THE Conservatives have clearly decided that their narrow win in the Uxbridge byelection, in which their opposition to expansion of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone saved them from almost certain defeat, has given them a route to victory in the next General Election.

In typically reckless, selfish and short-termist Conservative fashion, that route lies in trashing the UK's carbon reduction commitments.

Just as anthropogenic climate change is broiling much of the planet and scientists issue dire warning after dire warning, Rishi Sunak has decided that what we really need are more oil and gas fields in the North Sea, more roads and motorways, and the cancellation of planned low emissions zones.

Sunak has used his trip to North East Scotland to announce the issuing of at least 100 new North Sea oil and gas licences. The Prime Minister insists that opening new oil and gas fields in the North Sea will help the UK reach its target of meeting net zero by 2050.

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However, since he also said upon taking office that he would restore accountability and integrity to government, you can take that claim with a tonne of salt.

Expanding oil and gas production as a means of reducing carbon emissions is like reducing NHS waiting lists by machine gunning striking NHS staff.

Never mind the future of humanity on this planet or the destruction of the ecosystems upon which we all depend, Sunak has seen the possibility of rescuing a few Conservative seats from likely devastation at the next General Election, and that's all that matters here. Calling it recklessly irresponsible is a bit like saying that the issue with leaving a hyperactive five-year-old with a flame-thrower is that it is mildly age-inappropriate.

But in a sop to environmentalists, Sunak also announced there will be funding for carbon capture projects in Aberdeenshire and the north of England. These projects will capture a mere fraction of the carbon which the new oil and gas fields will cause to be released into the atmosphere. Incidentally, didn't they tell us that the oil and gas was about to run out?

The National: Ministers are committed to new oil and gas licences in the North Sea (Jane Barlow/PA)

It's odd how it's only about to run out whenever a Scottish independence referendum is in the offing. Ten years on from telling Scotland there was no more oil, here they are giving licences for oil and gas fields, the profits of which will flow into the pockets of the Tories' pals in the big energy companies. Scotland will see very little benefit.

Environmentalists reacted with fury to the announcement and were not at all impressed by the funding offered to carbon capture projects, dismissing it as greenwashing.

Mary Church, the head of Scottish campaigns for Friends of the Earth, said: "By committing to future licensing rounds on the same day, it's clear to see that carbon capture is little more than a greenwashing tactic by big oil to try and keep their climate-wrecking industry in business."

She added: "By ignoring the huge harm caused by fossil fuel company greed and doing the bidding of the industry, the UK Government is blatantly in denial about climate breakdown."

READ MORE: Billionaire Scottish oil tycoon issues net zero message to Rishi Sunak

Hannah Martin, co-director of Green New Deal Rising, denied that the new licences would do anything to help keep domestic energy bills down.

She said: “Despite their desperate attempts to pull the wool over our eyes, new oil and gas licences won't make any difference to UK energy security or our bills. The only way to get energy bills to fall is to support people to insulate their homes with a mass programme of retro-fitting, get off oil and gas, and invest in much cheaper renewable energy like onshore wind."

And the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA) said that if the UK Government was serious about achieving "net zero in a pragmatic way" it would support renewable projects instead.

In reality today's announcements are not about energy security or keeping fuel bills lower for already stressed households, they are about political posturing and differentiating the Tories from the Labour party prior to the next General Election – with the Tories posing as the champions of the motorist.

It's not so much clear blue water Sunak wants to put between himself and Starmer as an ugly black oil slick.

The National: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) and Labour leader Keir Starmer

Sunak displayed his personal commitment to reducing his carbon footprint by flying to Scotland on a private jet and got very tetchy when asked about it by the BBC's Martin Geissler.

In Sunak's world, raising questions about his frequent use of private jets and helicopters, even for relatively short journeys, is the same thing as wanting to ban people from going on holiday.

A person flying on a private jet is responsible for ten to twenty times the carbon emissions as a passenger on a commercial flight, and more than 50 times as much as using the train. The average private jet emits two tonnes of carbon per hour.

The question Geissler raised was about Sunak's repeated use of private jets and the hypocrisy of the Prime Minister's “do as I say not as I do” attitude to climate change – and indeed just about everything else.

But Sunak angrily dismissed the question and went on a rant about an entirely imaginary bid to ban going on holiday. Sunak added that the government was committed to developing "sustainable aviation fuel", a technology which essentially does not exist right now and which he only mentioned as a convenient distraction from what does actually exist right now, which would be his massively polluting use of private jets.

In a sign of Sunak's commitment to accountability, Downing Street ensured that the Prime Minister would allow only five minutes for his interview with BBC Scotland.

This piece is an extract from today’s REAL Scottish Politics newsletter, which is emailed out at 7pm every weekday with a round-up of the day's top stories and exclusive analysis from the Wee Ginger Dug.

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