News broke a few weeks ago about oil giant Shell and Siccar Point Energy seeking permission from the UK Government to develop a large new oil field in the Cambo Field, West of Shetland. Thousands of activists across the country and internationally have been mobilising in protest, claiming that the field contradicts the International Energy Agency’s advice that there should be no new fossil fuel development if we are to meet the Paris Agreement and keep global warming below 1.5°C rise.

Cambo oil field in relation to mainland Scotland. Source: The National

In the first phase, due to start in 2025, the companies expect to extract up to 170 million barrels of oil – the emissions equivalent of 18 coal-fired power plants running for a year. Despite a Dutch court ruling that Shell must slash its carbon emissions by 45% by 2030, the company is now expecting final government approval for the project over the next six to eight weeks. The UK’s current drilling plans in existing oil fields will far exceed our Paris climate goals – experts say that further extraction will blast through what is considered safe

How could this happen?

 It looks like our government found a convenient loophole: the exploration licence was granted in 2001 – before the UK committed to the Paris Agreement. Drilling could start as early as 2022 if approved by the Oil and Gas Authority – a government institution which is currently being taken to court by three activists over using public money to pay out polluters.

Introducing… Stop Cambo!

Recently, the International Energy Agency (IEA) – the world’s leading energy organisation – stated that in order to meet the 1.5°C target in the Paris Agreement, there should be no more new investment in oil, gas, or coal. If fossil fuels are not scaled back drastically in the next decades, the IEA warns, we will not be able to keep global warming within safe limits. 

A new campaign group, Stop Cambo, argues that the climate impacts of opening the Cambo Oil field would be devastating and a failure of UK climate leadership. Furthermore, it doesn’t set a good image to the rest of the world – approving a project with such consequences for global climate in the run up to COP26 sends a dangerous message. 

Climate justice activist Dominique Palmer joined the Stop Cambo digital action last week

So why are we still keen to exploit fossil fuel reserves? 

Greenhouse gas emissions plunged last year as a result of the pandemic, but 2021 is projected to be the year with the second largest emissions increase in history, due to a surge in coal use – the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. While emissions from energy generation have fallen sharply in recent years, other key sectors such as transport, buildings, industry and agriculture are not following suit. The reluctance to divest from fossil fuels can be traced back to a lack of political motivation – individuals and companies linked to the oil and gas industries donated over £400,000 to the Conservative party in the past year, which is thought to have led to controversial new exploration licences in the North Sea.

Antonia and son Toby (9) from the Netherlands joined a digital Stop Cambo protest last week.

In a recent report, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) heavily criticised the government for failing to come up with policies that match our climate targets. Whilst the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035 is amongst the most ambitious worldwide, it has not been followed by the rapid action we need in order to reduce impacts of climate change. In fact, we are lagging behind nearly all of the 21 decarbonisation strategies proposed by the CCC!

But there is hope!

There is a growing coalition of organisations, political parties and individuals vehemently opposing the new oil field – from the Green Party, to Friends of the Earth, and high-profile activists such as Vanessa Nakate and Mikaela Loach. This Monday saw a powerful action in Central London highlighting the devastating consequences of continued oil exploration. There is another protest planned in Edinburgh outside the Scottish parliament next Monday.

Stop Cambo action in London on July 12. Photo: Emma Milburn.

In summary…

Fossil fuels are one of the main drivers of climate change and experts agree that there is no place for a new oil field in a world with global heating. Our current trajectory places us at up to 3.1°C warming, which would come with catastrophic consequences for economic functioning and human wellbeing. Many scholars instead argue for a shift towards degrowth, which must occur using strategies focusing on climate justice in order to ensure a safe future for all. Switching to renewables won’t solve the problem of the eternal growth fantasy, so imagining new systems of organising our societies – together with political action against fossil fuels – will be crucial.

Be curious…