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Can the UK's Energy Security Plan be a substitute for Energy Relations with the Middle East?

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) is welcomed by Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, in Riyadh on 16 March 2022 [Stefan Rousseau - Pool/Getty Images]
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) is welcomed by Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, in Riyadh on 16 March 2022 [Stefan Rousseau - Pool/Getty Images]

The ongoing war in Ukraine has prompted the UK to set up a new energy security plan for energy independence from Russia. Last week, the Johnson Government announced an "Energy Security Plan" to challenge rocketing energy bills and transition away from Russian fossil fuels after the invasion of Ukraine. As the plan comes after last month's UK-UAE talks on collaboration in energy security and green technology, it is important to ask the question: will the UK government decide to focus totally on developing independent local energy policies or will it continue to collaborate with its Gulf energy allies at a time of global energy transition?

According to the Energy Security Plan published by the Business and Energy Secretary, the more clean, green and secure power investments are increased, the less exposed they will be to expensive gas prices set by international markets. Therefore, the UK is seeking global partners for accelerating green investments.

Last March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited two Gulf countries in an effort to reduce his country's dependence on Russian energy and to increase green energy deals.

READ: What will be the future of global energy post-Ukraine war?

During his visit, Johnson met the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nayhan in Abu Dhabi, and both leaders welcomed the long-standing partnership between the two countries and discussed opportunities to increase collaboration between the UK and UAE on energy security, green technology and trade. This meeting suggests that the Gulf region can be a main partner for the UK's green energy transition.

Because, this meeting was to secure bilateral green investments of the UK in the region, a new £31 million clean growth loan from the UK Export Finance were given to complete the construction of the Bee'ah's new green headquarters in Sharjah, UAE.

In addition, Saudi Arabia's Alfanar Group will also invest GBP 1 billion (USD 1.3bn/EUR 1.2bn) in a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) project on Teesside, UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, also confirmed last month.

In terms of a deal with Qatar, it is important to mention that the state-owned Qatar Energy (QE) has signed an agreement with Shell to work together on blue and green hydrogen projects in the UK.

Even though there are no gas pipelines directly linking the UK with Russia and imports from Russia made up less than 4 per cent of total UK gas supply in 2021, the UK wants to be a pioneer in this era of energy transition in Europe. Officially, the UK reports that the country is in no way dependent on Russian gas supply because the UK's single largest source of gas is from the UK Continental Shelf and the vast majority of imports come from reliable suppliers such as Norway. Yet, due to the Europe's Green Energy Deal, the UK wants to play a role in the green investment initiatives with different global partners. Therefore, the agreements with the Gulf countries cited above show that, although there is a big focus on accelerating big domestic investment on the European continent, the UK government will not close the green investment doors for Gulf partners.

READ: UK's Johnson fails to secure public oil rise pledges after talks with Saudi, UAE

In light of this strategy paper, the new energy transition era would concede that we cannot simply pull the plug on all fossil fuels overnight without the lights going out all over the world. Even the most evangelistic environmentalists would agree with this discourse. Yet, the UK Government should make better use of the oil and gas in our own backyard by supporting new green energy deals with the Gulf partners, as it has been doing in the post-pandemic era.

These innovative examples represent just a taste of the potential that the UK-Gulf partnership holds for mutual green tech knowledge sharing and implementation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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