THE UK Government’s president of COP26 has refused to be drawn on concerns that approving a new North Sea oil and gas project would undermine his global leadership – as he claimed fossil fuels projects will still play a role in a net zero future.

Alok Sharma, the president-designate of COP26, was pressed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show over the UK Government supporting an application by Shell and Siccar Point Energy to open up a new oil field near Shetland – despite the International Energy Agency (IEA) explicitly warning that such a move would be incompatible with global efforts to halt the climate crisis.

The Cambo application, due to be considered by the Oil and Gas Authority, can also be thrown out by UK Government ministers.

But speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Mr Sharma refused to be drawn on support for the plans from the UK Government putting the country’s leadership of COP26 in jeopardy.

He said: “The IEA report also makes clear that, even in a net zero scenario, there is some element of oil and gas in that.”

Pressed on whether green-lighting a new oil field was a good example to the rest of the world, Mr Sharma added: “That is something that is being considered.

“There was a consultation inquiry around all of that. I’m not going to go into that particular issue. When there is an announcement, an agreement, of course I’d be very happy to come and talk to you.”

After further questioning, he added: “Shall we wait and see what the decision is?”

But Mr Sharma’s caution over Cambo appeared to be undermined almost immediately when Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Show, bluntly stated that “100 per cent we should back the Cambo oil field" – pointing to a future demand for oil and gas.

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He added: "100% we need to keep backing oil and gas.

"It won't change the fact that we will still need oil for products and we have to be realistic about that.

"It's foolish to think that we can just run away from oil and gas."

Climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, Caroline Rance, labelled Mr Jack's comments "outrageous", warning "we don't need Cambo".

She added: "Climate science is clear that we need a rapid phase out of oil and gas.

"There are over 6 billion barrels of oil in already operating/ granted UK fields, more than enough to see us through the transition.

"On the opening day of the COP26 climate conference, the host UK Government is sending the message that they are 100% behind new oil and gas. 

"As world leaders and impacted people gather in Glasgow to discuss action to limit warming to 1.5C, the UK Government’s unwavering support for more climate-wrecking fossil fuels is hypocritical in the extreme.

“Both climate science and energy experts are crystal clear that there can be no new oil or gas developments if we want to stay with the agreed limits of 1.5C global temperature rises. 

"Oil and gas production must be phased out in a managed way over the next decade, with investments redirected to scaling up renewables and ensuring a just transition so that every worker can retrain and move into a decent green job.”

The UK Government’s North Sea transition deal has been criticised by the United Nations for including no measures to lower the country’s demand for fossil fuels.

The UN report warned that the UK provided £3.7 billion in tax allowances and relief for oil and gas production in 2019 and will provide billions more tax relief for decommissioning. in the coming decades, while its North Sea transition deal for the offshore oil and gas sector has no plans for a wind-down in production.

Also appearing on the Andrew Mar Show, climate activist Greta Thunberg, who arrived in Glasgow for COP26 last night, was asked about the UK Government’s support for Cambo.

HeraldScotland: Greta Thunberg has arrived in Glasgow for COP26Greta Thunberg has arrived in Glasgow for COP26

The 18-year-old said that when countries show a “pattern” of policies in which they avoid taking “real action” it shows that the climate is not their main priority.

She was asked about the UK’s position on leading on climate change in the wake of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s recent announcement that there would be a 50% cut in air passenger duty (APD) for domestic flights.

She told Marr: “Of course we can’t talk about this in, like, one single policy and so on.

“But when you see a pattern of these policies, that all the time are avoiding taking real action, then I think you can draw conclusions from that pattern.

“That climate action is not really our main priority right now.”