THE UK is fuelling an “aggressive” expansion of oil and gas projects in the North Sea, according to a new report.

Research by Oil Change International – an organisation which investigates corporate arguments in favour of oil, gas and coal development – found that the five major oil and gas producing countries in the North Sea were all failing to fulfil their commitments on winding down fossil fuel production for the sake of climate change.

The UK was ranked as the second most aggressive explorer and producer of oil and gas in the North Sea, behind Norway and ahead of Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany.

The report – titled Troubled Waters: How North Sea Countries Are Fuelling Climate Disaster – states that the UK “is significantly off track in reducing emissions from production, let alone in achieving a full phase-out of oil and gas.”

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It was found to be “grossly unaligned” or “unaligned” in 10 out of 11 categories which sought to measure whether countries were meeting the benchmarks to allow them to achieve the aim of limiting warming to 1.5C as set out in the Paris Agreement.

Out of all the countries undertaking oil and gas production in the North Sea, the UK’s “licenced, undeveloped fields threaten the most potential CO2 emissions”, according to the report.

Indeed, not a single North Sea country was on track to phase out their oil and gas extraction to bring it into line with the 1.5C goal.

The North Sea Transition Authority – the UK’s oil and gas regulator – gave the go-ahead for the Rosebank oil field last year.

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The field, which lies north-west of Shetland, is thought to contain up to 350 million barrels of oil.

However, climate campaigners say the decision to greenlight Rosebank as well as issue further oil and gas licences in the North Sea is “reckless” and won’t reduce energy bills.

Rosemary Harris of Oil Change International said the report showed the UK was falling behind on its climate commitments.

“The five major oil producing North Sea countries are at a critical juncture,” she said.

“They can either lead the charge towards global climate action and the development of green industries, creating sustainable jobs and communities, or they can risk catastrophic climate crisis, economic turmoil, and loss of their status as climate leaders by clinging to outdated practices.

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“The UK Government has especially fallen significantly behind: despite explicit goals of limiting global heating to below 1.5°C, current policies are moving the country further away from this target and exposing the hypocrisy of claims to climate leadership.

“Failure to address these issues not only undermines international climate goals but also threatens people and the planet.”

It comes after the UK Government extended its windfall tax on oil and gas companies by 12 months until 2029 despite pleas not to do so coming from the Scottish Conservatives.

Lauren MacDonald, a Stop Rosebank campaigner, told The National that the UK Government's unapologetic expansion of oil and gas activity in the North Sea was an act of "political vandalism". 

She said: "The report shows that the UK is going ahead with some really backward policies which would make the goals of the Paris Agreement unachievable. That's really serious. 

"It actually has the audacity to say publicly that it wants to drain all of the remaining oil and gas reserves that we have despite knowing the dangers of doing so. 

"It's a selfish and dangerous act of political vandalism." 

MacDonald said that while she believed extending the windfall tax was a step in the right direction, what was really needed was a clear articulation of the long-term plan for shifting away from fossil fuels. 

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"We can all agree that, sooner or later, we're going to transition away from oil and gas," she added. 

"But what we're seeing right now is short-term political gameplaying rather than an effort to follow through with the solutions we know we need to see. 

"In the past few years millions of people have been forced into fuel poverty due to rising gas prices. 

"And it's clear to many people that the UK Government is siding with profiteering oil giants rather than actually investing in the long-term stability of the country.

"We're not seeing strong enough statements from either the UK or the Scottish Government to show people a roadmap for how workers are going to be protected through this transition. 

"Instead, we see the profits of companies like Equinor continue to soar while workers live with uncertainty about their future livelihoods in often volatile and dangerous jobs."