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Letter: Advice to the UK Government on compatibility of onshore petroleum with UK carbon budgets

1. Outline

The Climate Change Committee is required by the Infrastructure Act to provide advice to the UK Government on compatibility of onshore petroleum[1] with UK carbon budgets, every five years.

The present moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) for onshore oil and gas, due to the risk of earthquakes, means this advice may not carry any immediate implications. Nevertheless, our advice is provided to fulfil our statutory duty, and to address the potential case in which concerns over seismicity are overcome at a future date.

[1] The sources of onshore petroleum pertinent to our advice are limited to those relevant to the UK, which are conventional oil and gas, shale gas, shale oil and coal bed methane (CBM).

2. Key recommendations

The Committee therefore makes the following recommendations to ensure that any fossil fuels supplied to the UK are compatible with our climate commitments:

  • Policies must be put in place to reduce direct emissions from fossil fuel consumption across the UK energy system, consistent with the path to Net Zero set out in our Sixth Carbon Budget advice. These policies must drive substantial improvements in energy efficiency, strong deployment of zero-carbon energy sources and electrification where this is feasible, together with rapid development of hydrogen and CCS to tackle those activities that can’t be electrified.
  • Regardless of choices over where the UK gets its fossil fuels at the margin, the UK should adopt a policy to limit the greenhouse gas emissions from the production/supply of fossil fuels consumed in the UK, irrespective of where the emissions occur. This could be achieved through implementation of minimum standards or border carbon tariffs on imports. Such a framework would help drive the 75% reduction in UK fossil fuel supply emissions from 2018 to 2035 that we have recommended in our Sixth Carbon Budget advice, without biasing consumption towards imports with a higher emissions footprint.
  • If concerns are overcome regarding seismicity, the moratorium on UK shale production should not be lifted without an in-depth independent review of the evidence on the climate impact:
    • This review should be undertaken in the context of the Government’s Net Zero Strategy, and international plans on decarbonisation and fossil fuel production.
    • ­ It would need to undertake a proper assessment of the lifecycle emissions of UK unconventional fossil fuel production and alternative sources of supply.
    • It should take into account progress in deployment and costs of zero-carbon (e.g. renewable) hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS), as well as the CO₂ capture rate of CCS.
    • It should consider the implications of fracking for public acceptance of the energy transition on the path to Net Zero, and the risk of lock-in to fossil fuel infrastructure.