IT was hard to escape the political dimension to the major energy policy announcements made by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak today.

In the days which followed last month’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, which saw the Conservatives hold on to the Greater London seat vacated by Boris Johnson amid opposition to the extension of the ultra-low emission zone, speculation has been mounting that Sunak would seek to water down the UK Government’s green commitments.

The Tories have appeared to be scratching around for anything that would reignite their fading aspirations of holding on to power at the next General Election when the window of opportunity arose in Johnson’s old stomping ground.

READ MORE: Aberdeen: Stewart Milne puts firm back up for sale

With voters using the by-election to oppose proposals to extend Mayor Sadiq Khan’s controversial ULEZ policy, the party has sensed there might be mileage across other constituencies in rowing back from the green agenda. That campaigners from environmental groups such as Just Stop Oil have annoyed parts of the electorate with protests at events such as Wimbledon may well have bolstered that thinking.

Perhaps sensing an opportune moment with the Scottish and Westminster parliament’s both in recess, Sunak attempted to seize the initiative on environmental policy and energy security today by announcing that his Government will grant more than 100 new oil and gas licences to maximise the resources of the North Sea, while also giving its commitment to a pioneering carbon capture and storage project in the North Sea.

The decision to grant the North Sea licences was well trailed and has been driven to a large extent by the fall-out from Russia’s war on Ukraine. Sunak said the licences would boost UK energy security and reduce the country’s reliance on expensive energy imports, which was exposed by the surge in prices that followed the Russian assault. He also said it would be good for Scottish jobs.

READ MORE: What can Scotland's troubled ferry service learn from Croatia?

In committing to new licences, the prime minister angered green campaigners, but one imagines he will not lose much sleep over that. Of greater importance to him will be how the policy lands with voters in Scotland who are concerned about energy prices and jobs, and how it contrasts with the current stance of the SNP-led Scottish Government, given its controversial opposition to granting licences for new oil and gas prospects in the North Sea. Labour has taken a similar stance on new projects.

Meanwhile, Sunak handed a boost to the energy sector in the north-east of Scotland by pledging investment in the Acorn carbon capture and storage project. Acorn’s backers had previously been disappointed when bids to secure support were snubbed by the UK Government in favour of projects south of the Border. But, whether for political or environmental reasons, its time looks to have come.

While great hopes have been expressed in the prospects for Acorn, which will aim to use existing oil and gas infrastructure to transport carbon dioxide from production centres such as Grangemouth and store it in depleted oil and gas reservoirs under the North Sea, the technology is still in its infancy.

That will be of little consequence at this stage to Sunak, however, on a day his policies dominated the agenda.