OPINION: The COP26 climate change talks in Glasgow are eight weeks away, but they are already heaping pressure on the oil and gas industry.

The UN-sponsored event has fuelled political debate around energy, with increasing calls for UK North Sea drilling to be wound down.

The debate over the future of exploration has also spilled over into Norway ahead of parliamentary elections.

Environmentalists in the UK have called for the planned Cambo offshore oilfield development, involving Siccar Point Energy and Shell near the Shetlands, to be scrapped.

Labour, the main party in opposition to the UK’s conservative leadership, has surprisingly called for setting a "hard-edged" end to North Sea oil and gas extraction.

In Scotland, the anti-oil Green Party has just upped the ante by becoming a co-partner with the Scottish National Party running devolved policymaking in Edinburgh.

Formally hosting COP26, Boris Johnson's UK government remains largely supportive of oil and gas.

Beyond drilling concerns

Alok Sharma, the UK minister acting as president of COP26, has many pressing global concerns beyond the narrow focus of drilling for oil.

In particular, he wants to ensure that all nations set firm plans for emissions cuts by 2030 that put the planet on a path to net zero by 2050.

Sharma also wants rich countries to meet their obligations to provide $100 billion worth of funding per year to developing nations.

This was agreed years ago, but has not been fully implemented and remains a sore point in the Global South.

Furthermore, Sharma wants global commitments to phase out coal and see countries set a date — as the UK has done — for an end to the sale of petrol and diesel cars.

The UK has also said it wants to see civil society play a role at the Glasgow talks.

Non-governmental groups have targeted the oil and gas corporations for criticism – particularly the best-known local producers, such as Shell and BP.

Important for those corporations will be talks, which will continue at COP26, on rules around international carbon trading.

Global solution needed

The world needs a truly global solution that prevents one country playing off another.

Western governments must know there is no point in winding down their own drilling or emissions just to sacrifice energy security and outsource carbon dioxide pollution elsewhere.

And the risk of inflated climate-action boasts by individual nations remains an ever-present danger.

Everyone does appear to accept that the regulatory framework around carbon offsetting also needs to be tightened.

As speakers at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston two weeks ago suggested, oil companies need to track and curb their own emissions with more accuracy, report more real-time data and better assess any offsetting gains if they are to easily attract finance.

Winning new friends

It would be surprising if COP26 delivered any huge shocks to oil and gas, but regulation around carbon will only get tighter.

The petroleum industry has at times undermined its capacity to influence policymaking by too much foot-dragging — if not denialism — in the past.

There is a chance to win new friends in tackling climate change, however, by demonstrating engineering and project prowess in clean hydrogen, carbon capture and offshore wind.

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)