with higher production emissions, and weaken our energy security,” it added.

The Danish climate ministry said Denmark had taken the lead by setting an end date for oil and gas production. It said the government was “working with our partners to increase international ambitions and cooperation in this area to pave the way to a managed, Paris aligned and just phase out of oil and gas production”.

The German climate ministry said domestic oil production was less than 2% of total demand, similar to its gas production, and that authorising exploration and production was the responsibility of its states rather than the federal government. “And here, for example, an expansion of extraction is currently prohibited.”

The Norwegian energy ministry said oil and gas was still needed to ensure affordable energy to households and businesses and that “as long as that is the case, it matters that production is happening with low CO2-emissions”.

The Dutch climate ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

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