The UN and environmental experts have warned that any further fossil fuel projects brought online will have a devastating impact on efforts to limit global warming to 1.5C.
Meanwhile, UK Tory climate minister Graham Stuart claimed that the licensing round will be “good for the environment”.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that any new projects should be subject to the “most stringent” climate checks, adding that she feared the plan was a continuation of the UK’s “haphazard planning about energy”.
The Scottish Greens joined campaigners in decrying the move as “climate vandalism”.
The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) will begin the 33rd round of offshore licences, with the UK Government arguing increasing production will boost the economy and energy security.
Stuart claimed a new licensing round for oil and gas exploration is “entirely compatible” with climate targets, and “we have one of the lowest emitting production systems for oil and gas”.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, the climate minister said: “Actually it’s good for the environment because when we burn our own gas it’s got lower emissions around its production than foreign gas… as well as supporting British jobs.
“Our development is not going to affect our usage, our usage is determined by the framework of the Climate Change Act and the independent Climate Change Committee which informs Government policy.
“So you really can be assured that it’s actually – I know it sounds contradictory – but it’s actually good for the environment that we are going to produce more of our gas and oil at home.”
Licences are being made available for sectors of the North Sea – known as blocks – with the NSTA estimating more than 100 may be granted.
Companies are being urged to apply for licences covering areas to the west of Shetland, in the northern North Sea, the central North Sea, the southern North Sea and east Irish Sea.
However, the FM said there has to be a transition away from oil and gas and accused the UK Government of “haphazard planning” over energy.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast ahead of the SNP’s party conference in Aberdeen on Friday, she said: “In terms of new licences, I’ve been very clear that within the context of that just transition, we’ve got to subject any decisions about further exploitation of oil and gas to the most stringent climate checks.
“I worry right now that what we’re hearing from the UK Government is just a continuation of their haphazard planning about energy.
“In the long term, what they’re doing is undermining energy security, rather than strengthening it, because energy security, it’s difficult, it’s challenging, but the route to energy security is to secure that transition away from fossil fuels to renewables.”
Scottish Greens energy and environment spokesperson Mark Ruskell MSP said that the move was a “brutal slap in the face” to anyone concerned about climate change.
He added: “If this kind of climate vandalism is allowed to go ahead it will spark more scenes of misery and devastation in those areas already dealing with the impacts, and is tantamount to a death sentence for tens of thousands of others.
“We can’t drill our way out of this crisis. Even trying to is totally incompatible with our international obligations. We need to be planning for a future beyond oil and gas, not doubling down on it. That means halting all new drilling and investing in a just transition to renewables.”
Ruskell added that the climate crisis is the “biggest challenge facing this generation” and called on the UK Government to take the issue seriously.
He added: “Every day that the UK government and others spend on these failed, damaging and anti-climate policies is another day that has been wasted. The longer that action is delayed the more extensive it will have to be.”
Friends of the Earth (FoE) Scotland said the UK Government’s climate compatibility checkpoints are a “worthless charade”.
Campaigner Freya Aitchison said: “It is a deeply cynical attempt to provide cover for reckless plans to expand the very industry that is fuelling both the climate and the cost of living crises”
She added: “By encouraging greedy fossil fuel companies to keep looking for more fossil fuels, the UK Government is denying the reality of the climate emergency. It is sticking two fingers up to climate scientists and energy experts who have made it clear that there should be no new oil and gas if we are to remain within agreed climate limits.
“Instead of new fossil fuels, we urgently need a transition to an energy system powered by renewables, and a mass rollout of energy efficiency measures to reduce energy demand.
"With the cost of living skyrocketing due to the volatile prices of oil and gas, it’s obvious that our current energy system is completely unfit for purpose, serving only to make oil company bosses and shareholders richer while everyone else loses out.”
Aitchison also said the UK Government “doesn’t care” about the impact of its decisions on the rest of the world, particularly in the Global South, where the ramifications of global warming are already being felt.