Cambo oil field: Decision to 'pause' controversial project is further sign that economic case for fossil fuels is fading – Scotsman comment

The decision by the developers of the proposed Cambo oil field to “pause” the project will have sent a second shockwave through the fossil fuel industry just days after Shell decided to pull out, saying the economic case “is not strong enough at this time”.

With just a few months before its UK government licence expires, Cambo looks increasingly unlikely to proceed.

The industry has warned that leaving British oil in the ground will simply mean more imports from overseas, resulting in more carbon emissions, rather than less.

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Therefore, in the absence of Cambo, the challenge presented to government is to ensure this does not happen and that renewables fill the breach instead.

If this pace of change seems too fast or unachievable, then consider the findings of a recent report by the International Energy Agency, which concluded there should be no further investment in new fossil fuel supply projects if the world is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The IEA's executive director Fatih Birol said that “the scale and speed of the efforts demanded by this critical and formidable goal... make this perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced”. But he added that a “historic surge in clean energy investment” could create millions of jobs and increase economic growth.

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Oil and gas are essential now, but change is coming – and rapidly. Sales of new petrol and diesel cars in the UK are to be stopped in just eight years’ time, with new gas boilers expected to be banned from 2035.

The market for oil and gas is set to diminish as new petrol-driven cars and gas boilers are banned (Picture: STF/AFP via Getty Images)

The market in Britain is about to dramatically diminish and the same is happening to the economic case for new oil fields, particularly given the prospect of governments imposing further restrictions on fossil fuels.

Investors hoping for a return over decades may decide the risk is too great. And, as that feeling grows, ‘investor flight’ becomes increasingly likely as people seek to avoid being left holding assets that cost billions, but are worth little.

The oil industry needs to work with government to bring about its transformation into a renewable energy industry. If it does not, it risks a sudden collapse with serious consequences for thousands of workers.

We are beginning to see the future. Sticking our head in the sand and ignoring humanity’s “greatest challenge” would be a catastrophic mistake.

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