2022: COP27, Climate Delay, and the Future of the North Sea

What does the coming year have in store when it comes to UK climate policy? We run through some of the key things to watch out for.
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2022: COP27, Climate Delay, and the Future of the North Sea
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A North Sea oil rig. Credit: Gary Bembridge/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Another year has come and gone, and with it a crucial climate conference and the battle over a controversial new oilfield. 

The year in British politics has ended in dramatic fashion, with a number of scandals coming hot on the heels of the UK-hosted COP26 summit, and another wave of Covid sweeping through the country.

While it’s anyone’s guess what will happen over the next 12 months, here’s what DeSmog’s UK team will be keeping an eye on as we head into 2022. 

COP27

The UN’s 27th annual climate conference will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, which will see countries submitting updated targets just one year after meeting in Glasgow. 

Previously, new “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) would be put forward every five years at the major summits, but at COP26 negotiators agreed that countries should step up their ambitions and report their progress every year, with an emphasis on strengthening their 2030 emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C goal.

As for the rest of COP27, questions about loss and damage and adaptation funding for developing countries will likely be key issues once more.

Climate Delay and Net Zero ‘Scrutiny’

Outright climate science denial may have waned, but climate delay has emerged as a worrying replacement and obstacle to serious climate action.

Leading the charge of climate delay in the UK is the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, a loose association of MPs formed by Conservative backbenchers Craig Mackinlay and Steve Baker, a trustee of the climate science denying Global Warming Policy Foundation. 

Both have been in the news throughout 2021 questioning the government’s net zero policies, claiming that they are financially unviable and criticising the Climate Change Committee’s estimates for the cost of the transition.

While the full list of members of the group remains unknown, we expect to hear a lot more from them in 2022 as the government proposes new policies to tackle climate change.

The Future of North Sea Oil and Gas 

The North Sea oil and gas industry faced several high-profile legal challenges this year, including one by three claimants suing the government for its policy of “maximising economic recovery” of fossil fuels from the area. 

The claimants argued that the strategy being pursued is “unlawful” because it doesn’t regulate tax breaks for oil and gas companies and is inconsistent with the government’s legal commitments to reach net zero by 2050.

A judgment is expected soon, and could have major implications for the future of the industry. 

Just a week before, campaigners claimed a big win after Shell pulled out of the controversial Cambo oil and gas field off Shetland, and majority owner Siccar Point Energy announced development of the project would be paused.

Other major North Sea oil and gas projects are still slated for development, including Equinor’s Rosebank field, which could hold up to 300 million barrels of oil. The company says it will make a final investment decision on Rosebank in May 2022. BP will be developing the Murlach and Seagull fields, and Shell hopes to resubmit its plans for the Jackdaw development after its initial environmental impact assessment was rejected this year.

New projects will be subject to the Government’s yet-to-be-designed “climate compatibility checkpoint,” which is currently consulting the industry, investors and non-governmental organisations.

We’ll be watching to see whether oil and gas companies’ social licence to operate continues to shrink, or whether Cambo’s pause is just a hiccup in the face of new fossil fuel production in the UK.

General Election 

Finally, there’s a (small) chance we’ll see a snap general election called over the coming year. Some Labour Party advisers are reportedly expecting one in the spring, well ahead of 2024 when it’s officially due. 

Boris Johnson’s Conservative government has been mired in scandals through the final months of 2021, including Johnson’s defence of former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and the revelation that there had been Christmas parties across Westminster during the height of last year’s lockdowns.

A Labour government would likely prioritise climate change even further — at this year’s party conference, the party announced that it would commit £28 billion annually to combat the climate crisis if elected, with Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves saying this would be spent on increasing electric vehicle battery manufacturing, boosting walking and cycling, building green energy infrastructure for offshore wind and green hydrogen, and improving flood defences. 

Whether we witness another general election or not, 2022 is set to be another crucial year for climate policy in the UK and beyond. We’ll be watching closely to see whether it carries the climate torch forward from this year to the next.  

2022: COP27, Climate Delay, and the Future of the North Sea
Michaela is Database Researcher at DeSmog. She joined DeSmog in June 2021, having previously worked as a freelance researcher and as a podcast producer for the US Centre at the London School of Economics.

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