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Why is Rishi Sunak greenlighting North Sea oil and gas?  

Welcome to Monday’s Early Edition from i.

Allowing more oil and gas exploration in the North Sea doesn’t seem like an obvious way to reach Britain’s net zero goals. But that’s one argument being put forward by Rishi Sunak’s government ahead of a trip to Scotland that is reported to see 100 licences granted to companies seeking to plunder the ocean bed for fossil fuels. The move will put the Tories in direct opposition to Labour, who say they’ll scrap it if elected next year. It also comes as Mr Sunak rallies against “anti-car” policies amid pressure from a bunch of Conservatives pushing against the 2030 ban on petrol cars. (Despite all polling suggesting the majority of the public would like to uphold net zero pledges). But why does Sunak think more oil and gas production is a good idea in the first place? We’ll take a look after the headlines.

Today’s news, and why it matters

Vulnerable people are turning to predatory debt companies to help them deal with their financial difficulties as Government-funded money advice services struggle to meet demand caused by the cost of living crisis, charities warn. Debt advisers say changes to Government funding have resulted in long waiting lists for help at a time when an increasing number of people are in financial crisis, as ministers prioritise online-based advice over local face-to-face support.

Nearly half of adults say they support the cap on child benefit in the wake of Sir Keir Starmer controversially insisting he would not scrap it. The figures illustrate how the Labour leader is trying to stretch his appeal beyond his core voters by signalling that he will continue with a policy that has minority support within his base.

The Government’s plans to scale up nuclear capacity are currently more of a “wish list” than a detailed strategy, MPs have said. Parliamentarians on the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee are calling on the Government to develop and publish a plan to turn aspirations for its nuclear goals to become reality.

Sex workers have accused banks of routinely closing their accounts because of the nature of their work, and in some cases because of a moral objection to what they do. In the week that Nigel Farage revealed Coutts closed his account, sex workers have told i that banks routinely “de-bank” them too, because of value judgements made on their line of work.

Labour is ahead of the Conservatives on every single major issue facing the UK, including the cost-of-living crisis, the wider economy, immigration and the NHS, a fresh poll shows. In a further sign of the trouble the Tories find themselves in, the party lags behind Labour on each of the main policy areas as well as on headline voting intention.

“I’ve come across condoms, sanitary pads. Literally anything that has been flushed down the toilet I’ve come across,” says Mark Barrow, who has been diving in Britain’s rivers for more than 30 years. i went to meet Mr Barrow during one of his dives on the banks of the River Wharfe in Wetherby, Yorkshire, to witness the state of it.

Three questions over North Sea oil and gas:

What are Rishi Sunak’s plans? Downing St has described Rishi Sunak’s trip to Aberdeenshire today as the “cornerstone” of the government’s energy security policy. According to the Sunday Times, the PM will confirm plans for new oil and gas licences to be issued in September. The Times says the industry regulator has already receiving 115 bids from 76 companies. The government argues that the policy is not contradictory in terms of net zero. Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, the PM said banning North Sea oil and gas would “weaken our energy security and strengthen the hands of dictators like President Putin,” adding it would risk 200,000 jobs and “threaten £80bn worth of tax revenue”. The government insists that extracting fossil fuels in the North Sea is more environmentally friendly than purchasing it elsewhere because it would save emissions on shipping. Climate change minister Graham Stuart has previously said granting such licences is “good for jobs and good for the economy and it is good for the environment.” But the PM will also use the trip to announce millions of pounds in new green initiatives, including new funding for the Acorn carbon capture project, which aims to reduce net emissions for energy industries in the North Sea. Supporters claim that expanding the initiative could create up to 21,000 jobs in the region and would support Scotland’s oil and gas industries while ensuring the UK meets its net zero commitments. A senior Government source also told i that there “is more to come on nuclear including major investments” from the Government. “We have put in place capacity for various nuclear projects, which compared to previous Labour governments is a damn sight more than they did,” they added. Read the full story here.

Will carbon capture really reduce net emissions? The answer to that is still unknown, and just one reason why the government’s plans remain hugely controversial. The government has previously pledged to invest £20 billion in carbon capture and storage (CCS), in which CO2 from factory chimneys or extracted from the air is trapped and stored underground. In May, it was reported that the billions of pounds funding the climate technology would save consumers £9,000 if they were spent on insulation instead. Not only that, but CCS is still an unproven technology. A number of countries, including Norway, Canada and the UK, are putting huge amounts of money into developing the technology on an industrial scale in the hope that it will significantly reduce the amount of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere. But this hasn’t yet been done, and some experts warn it will not reduce emissions because it will encourage more oil and gas production. One large scale project in Australia was accused last year of becoming “the poster child for all that is wrong with carbon capture and storage”.

