On Wednesday 27 September, the UK government issued a license to the controversial and potentially disastrous Rosebank oil and gas field. The decision throws a spanner in the UK’s plans to reach its legally-binding net zero emissions target by 2050.
Government approves climate-wrecking Rosebank
Norwegian oil and gas giant Equinor has an 80% interest in the project. Israeli group Delek’s subsidiary Ithaca Energy holds the remainder. In a separate statement, the joint venture partners announced they would invest $3.8bn in the field’s development.
The UK’s oil and gas regulator, the North Sea Transition Authority, granted the license for the two companies to develop the project for fossil fuel production.
Campaigners have previously estimated that the enormous project – situated off the coast of Shetland in the North Sea – will produce over 500m barrels of oil over its lifetime. This would equate to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the 28 lowest-income countries combined.
Understandably, climate groups have expressed their disappointment and anger at the news. Climate Action Network UK (CAN-UK) highlighted the announcement in light of recent demonstrations that saw protestors in hundreds of cities across the world mobilise for an end to fossil fuels:
The science is clear: no new oil + gas for 1.5 degrees.
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— CAN-UK (@CAN_UK_) September 27, 2023
Of course, climate activists weren’t going to just roll over at the news of Rosebank’s license approval. Campaign group Fossil Free London has called an emergency demonstration outside the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) offices:
We’re outside DESNZ now protesting. Join us! Here until 1pm
— Fossil Free London (@fossilfreeLDN) September 27, 2023
Net zero roll-back
Naturally, the authorisation comes one week after the government diluted its net zero targets.
On 20 September, Sunak declared that a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars would be pushed back from 2030 to 2035. In addition, he also announced an easing of energy efficiency targets for rental properties. This is paired with his plans to backtrack on making homeowners replace gas boilers with heat pumps.
The UK government has maintained it must beef up energy security via continued production of fossil fuels. Specifically, it has argued the need to do so following the invasion of Ukraine by key producer Russia. Sunak claimed that the move would “ease the financial burden on the UK taxpayer”.
As the Canary reported at the time, however:
Sunak’s new climate policy timeline is a boon for the big polluter elite and the landlord class. It’s cold homes, soaring energy bills, and climate disasters for the rest.
In other words, his net zero roll-backs were a gift to oil and gas goliaths and profiteering landlords. Crucially, the new policies would, in fact, do little for households facing astronomical energy bills. Instead, it could cost taxpayers more in the long-term. Naturally, energy giants have reported staggering profits throughout this crisis.
Rosebank to blow past net zero targets
Now, the government’s greenlighting of the Rosebank oil and gas field has added insult to injury. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said of the news:
This is morally obscene. It won’t improve energy security or lower bills – but it will shatter our climate commitments & demolish global leadership. Govt is complicit in this climate crime – as is Labour unless they pledge to do all possible to revoke it. https://t.co/aqGCKZQBwM
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) September 27, 2023
The UK oil and gas regulator said that the decision to authorise new North Sea output had taken:
net zero considerations into account throughout the project’s lifecycle
However, an analysis by campaign group Uplift previously found that the Rosebank project would cause the industry to shoot past its carbon budget. The industry’s carbon budget is the limit on emissions that the government has set for the sector. These carbon budgets aim to ensure the country collectively reaches net zero emissions by 2050.
Specifically, the research identified that between 2028 and 2038, Rosebank would contribute to pushing the industry past its carbon budget by 10%. This would increase to 40% above budget between 2038 and 2050.
Moreover, before Rosebank’s approval, the government’s own independent climate advisory body has voiced its lack of confidence in the government’s plans. In June, the Climate Change Committee raised concerns about the government hitting its carbon budget targets. Already, its key strategy for meeting net zero – known as the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan – shows that it will fall short of its legally-binding emissions reductions between 2033 and 2037.
Profits of oil companies above everyday people
In March, United Nations head António Guterres called on wealthy nations to step up their action on the climate crisis. His plea came as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its latest blistering assessment. The report made clear that new oil and gas projects would be incompatible with keeping the world beneath 1.5°c of warming.
Yet since the report’s publication in March, the UK government has instead scaled back its climate action. Worse still, it has now permitted this gargantuan fossil fuel project.
Greenpeace UK’s climate campaigner Philip Evans said of the news that:
Sunak has proven once and for all that he puts the profits of oil companies above everyday people
He added in a statement:
We know that relying on fossil fuels is terrible for our energy security, the cost of living, and the climate.
Just when you think Sunak’s government couldn’t stoop any lower on its climate commitments, it approves the enormous climate-wrecking Rosebank oil and gas field. In light of Sunak’s recent record on the environment, perhaps this shouldn’t come as any surprise.
Feature image via Sky News/Youtube screengrab.
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