The head of the GMB union, one of Labor’s biggest donors, has called on party leader Keir Starmer to cancel plans to ban all new fossil fuel extraction licenses in the North Sea.
Gary Smith said there was a “national security imperative” to keep Britain’s oil and gas industry alive given that the country would continue to use these fuels for decades even under the “Net Zero 2050” target.
said the General Secretary of GMB in an interview with the Financial Times.
Starmer confirmed in January that the statement of work would include a pledge not to issue new licenses in the North Sea, although companies would be able to exploit sites they already had prior permission from the authorities. The policy is part of an ambitious “Green Prosperity Plan” designed to accelerate Britain’s progress towards net zero.
But the plan caused consternation within the GMB, Britain’s largest industrial association.
Smith said that “suffocating” the oil industry in the North Sea would be “bad for jobs” and “bad for the environment” because the UK would still have to import gas and oil from abroad with a higher carbon footprint.
“There is an ethics involved; are we going to continue to fund these regimes in the Middle East and the likes of Russia, or do we take responsibility for our own carbon and create jobs and investment here?” he said.
Smith also argued that large oil and gas companies could be “vital” in providing investment in renewable energy projects in the future.
“There is no point in suffocating the industry. We need to work with the industry to encourage investment in the green technologies of the future.
Smith said Starmer’s team were “in the mood to hear” his argument ahead of the Labor Party’s summer national policy forum meeting, and added that his union would press the issue at the party conference in October in Liverpool.
“The mood music at the party is different,” he said. Labor understands that there is a national security imperative around this as well. Our biggest challenge will be how to keep the lights on, keep homes warm, and industry running over the next decade, we are one pipeline or one cable going downhill from a serious energy crisis. “
On Thursday, Climate Secretary Graham Stewart said the government was “committed to new licenses for oil and gas in the North Sea”, insisting it was consistent with Net Zero.
Philip Evans, climate campaigner from Greenpeace – which faces an ongoing legal challenge against the government’s new round of licensing for oil and gas – said it was a “ridiculous” position for the minister to take.
“All new oil and gas exploration is incompatible with 1.5°C. Don’t just take my word for it, this is also the view of the International Energy Agency, the UN Secretary-General, as well as countless academics and scientists.
“If the government had an iota of interest in mitigating the effects of the climate crisis, it would reverse its decision to allow more fossil fuel production, and stop subsidizing the industry that is destroying the planet.”
A Labor aide said the Starmer government would not “turn off the taps” immediately and would allow companies to continue developing North Sea fields where they already have licences.
“Oil and gas will continue to play an important role in the transition to net zero and the skills and experience of oil and gas workers will be vital as we transition to different sources of energy,” he said. “The action plans will . . . provide energy security for the country and provide good jobs for these workers, including in clean energy sources.”