John Kerry has called for an end to the “unabated burning of fossil fuel” as he questioned the UK Government’s position of granting new oil and gas licences in the North Sea.
The US special presidential envoy for climate also raised doubts over whether the new projects set to be given the green light by Rishi Sunak would actually go ahead.
Mr Kerry made the comments after delivering a speech in Edinburgh in which he warned that the threat of climate change was “one of the most dangerous moments in human history”.
With major wildfires bringing devastation to places such as Hawaii, Canada, Turkey and Greece, he added: “Mother Nature is now sending an ever-more desperate distress signal about the coming catastrophe.”
Speaking to reporters after his speech, Mr Kerry was asked about Mr Sunak’s recent announcement on embracing more drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea.
The Prime Minister has said he wanted to “max out” oil and gas reserves and that the UK Government would grant potentially hundreds of new drilling licences, in a dramatic departure from its previous stance on fossil fuels.
Asked how Mr Sunak’s aims could possibly align with what he had said in his speech, Mr Kerry replied: “It’s not my job to be commenting on other countries’ policies specifically.”
But when it was put to him that his comments about the urgency of climate change did not align with the UK Government’s position, he said: “Well then, you’ve got your answer.”
He added: “We have to do what the scientists tell us keeps [the target of limiting global warming to] 1.5°C alive. That’s our standard in the United States, and that’s the standard, I think, of most of Europe, and I think this had been the standard of the UK.
“I don’t know how that plays out in terms of what they’ve said about ‘every last drop’, but that’s not our policy.”
Mr Kerry also said he was doubtful about whether the planned North Sea drilling licences would actually result in oil and gas being extracted as the global focus switched to renewable energy such as wind power.
“Let’s see whether they actually drill. Let’s see what happens. Because I think that dynamic is shifting all over the world. There’s a change in the demand curve and there’s a change in the supply, and we’ll see how this works through,” he said.
The UK Government was approached for comment.