LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Catholic critics are objecting to a new bill being debated in the UK parliament which, they claim, “sends a worrying signal” about the country’s committment to reducing the use of fossil fuels, among other things by moving ther goal posts on requirements for the oil and gas industry to reduce emissions.

Over the weekend, the Climate APPG (all-party parliamentary group) called on the government to withdraw the “Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill,” calling it a piece of “political theatre” that would increase “the supply of low-cost renewables and implementing energy efficiency measures, both of which would genuinely lower consumer bills and have strong public support.”

The Climate APPG said new oil and gas licensing rounds “will have very little impact on the UK’s energy supply and security, primarily because most of the UK’s gas has already been burned.”

Neil Thorns, Director of Advocacy for the Catholic International Development charity (CAFOD) in England, also attacked the proposal.

Forcing MPs on their first day in Parliament in 2024 to vote for more fossil fuel drilling “sends a worrying signal about the government’s climate aspirations for the year ahead,” he said.

“The government seems to be failing to join the dots between the floods that are wreaking havoc on communities here in the UK, the weather disasters that devastated so many communities overseas in 2023 and its own responsibility to fight the climate crisis,” Thorns added.

“Prime Minister needs to drop his oil and gas bill fast if he’s serious about acting on the pledge he and other world leaders made at COP28 to transition away from fossil fuels,” he said.

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Former COP26 President and Conservative MP Alok Sharma told BBC Radio 4 on Monday that he would also not vote for the bill, calling the proposed legislation “smoke and mirrors.”

“What this bill does do is reinforce that unfortunate perception about the UK rowing back from climate action,” he said.

“We saw this last autumn with the chopping and changing of some policies and actually not being serious about our international commitments. Just a few weeks ago at COP28 the UK government signed up to transition away from fossil fuels. This bill is actually about doubling down on new oil and gas licenses, it is actually the opposite of what we agreed to do internationally, so I won’t be supporting it,” he told the BBC.

A department for energy security and net zero (DESNZ) spokesperson said the UK will “still need oil and gas for decades to come, even when we reach net zero in 2050.”

“It makes sense to make the most of our domestic supply, rather than shipping in liquefied natural gas with four times the emissions than domestically produced gas,” the spokesman said.

“These new licenses will not increase carbon emissions above our legally binding carbon budgets, but will provide certainty for industry, support 200,000 jobs and bring in tens of billions of tax that we can invest in the green transition and support people with cost of living,” the statement continued.

A spokesperson for the prime minister said the government “believes it is common sense to make the most of what we can produce here rather than shipping in fuels from foreign regimes,” adding it is “very clear commitments on our path to net zero.”

Member of Parliament Chris Skidmore, Britain’s former energy minister, said on Friday he is quitting the Conservative Party and stepping down as a lawmaker over the government’s actions.

“As the former energy minister who signed the U.K.’s net zero commitment by 2050 into law, I cannot vote for a bill that clearly promotes the production of new oil and gas,” he said in a statement.

“To fail to act, rather than merely speak out, is to tolerate a status quo that cannot be sustained,” he added.

Skidmore said it was “a tragedy that the U.K. has been allowed to lose its climate leadership, at a time when our businesses, industries, universities and civil society organizations are providing first-class leadership and expertise to so many across the world, inspiring change for the better.”