Joe Biden’s climate envoy warns UK against North Sea oil and gas expansion

Joe Biden’s climate envoy has questioned the UK’s plans to expand North Sea oil and gas production dramatically, warning it will not solve the energy crisis.

John Kerry also attacked fossil fuel chiefs for exploiting the Ukraine war to convince governments they must slow down the shift to renewable energy, saying: “It’s just not true.”

The former US vice-president said he did not know the full details of the UK’s controversial plans which are set to award more than 100 licences to extract oil and gas in the North Sea.

But he said: “The truth is, and this is indisputable, that wind power and solar power are cheaper energy than fossil fuel energy today.

“If you’re planning a new facility, and you’re planning new drilling, it isn’t going to make the difference today, or tomorrow, or in the next month – because it’s just not going to be available over that period of time.

“It takes a number of years to do that. So hopefully it’s not a long-term projection.”

The move, announced last month, has already triggered the threat of a legal challenge on the grounds it is incompatible with the UK’s legal commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

It also threatens to undermine Rishi Sunak’s claims to be a world leader in tackling the climate emergency, when he arrives at the crucial Cop27 summit in Egypt on Sunday.

During Liz Truss’s short-lived premiership, the North Sea Transition Authority restarted the process of awarding licences, putting almost 900 locations up for exploration.

It is the first round since 2019-20, when the near-annual process was put on hold while the government carried out a “climate compatibility check”.

That assessment has been criticised for failing to properly assess the impact on the prospects for the UK staying within its interim “carbon budgets” through to 2037.

Mr Kerry, while not mentioning the UK, hit out at senior figures in the fossil fuel industry using the energy shortage provoked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “leverage”.

“They are telling governments, ‘we need to be pumping a lot more’ and ‘we’re moving much too fast and look at what you’ve done to us’,” he warned, speaking on BBC Radio 4.

“There are those who make that argument and it’s just not true. It’s not, it’s not. It’s not an accurate narrative,” Mr Kerry insisted.

Washington’s envoy also urged rich nations to “step up” to commitments already made to help poorer nations transition and adapt to the traumatic impact of climate change.

“Obviously those countries with greater means across the board – and that includes some developing countries that have greater means – need to also step up and help in this transition,” he said.