Just 24 hours before the UK gave the go-ahead to develop the UK’s biggest untapped oilfield off Shetland, the world’s leading energy analysts reiterated that no no new oil and gas exploration should take place if the world was to limit global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures.
That stark warning seems to have been ignored by ministers who, after a week in which they have rowed back on the UK’s net zero commitments and scrapped their own home energy efficiency taskforce, are accused of leaving the UK’s climate plans in tatters.
The range of opposition to the proposed Rosebank field has been building for the past 18 months.
Alongside the International Energy Association, the government’s own climate advisers at the Climate Change Committee said pushing ahead with the new fossil fuel development in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence was “utterly unacceptable”. And the UN secretary general, António Guterres, added his voice calling on governments to halt new licences for oil and gas exploration and development.
On the ground, climate scientists and academics have joined MPs and religious leaders as well as 200 charities and civil society groups to raise their opposition.
But the UK government seems intent on pushing ahead, with ministers repeatedly saying the new oilfield is needed for energy security adding that it will help people struggling with the cost of living crisis.
However, experts point out that last year 75% of the UK’s oil production was exported. They say the same is likely to happen with fossil fuels from any new development.
No oil is expected to be produced from Rosebank until 2027 and, wherever the oil ends up, experts say it will be sold on the international market at the going rate, meaning it will have no little or no impact on the cost of living crisis or energy security.
Tessa Khan, executive director of campaign group Uplift and a climate lawyer, said: “Rosebank is a rip-off. It’s another case of the government allowing foreign companies to profit, while the costs are put on British people who worry about the world we are handing on to our children.”
Campaigners say that if the government were serious about improving energy security and tackling the cost of living crisis they would press ahead with domestic renewable energy and home insulation.
The Rosebank project is three times bigger than the controversial Cambo field that was put on hold in 2021 and has the potential to produce 500m barrels of oil, which when burned would emit as much carbon dioxide as running 56 coal-fired power stations for a year.
Analysis from GlobalData reveals lifetime emissions from the site would take a huge chunk out of the UK’s climate plans with oil produced over its lifetime equivalent to more than half of the UK’s remaining carbon budget for total fuel supply.
Khan said: “As we’ve heard repeatedly, our world can no longer sustain new oil and gas drilling. And when we’re witnessing scorching temperatures, wildfires, devastating flooding and heatwaves in our seas, it could not be clearer that this is a decision by the prime minister to add more fuel to the fire.”
The Labour party had said it would ban any new oil and gas extraction in the North Sea. However, to the dismay of campaigners, it says it would not revoke any North Sea oil and gas licences granted by this government.
Hannah Martin, co executive director of Green New Deal Rising, said if Labour took a strong stand now it could still put a stop to the Rosebank development: “This position does not make sense, and there is still time for Keir Starmer to put himself on the right side of history and show leadership by committing to revoking Rosebank’s licence.”
Despite today’s announcement opponents of the Rosebank scheme are not giving up.
“There are strong grounds to believe that the way this government has come to this decision is unlawful and we will see them in court if so,” said Khan. “We shouldn’t have to fight this government for cheap, clean energy and a livable climate, but we will.”