Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Environment
  2. Climate
10 December 2021

Exclusive polling: Britons back end to oil and gas exploration

Twice as many people in the UK support banning all new oil and gas exploration as oppose it, new polling shows.

By India Bourke

In May 2021, in light of the world’s dangerous levels of global heating, the International Energy Agency called for an end to investment in fossil fuel development. By November 2021, six countries had signed up to a new coalition committed to ending oil and gas extraction.

Today, new polling finds that twice as many Britons would support the UK making this commitment as are opposed.

Thirty-eight per cent of people in Britain are in favour of the government banning all new oil and gas exploration in the UK, according to exclusive polling by Redfield & Wilton Strategies for the New Statesman. This figure includes 26 per cent who would “strongly support” such a move. 

In contrast, just 19 per cent are in opposition, of which 7 per cent would “strongly oppose”, and 33 per cent say they neither support or oppose the ban.

The climate case for ending oil and gas extraction is clear. Last month, a paper published in the journal Nature quantified the amount of fossil fuels that should be left in the ground if the world is to stay within a “safe” 1.5°C of warming – and concluded that most planned fossil fuel projects can’t go ahead. More widely, the UN has warned that total global greenhouse gas emissions need to halve in the next eight years if the 1.5 limit is not to be breached.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

In the UK, StopCambo campaigners have been pressing the government to withdraw permission for a proposed new oilfield off the coast of Shetland, citing its climate threat. On Friday (10 December), following the oil giant Shell’s withdrawal of its minority investment last week, the project’s developers said they were pausing the project. But while prospects for Cambo look shaky, the UK government has still not yet come out in opposition.

If the British government was to make a stand against all new oil and gas exploration, the international signal would arguably be considerable. When Denmark and Costa Rica launched the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance in September (adding France, Greenland, Ireland, Quebec, Sweden and Wales as members by November), they knew their emissions reduction potential was limited given that none of these countries are large oil and gas producers. The UK, in contrast, sneaks into the top 20 in the list of the world’s top oil-producing nations, and is at number 21 for gas. 

Content from our partners
How to create a responsible form of “buy now, pay later”
“Unions are helping improve conditions for drivers like me”
Transport is the core of levelling up

Accepting the conclusions the science demands – and banning new oil and gas development – would be true climate leadership and show the UK was capable of more than just fine words.

[See also: “The polluter must pay”: why rich countries could be sued for destroying the climate]