THERE is no alternative to the continued use of fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, if economic growth and higher living standards are to be achieved, it was claimed yesterday.

Mr Heinz Rothermund, managing director of Shell UK Exploration and Production, speaking in Glasgow last night, said if it was accepted that economic growth and social development went together - and they were worthwhile goals for world peace - then there was no alternative to the use of fossil fuels in the short term.

He said: ''Commercial enterprises have a proven record and, given the opportunity, will continue to play the primary role in society in the generation of wealth.''

Critical of the campaign against the development of new oilfields by Shell and BP in the waters west of Shetland, he said: ''The critics believe that if we stop drilling in UK waters, somehow, a major impact on world carbon dioxide emissions will be achieved.

''They imply that it is a simple matter for one company to resolve the energy policy of a nation state. They ignore the economic realities of the energy market and overlook the operational limits of a commercial enterprise.''

However, he said: ''It is important to recognise that the specific attack, by Greenpeace in particular, on oil and gas developments in the Atlantic Margin also raises a key question.

''How far is it sensible to explore for and develop new hydrocarbon reserves, given that the atmosphere may not be able to cope with the greenhouse gases that will emanate from the utilisation of the hydrocarbon reserves discovered already?''

He went on to highlight the importance of increased energy efficiency in the future and the growth of renewable sources of energy, such as solar and wind power.

He said Shell had recently set up Shell Solar Energy, and was convinced this field would prove to be a commercial success in the coming decades.

Mr Rothermund's speech coincided with the launch yesterday, of an advertisement by Greenpeace to be shown in cinemas, urging the new Government to halt the fresh oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.