Lord Deben, the outgoing chairman of the UK’s climate advisory board, is not a personal fan of the protest group Just Stop Oil. “I do not think it promotes the cause which we all have,” he said this week. But as his Climate Change Committee (CCC) released its new report, he called on the government to listen to the group’s demands and remove the need for protest in the first place.
“Governments and oppositions ought to recognise why it happens,” he said. “It happens because a very, very large number of people, many of them young, really do feel that their whole lives are threatened because governments are not leading, not taking up the challenge, not moving fast enough, not keeping [a 1.5C limit to global warming] within possibility, not, in other words, doing what they ought to do if they are to meet the needs of our population and the population of the world.”
Deben was speaking at a press briefing for the CCC’s latest progress report, released on Wednesday (28 June). The statutory document says that the current Conservative government is failing to make sufficient progress towards the UK’s legally binding net-zero goals. Energy and climate experts described its findings as “damning”.
After being pressed by the courts to release hundreds of pages of new detail on net-zero plans this spring, the government is still falling short, the CCC warns. “Our confidence in the UK meeting its medium-term targets has decreased in the past year,” the report’s authors write. They highlight the slow pace of fulfilment on commitments that do exist – such as phasing out fossil fuel vehicles by 2030 or decarbonising the electricity system by 2035 – as well as the need for new decisions on everything from decarbonising steel to increasing tree planting.
The report also notes an over-reliance on technological solutions that have not yet been deployed at the required scale, a need to empower people to make greener choices, and the necessity of an overhaul of the planning system. Perhaps most critically, the report also repeated the committee’s concern about the opening of a new deep coking coal mine in Cumbria and emphasised that the UK’s need for oil and gas “does not in itself justify the development of new North Sea fields”.
On Tuesday, however, Grant Shapps, the Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary, doubled down on his support for fossil fuels. Linking to a BBC interview with a major oil and gas producer, Shapps repeated his claim that Labour’s plans to end new North Sea oil and gas licences would force the UK into a greater reliance on “tyrants like Putin”.
“British businesses are sounding the alarm on Labour’s plan to surrender to #JustStopOil,” Shapps tweeted. Expert analysis by the website CarbonBrief has projected that the UK would in fact be less reliant on gas imports under Labour’s current plans than the government’s.
And even while Labour draws ire from the right wing for its commitment to halt North Sea drilling, Keir Starmer has not fully meet the level of climate ambition required by the CCC’s latest report. The party has not yet, for instance, announced whether it intends to withdraw from the Energy Charter Treaty, which enables fossil fuel companies to sue governments for policies that would incur future financial losses. “Exiting the treaty is the best way to prevent the public having to foot the bill for more massive payouts to big business in the midst of a cost of living crisis,” the campaign group Global Justice Now said.
These political shortcomings are only making the activists behind the Just Stop Oil protests more concerned. “Lord Deben is right to suggest that governments are not moving fast enough but he is being too polite,” a spokesperson told Spotlight. “In fact our government is criminally disregarding its most fundamental duty of care to its citizens. New oil and gas is the greatest criminal act in human history and politicians who conspire to support it are complicit in mass murder. The next thousand generations’ very existence is dependent on what we do right now. Just Stop Oil is on the right side of history. Which side will you be on?”