Cambo controversy: Sturgeon asks for ‘reassessment’ of planned oilfield development

Nicola Sturgeon has called on Boris Johnson to “reassess” a controversial planned oilfield development in the North Sea, asking that the UK government look again at licences for offshore oil and gas production “in light of the severity of the climate emergency that we now face”.

Nicola Sturgeon has called on Boris Johnson to “reassess” a controversial planned oilfield development. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

In the letter, Scotland’s first minister asks that the UK government commits to "significantly enhancing the climate conditionality associated with offshore oil and gas production".

She requests that the UK government agrees to reassess licences already issued but where field development has not yet commenced. “That would include the proposed Cambo development,” the letter states.

“Such licences - some of them issued many years ago - should be reassessed in light of the climate emergency we now face,” the letter continues.

Sturgeon also suggests in her letter to the UK prime minister “a four nations summit” to “demonstrate global leadership on the challenging decisions that need to be made” to cut greenhouse emissions.

However, Sturgeon has been accused of merely taking “a baby step towards having a position” on the controversial Cambo oilfield proposals by Scottish Labour, who have opposed the plans. 

Green groups have welcomed the first minister’s letter, but say without the first minister taking a firmer position “this is just a PR exercise”.

Her letter comes following an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report this week, which laid out how reaching the Paris Agreement’s climate change target will be impossible without immediate and substantial decreases in greenhouse gas emissions. 

In the wake of the report, some green NGOs highlighted the proposals for the new Cambo oilfield project in the North Sea as evidence of the government not taking its climate commitments seriously.

Commenting on the news, Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour’s net-zero, energy and transport spokesperson, said: “Scottish Labour has been urging Nicola Sturgeon to get off the fence and oppose the Cambo oilfield plans in the face of climate catastrophe.

“In the wake of growing pressure from grassroots campaigners, she has taken a baby step towards having a position. Now is not the time to ‘reassess’. It's time for Nicola Sturgeon to firmly and loudly oppose Cambo, once and for all.” 

Green groups have echoed this response, with Greenpeace UK’s political campaigner, Sam Chetan-Welsh, describing Sturgeon as deferring to Boris Johnson to check the climate impact of Cambo.

“Until she makes her own stance clear this is just a PR exercise”, he said. “The experts couldn’t be clearer - humanity is at ‘code red’, and the last thing we can afford is a new oilfield which would pump out the equivalent emissions of 18 coal-fired power stations running for a year.  

“The first minister must stop hiding behind Boris Johnson. If she wants to show leadership on climate she must clearly say: stop Cambo.”

Last week, new analysis from Oxfam hit out at “smokescreen” net zero promises and singled out the Scottish offshore oil project, saying it would require an area the size of England to offset its carbon emissions. 

Today, Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, welcomed the first minister’s call for the urgent need to reassess existing fossil fuel licences, including Cambo’s, but agreed that she needed to go further and “make clear her opposition”, adding that the prime minister for his part “should urgently review and reverse this drilling licence and accelerate plans for a just transition”.

"Drilling for new oil as the climate emergency pushes millions of people deeper into hunger and poverty is clearly incompatible and wrong.”

Responding to the news, a UK government spokesperson said: “The UK is the only G7 country to have agreed a landmark deal to support the oil and gas industry’s transition to green energy by 2050 while at the same time supporting 40,000 jobs.  

“Even though demand for fossil fuels is falling and we continue to break records on our use of renewable energy, the advice of the independent Climate Change Committee is that we will continue to need oil and gas in the coming years as it is still vital to the production of many everyday essentials like medicines.

The spokesperson added that the government has already ended support for fossil fuels overseas, and is designing a climate compatibility checkpoint which will ensure any future licenses will only be granted if they are aligned with the UK’s climate change objectives.

This article was updated to include the UK government's response