The executive director of the International Energy Agency hopes the UK government will bear in mind its global reputation on climate ahead of a decision on whether to approve drilling on a new North Sea oil field.
Dr Fatih Birol, the executive director of the IEA which advises governments on their energy policies, said there is already enough oil and gas reserves to meet energy demands, in an exclusive interview with Channel 4 News.
The UK’s regulator, the Oil and Gas Authority, part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), is currently considering proposals for a new oil field off the coast of the Shetland Islands.
Dr Birol said he hopes the UK government still wants to be an “inspiration for the rest of the world” on climate action, adding that the Cambo North Sea oil field decision “will be an important step in that direction.”
A BEIS spokesperson said the Secretary of State Kwasi Kwarteng is “not involved” in deciding whether to grant consent for the Cambo oil field.
The Cambo oil field contains the equivalent of more than 800 million barrels of oil.
In its first phase, the project expects to extract 150-170 million barrels, which environmentalists say would create emissions equivalent to operating 16-18 coal-fired power stations for a year.
A majority of the world’s governments have signed up to the Paris Agreement where they committed to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The IEA released a report earlier this year saying that countries should not approve new oil and gas fields for development beyond those already committed to in 2021 if they want to reach the Paris Agreement targets.
Dr Birol said if countries are “serious” about their commitments to reach climate targets they need to reduce the consumption of oil, gas and coal “substantially”.
He added: “If we reduce the consumption of oil in line with what is needed to reach those targets, we will not need to invest in new oil or gas exploration or new coal mining, very clear.
“We do not need any more… new oil reserves, the ones we have already today are more than enough to meet the demand.”
The UK is set to host the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow in November. The G20 Climate and Energy ministerial meeting is currently underway in Naples.
The chief executive of Oil and Gas UK, the industry body representing fossil fuel energy firms, Deirdre Michie has said it’s not possible to immediately switch to renewable energies and there will be a dependence on oil and gas for decades.
Ms Michie told Channel 4 News she thinks the Cambo field should be approved and she believes the industry should be exploring new oil and gas fields.
Dr Birol said: “My view is very clear, a new global energy system is emerging in front of our eyes and the industry, citizens [and] governments who are able to see what is happening now will be in a good position.
“And the colleagues who are not able to see, who are not able to read the game, may well be not in a good position and not helpful to reach our energy and climate costs.”