Humza Yousaf accuses UK government of 'climate denial' over Rosebank

The First Minister accused the UK Government of ‘climate denial’
Campaigners take part in a Stop Rosebank emergency protest outside the UK Government building in Edinburgh Photo: Jane Barlow/PA WireCampaigners take part in a Stop Rosebank emergency protest outside the UK Government building in Edinburgh Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Campaigners take part in a Stop Rosebank emergency protest outside the UK Government building in Edinburgh Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Humza Yousaf has led condemnation of the decision by regulators to give the go-ahead for the UK's largest untapped oil field, accusing ministers in London of “climate denial”.

The First Minister spoke out after the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) announced it had given its consent for Rosebank, off the coast of Shetland, to be developed.

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Campaigners have threatened legal action, insisting there are “strong grounds to believe” the decision is unlawful. The UK Government said the move would create hundreds of jobs and contribute billions of pounds to the economy.

Speaking to journalists at the Scottish Parliament, Mr Yousaf said: “This is the wrong decision. I have expressed concerns about this going ahead for some time. We don’t think the taps should be turned off tomorrow, but neither can the north-east have unlimited oil and gas extraction. This is another demonstration of the UK Government rolling back on its own climate ambitions.”

He added: “In the face of the existential climate catastrophe, the world needs climate leadership. The UK Government is rolling back on its climate commitments with 100 new oil and gas licences and dumping its green commitments for short-term, cheap political gains – that’s not climate leadership, it’s climate denial.”

Writing in today’s Scotsman, Tory MP Chris Skidmore, the Government’s former “net zero tsar”, said approving Rosebank “is a climate and financial disaster”.

Rosebank contains up to 350 million barrels of oil and is currently one of the largest untapped discoveries in UK waters. It could produce 69,000 barrels of oil per day, about 8 per cent of the UK’s projected daily output between 2026 and 2030, and could also produce 44 million cubic feet of gas every day, according to its owners.

The companies behind it, Ithaca Energy and Equinor, said the field is expected to start producing in 2026-2027, with the project supporting around 1,600 jobs at its peak during construction.

However, its development has been strongly opposed by campaigners and will be hugely controversial. Nicola Sturgeon, the former first minister, backed comments by Green MP Caroline Lucas, who described the move as “the greatest act of environmental vandalism in my lifetime”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak though said it was the “right long-term decision for the UK’s energy security”. He said: “As we make the transition to renewables, we will still need oil and gas – it makes sense to use our own supplies such as Rosebank.”

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Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: "It’s really important that we maximise our domestic oil and gas reserves, which mean lower emissions than imports, while reducing any reliance on hostile states. Rosebank will play a big role in that, as well as growing our economy and providing skilled jobs in Scotland for generations to come.”

However, SNP Energy Secretary Neil Gray said the “majority of what is extracted will go overseas and not necessarily contribute to our domestic energy security”. He said every oil and gas field that is given approval “risks slowing down the just transition, away from fossil fuels and towards a sustainable future”.

Tessa Khan, a climate lawyer and executive director of Uplift, which helped coordinate the Stop Rosebank campaign, said the new field “will do nothing to lower fuel bills or boost UK energy security”. She said: “Most of this oil will be shipped abroad and then sold back to us at whatever price makes the oil and gas industry the most profit.

“People in the UK overwhelmingly support moving to cheaper, cleaner renewable energy. This Government should be prioritising making sure no pensioner, or family with small children is living in a cold, damp home this winter, not handing billions in tax breaks to obscenely wealthy foreign companies.

“Rosebank is a rip off. It’s another case of the Government allowing foreign companies to profit, while the costs are put on British people who worry about the world we are handing on to our children.

“There are strong grounds to believe that the way this government has come to this decision is unlawful and we will see them in court if so. We shouldn’t have to fight this Government for cheap, clean energy and a liveable climate, but we will.”

Greenpeace UK climate campaigner Philip Evans said: “Rishi Sunak has proven once and for all that he puts the profits of oil companies above everyday people. We know that relying on fossil fuels is terrible for our energy security, the cost of living, and the climate. Our sky-high bills and recent extreme weather have shown us that.

“The ugly truth is that Sunak is pandering to vested interests, demonstrating the stranglehold the fossil fuel lobby has on Government decision making. And it’s bill payers and the climate that will suffer because of it. Why else would he make such a reckless decision?”

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Friends of the Earth Scotland’s oil and gas campaigner Freya Aitchison said: “The disgraceful decision to give Rosebank the green light shows the extent of the UK Government’s climate denial."

The UK Government said Rosebank has been subject to extensive scrutiny by the regulators, including undergoing a detailed environmental impact assessment process and a period of public consultation before approval was granted. It said all new projects, including Rosebank, will be in line with the natural decline of the North Sea basin.

Labour has said that, while it opposed the Rosebank development, it would not revoke the licence if it won the next general election.

David Whitehouse, the boss of Offshore Energy UK, which represents the oil and gas industry, said: “This is good news for our jobs, our economy, and our secure energy future. By promoting homegrown production, we avoid costlier, higher carbon imports while making more reliable supplies of energy in the UK, for the UK.

“We need more projects like Rosebank if we are serious about delivering a homegrown UK energy future. We have around 283 fields in the North Sea, but over 180 of those will stop producing within the next decade. If these are not replaced, we will import 80 per cent of the oil and gas the UK we will need.”

Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said: “Rosebank will make an important contribution to UK and European energy security, create several hundred new jobs here in Scotland and result in over £6 billion being spent within the UK supply chain which is anchored in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

“Crucially, while its approval will generate vast economic benefits, it will not increase the UK’s projected emissions. Today’s announcement is a welcome shot in arm for the UK energy sector which will give investors, operators and the wider supply chain confidence as they strive to provide the power we need here and now and transition towards a net zero future.”

A new poll by YouGov found only around 10 per cent of Britons think more oil and gas production will reduce bills and increase energy security.



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