Weekly News Review - 12th May 2023

UK tops list for fossil fuel sites in nature protected areas

A report by the Leave it in the Ground Initiative (Lingo) has found that fossil fuel extraction and exploration is taking place at almost 3,000 sites in protected areas around the world. If all the sites were fully exploited an estimated 47bn tonnes of carbon dioxide would be released into the atmosphere.

The fossil fuel activities affect sites in more than 800 protected areas globally, with 509 of these sites in the UK. However, the largest contributor to the potential emissions is China whose 19 sites could produce 12.1bn tonnes of carbon dioxide. There are also significant contributions from Venezuela (7.7bn tonnes), Saudi Arabia (3.9bn tonnes) and Kazakhstan (3.5bn tonnes). In comparison, the 509 sites in the UK would release around 1bn tonnes if fully exploited.

The Lingo analysis cross-referenced information on fossil fuel sites from data provider Rystad with maps of protected areas recognised by the UN environment programme and the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The protected areas include the Arctic national wildlife refuge in the US, Canada’s Rocky Mountain parks, and the Coongie Lakes in South Australia. While many of the affected areas in the UK are in the North Sea there are some onshore sites such as the South Downs and North York Moors national parks.

Alice McGown, a geographic information expert at Lingo, said: “Every single one of these sites is a sign of hypocrisy, saying on one hand that this area is worthy of protection and then on the other hand, bringing fossil fuel extraction into those same areas. Britain has many offshore extraction sites within internationally recognised protected areas in the North Sea and what’s really worrying is that they’re developing even more right now.”

A spokesperson for the UK Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said: “The UK’s expert regulators consider and assess the environmental impacts, including to habitats, before any decisions on new oil or gas projects. We know oil and gas will continue to be needed now and in the coming years as we scale up renewables and new nuclear to boost Britain’s energy security and bring down bills in the long term.”

Wind is main source of UK electricity for first time

For the first time in the UK wind turbines have generated more electricity than gas in a single quarter. Over the first three months of 2023, wind power provided around 24TWh which met 32.4% of the nation’s demand, whereas gas-fired power stations provided 31.7%.

Research from Imperial College London (ICL) found that in the first quarter of the year 42% of the UK’s electricity came from renewable sources, including wind, solar, biomass and hydro. Fossil fuels supplied 33% with the remaining electricity coming from nuclear power and European imports. Wind generation was 3% higher than the same period last year whereas gas was 5% lower, mainly due to the high price environment creating demand reduction.

Dr Iain Staffell, energy researcher at ICL and lead author, said: “The renewable power revolution has transformed how Britain gets its electricity, making our power grid cleaner and greener. In the space of a decade the UK has almost completely cut out coal, after relying on the most polluting fossil fuel for over a century to power our country.”

“There are still many hurdles to reaching a completely fossil fuel-free grid but wind out supplying gas for the first time is a genuine milestone event and shows what can be achieved when governments create a good environment for investors in clean technology.”

The UK has committed to having net zero emissions from its electricity by 2035. However, since 2015 the majority of renewable growth has been through offshore wind following a de-facto ban on onshore applications brought in by David Cameron. In December, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak agreed to relax these planning restrictions to speed up development.

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