Imperial College London

Multi-billion-pound energy announcement misses ‘opportunity to right the ship'


Oil rigs in the Comraty Firth, a Scottish arm of the North Sea. Photo by Ben Wicks.

Oil rigs in the Comraty Firth, a Scottish arm of the North Sea, photographed by Ben Wicks.

There’s a lot to unpack in the government’s ‘Powering Up Britain’ announcement today.

£160 million to kickstart floating offshore wind. £240 million for green hydrogen production. £205 million to incentivise investment in renewable energy. £380 million to boost electric vehicle charging ports and infrastructure. £10 billion to boost exports. £20 billion for carbon capture and storage.

The detail is dizzying and the government claims the policies, set out across more than 1000 pages, will reduce household energy bills and create energy independence in the UK.

However, Imperial College climate change and energy experts who have reviewed the policies are sceptical.

They say the government needs to take bolder actions to reduce green house gas emissions.

In fact, in the entire government media release, the words ‘climate change’ are used just twice.

The Powering Up Britain announcement comes just over a week after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its AR6 Synthesis Report

The report is the IPCC's most comprehensive body of evidence on climate change yet – providing a clear message that time is running out to take action.

Aerial image of winding river surrounded by brown, arid grass and dying trees.
Heatwaves and drought are expected to intensify as the world's climate warms. Image by Keagan Henman.

Delivering on net zero

Professor Peter Childs, Co-Director of Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College London, says that while investment in green hydrogen production and offshore wind is encouraging, stronger action is needed to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The strategy is sadly undermined by the government’s failure to rule out new harmful emission associated oil and gas projects and meaningfully address demand reduction at the scales needed.

“We know that if we are to have any chance of meeting our climate obligations, we must urgently shift investment away from fossil fuels and into renewables and low-carbon solutions.

“Ultimately, this was an opportunity to right the ship and finally put the UK on course for net zero, but, while there are certainly some positive takeaways, it looks like an opportunity that has largely been missed.” 

As part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, Britain is legally obligated to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

‘Net zero’ refers to achieving an overall balance between emissions produced and emissions removed from the atmosphere.

Removing greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere is a key focus of the Powering Up Britain strategy, in the form of a mammoth £20 billion investment in ‘carbon capture and storage.’

While scientists say we will likely need technologies that effectively remove and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, most are yet to be proven at scale and many climate scientists fear these technologies will be used to justify the ongoing use of fossil fuels.

Dr Friederike Otto, Senior Lecturer at the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, describes carbon capture and storage as an “extremely costly experiment” and a distraction.

“The UK government should not be investing £20 billion in a strategy that is essentially an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff, when we could use the money to not go down the cliff in the first place.”

Brown floodwaters swallow three blue trucks by river stop banks and forest.
Extreme rainfall and flooding is more common and more intense because of human-caused climate change across most of the world. Image by Jean Beller.

Decision on new oil and gas field pending

Conspicuously missing from the government’s announcement today is a key decision on the Rosebank gas and oil field in the North Sea.

Leading up to the announcement, commentators had expected the Government to approve the licence for the field and justify the decision as necessary while renewable energy is developed and upscaled.

Yesterday, a letter signed by 700 climate experts in the UK was sent to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, urging him to end all new approvals for new gas and oil fields.

The letter outlines that rapid phase out of fossil fuels is needed to limit warming to 1.5°C, and feasible and effective green alternatives are already available.

It stated, “there are those who might claim that stopping new developments of oil and gas fields would raise concerns about the affordability and security of future energy supplies, but there is now overwhelming evidence that the UK is far better served by a rapid transition to domestic clean energy sources, particularly renewables, and decarbonisation of our economy.

“Doubling down on fossil fuels will not lower energy bills or enhance our energy security.”

Firefighters in front of a brick house on a sunny day putting out a fire.

Firefighters put out a fire during a UK heatwave. Photo by Benjamin Elliot

Dr Otto says any new oil and gas drilling is at odds with the UK's net-zero targets. 

Last summer, a study by the World Weather Attribution found that without human-caused climate change, record breaking temperatures of 40°C in the UK would have been extremely unlikely.

Dr Otto says heatwaves, and other extreme weather events, will only become more intense as the world continues to burn fossil fuels.

“Climate change is killing people in Britain and people around the world today. We can save lives by immediately divesting from fossil fuels.

“We need to stop burning fossil fuels.”



Sam Ezra Fraser-Baxter

Sam Ezra Fraser-Baxter
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change


Environment, Energy, Climate-change, Government-and-policy
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