MOVES to kickstart a new wave of oil and gas exploration in the North Sea have been branded “unsustainable and dangerous”.

The Oil and Gas Authority has opened up applications to explore in large areas off the coast of Scotland.

It comes just months after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a “climate emergency” at the SNP’s spring conference.

Meanwhile, the UK Government recently committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 in a bid to tackle the ongoing climate crisis.

Environmental campaigners slammed the latest move and insisted it will take us “well beyond the point of climate breakdown”.

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland, said: “Opening up even more of the North Sea and West of Shetland to oil and gas exploration is totally irresponsible and undermines other efforts to tackle the climate emergency.

“We instead need to see a just transition that enables us to harness the engineering skills currently deployed in the oil and gas industry and apply them to supporting a range of cleaner forms of energy production.

“The science is clear. To reduce the risk of dangerous global climate change, the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves need to be left in the ground unburned.”

A Scottish Greens spokesman said the decision was “unsustainable and dangerous” given recent warnings there are just 11 years before climate change becomes irreversible.

He said: “If we are serious about tackling the climate emergency head on, a just transition needs to start right now, not after we’ve extracted every last bit of oil and gas.

“There needs to be an acknowledgement from government and industry that maximum economic extraction of oil and gas cannot happen if we’re going to turn this around.

“That means investment in the alternatives and securing jobs has to step up immediately.

“We can’t burn all the reserves we already know about, and we should not kid ourselves on that further exploration is a responsible option.”

Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, warned new oil and gas licenses “will take us well beyond the point of climate breakdown”.

She said: “More interested in servicing corporate interests than protecting life on earth, the UK Government is planning to extract far more than its fair share of oil and gas, and the Scottish Government is fully behind this, despite its rhetoric of climate leadership.

“Real climate leadership means making tough decisions now to put us on a path to a climate safe future.

“Tackling the climate emergency means we must ban oil and gas exploration, and redirect the vast subsidies propping up fossil fuel extraction towards creating decent green jobs in a zero carbon economy.”

And Anna Markova, a campaigner at activist group Platform, said climate science made clear “we have to stop drilling for oil”.

She said: “Each new oil and gas licence takes us closer to a ‘no-deal exit’ from oil extraction, crashing out without protecting jobs, ports, construction yards.

“If we begin a planned transition now, renewable industries can create hundreds of thousands of decent clean jobs where they’re needed, and fill the economic gap left by the oil industry.

“But to make this happen, UK and Scottish governments must work with trade unions, safeguard an equivalent job guarantee for oil workers, and drive the transition with all the available tools, from national investment banks to public energy companies to education and skills agencies.”

The Oil and Gas Authority – which became a Government company in 2016 – said a total of 768 blocks or part blocks are being made available for exploration in different areas of the UK Continental Shelf.

It argues oil and gas will “remain an important part of our energy mix for the foreseeable future”, adding: “Maximising economic recovery from the [UK Continental Shelf] is vital to meet our energy demands and reduce reliance on imports.”

Jo Bagguley, principal regional geologist at the authority, said the “latest release of carefully targeted, value-adding data demonstrates the OGA’s continued commitment to supporting industry in its efforts to revitalise exploration”.

As part of the licensing process, the authority is making a “significant amount” of data available, including details from more than 90,000 geochemical samples from 2,700 wells.

The latest move marks the 32nd round of licensing for exploratory drilling over a span of more than 50 years.

Applications will close in November, with decisions due to be made in the second quarter of 2020.

It comes amid widespread concern over the impact of climate change, with global protests and school strikes bringing renewed attention to the crisis.

Ms Sturgeon declared a “climate emergency” at the SNP conference earlier this year, and has since committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2045.

Meanwhile, a recent analysis of the impact of climate change found Edinburgh’s climate will be more like Paris’ by 2050.

An evaluation of the world’s 520 major cities by the Crowther Lab, a scientific facility in Zurich, indicated more than three-quarters will experience a dramatic change in climate conditions in the coming decades.

More than a fifth (22 per cent), including Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, will experience unprecedented conditions never before seen in major conurbations.

A report by the Committee on Climate Change released earlier this week issued a damning assessment of the UK Government’s current efforts to cut down on emissions and avert climate catastrophe.

Chair John Gummer compared the “ramshackle” approach of ministers to Dad’s Army.