What do environmental groups and Labour say? Previous analysis from Greenpeace suggests the oil and gas licences for the North Sea approved in the last two years would create the same amount of carbon dioxide as 14m cars. Going ahead with production in the Rosebank oil field, which is the largest untapped oil field in the UK, would be a “death sentence”, climate activists said last night. Climate activist Tori Tsui told the Southbank Centre’s Planet Summer festival last night: “There are fires raging across the world, this is the hottest summer ever recorded. All the while our energy security and net zero Minister Grant Shapps says that we need to max out our oil and gas reserves. It is a death sentence.” Labour has pledged to ban new North Sea oil exploration if it wins the next general election, with Sir Keir Starmer describing it last month as an industry that would be “dwindling” over the next few decades. He said his party would oversee easier planning rules for onshore and offshore wind farms and the establishment of a new body called Great British Energy, while also investing £2.5bn into local renewables manufacturing

Around the world

At least 44 people have been killed in Pakistan after an explosion at an Islamist political rally, according to reports. The blast occurred in the town of Khar, capital of the Bajaur district in the country’s north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, on Sunday.

Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on young Russian men trying to dodge being drafted into the military could backfire by turning more of the public against the war in Ukraine, analysts have suggested. Russia’s Federation Council passed a bill on Friday raising the upper age limit for conscription in Russia from 27 to 30, which could see hundreds of thousands of more men drafted for compulsory military service.

Denmark is considering banning protests that burn the Quran or other religious texts as they benefit extremists and pose a security threat. Copenhagen is looking at legal means to intervene in some circumstances, including protests outside embassies.

Elon Musk’s latest publicity stunt – installing a giant X on top of the social media platform previously known as Twitter – is being met with complaints by residents. One, Christopher Beale, tweeted alongside a video of the brightly flashing sign: “This is my life now. It legit hurt my eyes when they were testing it in daylight . . . it’s hard to describe how bright it is.”

Watch out for…

 A legal battle over the right to wild camp in Dartmoor National Park. A ruling by the Court of Appeal will be handed down later today.  

Thoughts for the day

Westminster will miss Nadine Dorries, her constituents not so much. She has brought verve to her role and often highlighted groupthink among her opponents, writes Anne McElvoy.

I was wrong about the hijab and Morocco’s Nouhaila Benzina has just proven it. My Muslim pupils have shown me that they are empowered by wearing a hijab, says Stefano Hatfield.

I can’t silence all my negative thoughts, but I have learned to control them. A lot of the benefits of meditation are internal too, rather than things you can easily see, explains Georgia Harrison.

‘As I practised meditating, I slowly got better,’ writes Georgia Harrison

Culture Break

Juliet Stevenson: ‘I act mad on the subway at 3am. No one cares about older women anyway’. The star of the BBC’s new home invasion thriller Wolf wants to know why we’re all so scared.

“We live in such a level of fear and self-censorship now. We talk about safeguarding all the time and yet people have never been so frightened” (Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)

The Big Read

Diary of an NHS GP: 12-hour plus shifts, ‘nonsense’ admin, vandalism and tears at the end of the day. As family doctors warn of ‘workload and workforce crises’, a GP in the West Midlands reveals what the job really involves and why he feels desperate about the NHS.

John, who spoke to i anonymously, has been a GP partner for over a decade (Illustration: Getty Images)

Sport

Women’s World Cup 2023: One year on from the Euros win, England are trying their best to forget it. Expectation has been tempered by a dash of realism given the injury list the Lionesses are having to contend with, writes Katherine Lucas.

Kelly celebrates her European Championship-winning goal at Wembley (Photo: Getty)

Something to brighten your day

It’s an anniversary traditionally marked with gold. But one farmer in the US took a more creative approach to his upcoming 50th wedding anniversary, by planting an entire field full of sunflowers to surprise his wife. “It made me feel very special. It couldn’t have been a more perfect anniversary gift than a field of sunflowers,” Renee Wilson told media.

Sunflowers (Photo: Getty Images)



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