The Boris Johnson government in the UK is using what one campaigner calls a “serious loophole, by
design” to approve a new oilfield off the Shetland Islands that will extract 150 to 170 million barrels of
oil by 2050, just months before the country hosts this year’s United Nations climate conference, COP
Co-owners Siccar Point Energy and Royal Dutch Shell will start drilling next year if the project is
approved, The Independent reports. “Campaigners say that giving the green light to the project risks
undermining the UK government’s position before the crucial COP 26 climate talks in Glasgow in
A group of 14 environmental organizations, including Friends of the Earth UK and ClientEarth, are
pushing back on the plan, and more than 50,000 people have signed on to two open letters decrying the project’s “devastating” environmental impact.
“Campaigners also argue that the Cambo oil field project contradicts recommendations made by the
International Energy Agency, which has called for ‘no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects’ if
the world is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050,” The Independent writes.
“Approving this field completely flies in the face of that warning,” said ClientEarth lawyer Sam Hunter
Jones. “The UK is already facing scrutiny over its lack of progress in reducing emissions from its oil and
gas production. Allowing this project to go ahead whilst claiming to be a global leader in climate action is another worrying example of the government’s growing hypocrisy ahead of COP 26.”
“New oil fields like Cambo are just going to encourage fossil fuel companies to bring more and more
online and keep taking the oil out,” said Shetland Greens co-coordinator Debra Nicholson. “From my
local point of view, we need to transition away from oil towards renewable energy.“
The UK government says the “original licencing approval” for Cambo dates back to 2001, but The
Independent notes that was a licence for exploration, not production. In March, the government
introduced a “climate compatibility checkpoint” to ensure future oil and gas licences are consistent with achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. But the provision only applies to projects that have not received an initial licence.
“Cambo is just one of many major oil and gas projects that, because they’re already licenced, are set to be simply nodded through by ministers,” said Daniel Jones, head of research and policy at Uplift. “This is a serious loophole, by design. The government’s whole climate plan for North Sea oil and gas is smoke and mirrors.”
Jones called the new compatibility checkpoint “a nonsense”, adding that “there’s no such thing as a
‘climate-compatible’ oil and gas licence in 2021 or beyond.”
A spokesperson for the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy framed the project
as part of a transition strategy. “While we are working hard to drive down demand for fossil fuels, there
will continue to be ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming years,” they said. Siccar Point CEO
Jonathan Roger said the project “supports the country’s energy transition,” adding that electrifying
production with onshore renewable energy sources would align the oilfield with the UK’s decarbonization targets.
The news story says nothing about the roughly 80% of emissions in a barrel of oil that will occur after
product from Cambo reaches its final destination and is used as directed.
Veteran U.S. climate scientist James Hansen said the UK “simply cannot aspire to international
leadership on climate if its ministers blithely press forward on major fossil fuel projects.” He added that
“the major emitting nations need to get their act together, without further delay, to ensure that all fossil fuels within their reach bear their true cost to society, including their imposition on future generations and the environment.”