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The Willow Project: How will it affect the UK? Imogen Evans, SLGGS

Flooding of York in February 2020. <i>(Image: Unsplash. Don Lodge.)</i>
Flooding of York in February 2020. (Image: Unsplash. Don Lodge.)

On the 13th March 2023, the Biden Administration approved the Willow Project, allowing a Houston-based energy company, ConocoPhillips, to drill oil from Alaska’s North Slope, which currently holds six hundred million barrels of oil. Originally proposed in 2020, it has been reduced from five drill pads to three by Biden’s administration, allowing the company to drill 90% of the oil they are pursuing. The project, spanning over three decades, would generate enough oil to release 9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution each year, adding an estimated 278 million metric tons to the atmosphere in its lifetime. This is more than seventy coal-fired power plants could produce annually. This project will destroy habitats for native species, as well as altering their migration patterns.

How does this affect Britain?

The effects of climate change in Britain are already apparent, with the average temperature of the last decade being 0.8°C higher than the average for 1961-1990. The higher temperatures mean that there is more moisture in the air, leading to more severe storms and flooding, causing damage to homes and livelihoods. The need to act in order to prevent the damages of climate change was pressing, even before the approval of the Willow project. The temperatures are continuing to rise, bringing an increased risk of deadly heatwaves, storms and flooding; despite this, homes are still being built in high-risk flood zones. Britain is unable to cope with the climate crisis as it is, and, with the added pressure of the Willow project, this inability to cope will only have even more of an impact on communities across the country.

Currently, Britain is part of the 2015 Paris agreement, with the goal to limit global warming to below 2°C, ideally 1.5°C. The UK has also set a target of phasing out coal completely by 2024, however, in order to achieve this, the movement towards renewable energy must be scaled up significantly, and quickly. The Climate Change Act of 2008 set out to cut our emission by 80% by 2050, from the levels recorded in 1990. Although this has since been changed to a 100% reduction, as well as bring on track to reach the most recent carbon budget for 2018-22 (with the final statement being released in May 2024), the UK’s corporate finance sector is continuing to fund fossil fuel projects across the world. In order to tackle the climate crisis, the government and corporations need to encourage and invest in solutions, as, without it, the climate is predicted to heat up by 3°C by 2100, which would be disastrous. There are solutions to climate change that we already know to be effective, but only if our leaders implement them on a big scale.

With the approval of the Willow project, it is more essential than ever that we tackle climate change with urgency; the effects of climate change already clear across Britain, with lives already being lost. The Willow project will only speed up the process.