THE Government’s plans to “max out” North Sea oil and gas reserves poses “no contradiction” to its stated green ambitions, a minister has claimed.

Rishi Sunak visited Aberdeen on Monday morning to announce hundreds of new fossil fuel exploration licences – in a move eco campaigners said was putting “more fuel on the fire” of climate change.

Energy minister Andrew Bowie said the Government wanted to “max out” the North Sea’s fossil fuel reserves – but insisted this was compatible with its environmental plans, including the UK reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

No exact locations have been given for where the new exploration licences will be granted – leaving questions about the possibility of approval for the controversial Rosebank and Cambo fields in the North Sea.

Speaking on GB News this morning, Bowie – also the MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine – said the Government’s plans were backed by scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and that there was “no contradiction” in extracting even more oil and gas while aiming for net zero.

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He said: “There is no contradiction in what we’re announcing today. We’re announcing these new licences in the North Sea, with more to come, which will ensure our energy security moving forward.

“It means we’ll be less reliant on hostile foreign actors for our energy baseload for the fossil fuels that we’re going to be relying on for some years to come, which will mean that we’re reducing our CO2 emissions by not importing those fossil fuels.”

He added: “We’re issuing the licences, it will then be for commercial companies operating in the North Sea to extract that oil and gas, if it is discovered.

“But we need to max out our reserves in the North Sea, we need to have maximum economic recovery from the North Sea, to ensure our energy security, to ensure we are more energy independent, to, ultimately, ensure we’ve got lower bills for consumers and that’s why we’re issuing the licences – because if we don’t explore and we don’t find the oil and gas, then we can’t extract it.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson told reporters the Government was confident that “hundreds, if not more licences will be issued in the next round” and said it was estimated there were around six billion barrels worth of oil below the North Sea.

In previous reports, the IPCC has backed the continued use of natural gas over more polluting fuels like coal to bring down emissions.

Bowie told BBC Breakfast the UN committee’s research backed the Government’s policy of continued use of fossil fuels while investing new carbon capture storage.

He said: “The international committee on climate change [sic] has said that we're going to be reliant, at least in part, on fossil fuels for our energy baseload for many decades to come so we believe it's important that those fossil fuels, that oil and gas, is taken from the North Sea, using British workers and making sure the British Exchequer actually gets the revenue from that extraction, rather than being reliant on foreign hostile actors like Vladimir Putin for those fossil fuels, so that's why we're investing this amount, that's why we're announcing these new licences in the North Sea today, it's about our energy security but in no way it detracts from our huge efforts to drive towards net zero.”

The IPCC was approached for comment.