The ex-cabinet minister’s comments have been described as a ‘damning indictment’ of the Conservative government.
J acob Rees-Mogg spoke of his desire for people to “stop demonising oil and gas” in a private meeting with the head of the United Arab Emirates’s state investment company while serving as Business and Energy Secretary, DeSmog can reveal.
Rees-Mogg agreed with Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak that “hydrocarbons need to be part of the [energy] solution”. He also suggested that the UK and UAE could collaborate more closely on the development of nuclear small modular reactors, and the production of hydrogen – a technology described by critics as a fossil-fuel industry “delay tactic”.
The meeting took place on 17 October last year during the short-lived tenure of former Prime Minister Liz Truss when Rees-Mogg was heading up UK energy policy. Al Mubarak is the CEO of the Mubadala Investment Company, a key advisor to the president of the UAE – which will host the COP28 climate summit later this year – and a board member of several major firms in the country, including the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). He also serves as the chairman of Manchester City Football Club.
Rees-Mogg remains an influential figure in the Conservative Party. Last week Prime Minister Rishi Sunak approved ex-PM Boris Johnson’s honours list, which nominated Rees-Mogg for a knighthood. Shortly after the announcement, Johnson resigned as an MP ahead of an expected ruling from the Commons privileges committee that he had misled parliament.
Rees-Mogg is a well-known opponent of climate action. He has blamed high energy prices on “climate alarmism” and questioned the ability of scientists to project changes to the climate. He is currently a host on GB News, a channel where DeSmog recently revealed one in three presenters cast doubt on climate science.
While Rees-Mogg no longer heads up UK energy policy, his statements are consistent with the government’s current position on fossil fuels. The government intends to imminently award more than 100 new North Sea oil and gas licences – a policy announced during Truss’s time in 10 Downing Street. It also plans to loosen restrictions on fossil fuel extraction, saying it is committed to “maximising the vital production of UK oil and gas as the North Sea basin declines”.
The Conservative Party’s energy policy flies in the face of the International Energy Agency’s warning that new fossil fuel development is incompatible with legally binding net zero goals, which have been adopted by the UK and the rest of the world.
The UAE has attracted widespread criticism for planning a huge expansion in oil and gas production, as it pulls together this year’s climate summit. COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber, head of ADNOC, the world’s 11th biggest oil and gas producer, has stated that fossil fuels should “continue to play a role in the foreseeable future”.
DeSmog last week revealed that the value of fossil fuel imports to the UK from authoritarian petrostates – including the UAE and its neighbours in the Gulf – hit £19.3 billion (an increase of more than 60 percent) in the year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said that Rees-Mogg’s meeting with Al Mubarak was a “damning indictment” of the Conservative government.
“Hydrocarbons aren’t the solution, they’re the problem.
“The fossil fuel era is over. The best way to deliver energy security for the long-term is to insulate the nation, adopt abundant and affordable renewables, invest in storage technologies, and keep all new fossil fuels in the ground where they belong.”
A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson said:
“We are committed to reaching net zero by 2050 and are cutting emissions faster than any other G7 country whilst keeping the economy growing with low-carbon sources like renewables and nuclear providing half of the UK’s electricity.
“While we are investing significantly in new renewable and nuclear projects, the transition to non-fossil forms of energy cannot happen overnight and even when we’re net zero, we will still need some oil and gas, as recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee.”
London Net Zero by 2050? | CREDIT: ARTIST IMPRESSION/JASPER
‘Our View Coincides’
According to the meeting’s agenda, obtained via a Freedom of Information request, Rees-Mogg and Al Mubarak were joined by the UK Ambassador to the UAE, and the Director of the UK’s General Energy Supply Taskforce.
Al Mubarak stated in the meeting that the UAE invests in oil and gas, as well as renewables, because it believes the “solution to [the] energy transition needs to include everything”. He noted that “this approach has not been taken by many countries” and that “hydrocarbons need to be part of the solution”.
According to the minutes, Rees-Mogg said in response that “our view coincides on [the] energy solution, and that all economies depend on cheap sources of energy”.
Responding to Rees-Mogg’s suggestion that “we have to stop demonising oil and gas”, Al Mubarak claimed that anti-fossil fuel sentiments had caused “issues around investment”.
He noted that the UAE intended to invest £10 billion in the UK over the subsequent 18 months, and that “the faster we go will ensure the best outcome for the UK”.
Rees-Mogg suggested that the development of nuclear small modular reactors (SMRs) could be an outlet for quick investment. All but one of the UK’s nuclear power stations are due to close by 2030, and the government has launched a challenge, backed by Treasury funding, to test whether SMR technology is viable.
Additionally, he suggested that the UK and UAE could “work closer on hydrogen”, an energy source which is heavily promoted by the oil and gas industry for decarbonisation as it can make use of existing infrastructure.
ADNOC has already provided support to UK oil giant BP’s hydrogen projects on Teesside, on the UK’s North East coastline. It has a 25 percent stake in the design stage of the H2 Teesside venture, which intends to produce ‘blue’ hydrogen, and it has partnered with BP on the evaluation of a blue hydrogen project in Abu Dhabi.
Blue hydrogen – touted by the fossil fuel industry and governments as a clean energy source – is made from fossil fuels with the capture and storage of carbon.
But some scientific studies suggest that blue hydrogen may harm the climate even more than burning fossil fuels, due to the leakage of both uncaptured carbon dioxide and the large emissions of unburned, so-called “fugitive” methane emissions inherent in using natural gas. Researchers at Cornell and Stanford calculate that blue hydrogen creates a carbon footprint that is 20 percent greater than burning natural gas or coal directly, or roughly 60 percent greater than using diesel oil for heat.
While these pessimistic assumptions have been criticised by David Joffe, head of net zero at the UK government’s Climate Change Committee (CCC), the CCC has itself recommended that hydrogen deployment should be focused in the areas that cannot be decarbonised through other means. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that hydrogen will represent at best 2.1 percent of total energy consumption in 2050.
In early June, Grant Shapps, the current Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, appeared to confirm that the government view has not moved on since Rees-Mogg’s meeting. He stated that continuing domestic fossil fuel exploration was essential in order to help the “economy, national security and the climate”.
▫ Sam Bright, DeSmog’s UK Deputy Editor. He was previously the Investigations Editor of Byline Times and an investigative journalist at the BBC. He is the author of two books: Fortress London, and Bullingdon Club Britain.
▪ Text: This piece was originally published in DeSmog and re-published in PMP Magazine on 12 June 2023. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
▪ Cover: Flickr/Number 10. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)