POLITICIANS have been urged to reduce the demand for oil and gas – as the impartial adviser to both the UK and Scottish government has insisted that burning more North Sea fossil fuels will do nothing to reduce energy prices for consumers.

The chief executive of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has suggested that after the international community weans itself off burning coal, oil is likely to be next in the firing line in order to salvage efforts to keep global warming below irreversible levels.

The organisation has told the UK Government, which has responsibility for issuing new oil and gas licences that it would be in favour of a “presumption against” new North Sea exploration.

In a letter to UK Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, the CCC said it would be in favour of “a tighter limit on production, with stringent tests and a presumption against exploration”.

Chris Stark, the chief executive of the CCC, a former Scottish Government climate change official, has warned there is a “global over-supply” of oil and gas and has called on politicians in Westminster and Holyrood to address the demand side of the equation – to help accelerate a move away from reliance on fossil fuels.

He said: “It’s a very difficult one to crack – getting ourselves off oil and gas reliance.

“We have got to stop somewhere.

“The idea of a climate test of UK oil and gas production is a good one. That test should start with a presumption against a new licence being granted, so that it is clear that it’s a high bar.”

Mr Stark has insisted that the situation in Ukraine and soaring wholesale oil and gas prices makes an argument for continued exploration in the North Sea on energy security grounds but not as a method to bring down prices for Scottish consumers.

He said: “It’s never been clearer that we should push on with net zero. It’s an energy security issue, if anything else.

“I think there’s certainly an argument on the energy security but there’s no argument at all on the price.

“No amount of UK production is going to improve the prices for UK consumers as international as it is.”

The Herald: Chris StarkChris Stark

The CCC chief executive warned that those believing continuing to pump oil and gas out of the North Sea in a bid to bring down prices are “naïve” or “wilfully making the argument knowing it’s not true”.

Mr Stark said the best way to improve energy security and bring down prices is to accelerate a move to renewable energy – as well as cutting Scotland and the UK’s harmful emissions.

He added that there needs to be a “rapid transition” towards more renewable forms of energy”, warning

that “we are not doing it as quickly as we need to”.

The UK Government last year published its North Sea Transition Deal which sets out a move to clean energies and cutting emissions in the industry by 50 per cent by 2030 – an aim lacking ambition, according to the CCC.

Asked about the hypothetical case of Scotland becoming independent, Mr Stark said the country “clearly would have negotiation rights on a whole host of things” including the North Sea agreement.

Mr Stark stressed that in the transition deal, “there’s a commitment from the industry that just falls way short” of what is needed to cut emissions at a fast enough pace, adding that the North Sea oil and gas sector has taken an “unambitious position when it comes to greater reductions”.


Last year, the UK Government pointed to the CCC as justification for why controversial plans to open up an oil field at Cambo near Shetland, should be given the green light – accusing the organisation of saying that ongoing demand for fossil fuels was reason enough to approve the proposals.

But the CCC has quashed that argument. As well as telling UK ministers there should be a presumption against new oil and gas developments, the statutory adviser has echoed calls by Nicola Sturgeon that the Westminster Government’s climate compatibility test should apply to those developments, including Cambo, where licences have been granted but production has not begun.

Mr Stark said: “We think that the test that is proposed by UK ministers is too narrow – it’s focused on licensing new fields only, but of course there are these other stages of development and production that will matter too, not least the fields that have received a licence but haven’t fully started production.

“We see a need to apply a test there too and to the various stages of production.

“We will come out quite strongly against those who use the analysis of the CCC to try and justify continuing to expand fossil fuels exploration.”

SNP ministers will set out their updated energy strategy, the first refresh since 2017, when Mr Stark was involved in drawing up the document in his previous role for the Scottish Government.

He said: “The world has moved on a bit since that first energy strategy was produced. I think for me, the most important element is on demand and set out clearly how the Scottish Government intends to move to low carbon heating.”

The COP26 climate conference, held in Glasgow in November, ushered in a global acceptance that coal needs to be phased out.

Mr Stark has acknowledged that oil is likely to be next on the radar.

He said: “It’s obvious that coal is on its way out. It’s probably a sliding scale and oil is next in the frame by the time we get to the middle of the century. Gas clearly plays an integral role.

“The quicker we get off fossil fuels, the quicker we get to net zero and we can provide more secure energy systems.”