The UK’s long-awaited energy white paper setting out in detail how the nation plans to become a carbon-neutral economy by the middle of the century will be published this autumn, Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng told an industry audience on Wednesday.

Publication of the legislative plans that will underpin the UK's goal of achieving "net zero" carbon emissions by 2050 has been delayed on several occasions.

Kwarteng said during an online presentation to the East of England Energy Group’s (EEEGR) Southern North Sea 2020 conference: “Our energy white paper... will be coming out in the autumn.

“And I think that paper will also start debate and point to the direction that we want to pursue so we can transform our energy system and deliver net zero by 2050.”

Kwarteng's comments add fresh certainty about the timing of white paper after Kwarteng’s boss at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy — Secretary of State Alok Sharma — told a committee of members of parliament in July the government “very much hoped” the paper would be published in the autumn.

Kwarteng also said he believed “the oil and gas sector will need to change” to help the UK achieve its 2050 targets.

He noted publicly that a much-anticipated stimulus package for the North Sea oil and gas industry — the North Sea Transition Deal — rests on the sector making big inroads into cutting its operational carbon emissions.

“We will be supporting the oil and gas industry through the North Sea Transition Deal. But in return for our support, we want to see ambitious emissions reductions, targets and investments in new technologies to help us as a society, as a country, to deliver a net zero,” Kwarteng said.

'Quid pro quo'

Upstream first reported in August that the minister had told industry leaders that sector deal hung on the “quid pro quo” of the sector making further headway in curbing operational greenhouse gas emissions.

The expectations were laid out by Kwarteng in a letter to trade association Oil & Gas UK (OGUK) written on 16 June, obtained by Upstream under UK freedom of information legislation.

The government also recently announced a review on future exploration and production licensing policy to take into account climate policy and carbon budgets.

Former business secretary Andrea Leadsom previously told a parliamentary committee the government planned to produce the energy white paper in the first quarter of this year after a previous delay that saw its publication in the middle of last year.

The UK oil and gas industry in July pledged to halve operational greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, with a much larger reduction of 90% promised by 2040 and carbon neutrality by 2050.