UK Labour leader on collision course with Shell and BP

Ed Miliband has declared his support for a net zero emissions goal that would put oil companies out of business

Pic: ARCHIVED Department of Energy and Climate Change/Flickr

Pic: ARCHIVED Department of Energy and Climate Change/Flickr

By Ed King

Ed Miliband would commit the UK to a goal of slashing fossil fuel emissions to zero by 2050 if he is elected as prime minister in this year’s general election.

The Labour leader made the pledge in a speech in London, where he said addressing climate change and global poverty would be priorities for a government he led.

“I know tackling climate change, global poverty and inequality are not as fashionable as they once were. But I also know they are more important than ever,” Miliband, said.

“For me, they are not luxury items in our programme for change. They are not part of a branding exercise. They go to the heart of my beliefs and the reason why I entered politics.”

Zero net carbon

A separate Labour briefing note confirmed that Miliband, who was UK climate chief from 2008-2010, would target an international agreement on climate change leading to zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

The idea of a 2050 target gained traction at a recent set of UN climate talks in Lima, and is listed as a possible element of a global carbon cutting deal, scheduled to be signed later this year.

Green groups support the move, which is in line with pathways to avoid dangerous levels of global warming. It would also wreck the business models of oil majors and budgets of Russia and OPEC states.

Last week scientists at UCL said a third of oil, half of gas and nearly 80% of coal reserves have to stay in the ground to avoid warming above an internationally agreed ceiling of 2C.

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Under the 2008 Climate Change Act the UK government is bound to reduce emissions 80% on 1990 levels by 2050.

Miliband’s more ambitious goal places him at odds with two of the UK’s largest oil and gas producers, Shell and BP.

According to the UK energy department BP is maintaining its investment levels in North Sea oil, and expects its Clair oil field to still be producing by 2050.

BP’s 2013 sustainability report, published last year, dismissed any concerns its reserves would be “unburnable” due to impending climate legislation, claiming the carbon bubble concept “oversimplifies” challenges faced by the industry.

Shell’s climate advisor David Hone believes 2050 is too early a cut-off point, arguing in a blog post this week that its choice is “somewhat arbritary” and “irrelevant for the atmosphere”.

He advocates the radical upscaling of carbon capture and storage technologies, which allow fossil fuels to be burnt without releasing warming gases into the atmosphere.

In an article published on the Guardian, former UK government advisor Jonathan Porritt, who worked with Shell and BP on decarbonisation plans, said neither company was committed to diversifying into cleaner forms of energy.

“All oil majors are trapped by a short-term mandate that leaves little room for manoeuvre,” he wrote.

“Shareholder expectations still dominate, and are still largely untouched by any kind of ‘unburnable carbon’ analysis of the staggering amount of economic value now at risk.”

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