World Editor Athina Bohner speaks to climate campaigners at a #StopRosebank rally in Edinburgh and reflects on the international dynamics underpinning the environment, economy, and energy security.
“Our future feels like it is being stolen from us”, Meg tells me in front of the UK Government building in Edinburgh. Her words echo the frustration and despair of over a hundred protesters, who gathered on a rainy autumn afternoon to denounce the UK’s decision to approve the Rosebank oil field.
Located north-west of the Shetland Islands, Rosebank is the UK’s largest untapped oil and gas field, which is estimated to hold up to 300 million barrels of oil. On Wednesday, 27 September, the controversial project was given the go-ahead, to the stunned disbelief of many climate campaigners. 18-year old Edinburgh student Rose recalled: “I woke up and saw the news. I just wanted to scream.”
Referring to recent extreme weather events around the world – such as the Hawaii wildfires and recent floods in New York – protesters are particularly concerned about the environmental impacts of the newly-approved oil field. According to campaigners, burning the oil and gas from Rosebank would generate more CO₂ emissions than 28 low-income countries combined, thereby releasing more greenhouse gases than 700 million people emit in a year.
Lucy, a climate campaigner speaking on behalf of the Stop Rosebank campaign, told The Glasgow Guardian: “It’s ridiculous that the UK is approving new oil fields when it’s claiming to be a climate leader”, adding that there is no plan to achieve its “bogus” Net Zero goals. Based on the International Energy Agency’s latest report, which was published the day before the UK’s Rosebank approval, new oil and gas projects are incompatible with achieving Net Zero.
As burning fossil fuels increases levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the climate crisis is exacerbated by new oil and gas projects, which disproportionately affect the Global South. As a climate campaigner exclaimed during the rally in Edinburgh, “we simply cannot afford this oilfield: for the climate crisis or the cost of living crisis”, thereby drawing attention to the economic aspect of the Rosebank oilfield.
Owning 80% of Rosebank, the Norwegian state-controlled energy giant Equinor is the oil and gas field’s majority stakeholder. Although the development of Rosebank is expected to cost £4.1 billion, the campaign group Uplift estimates that the project could receive £3.75 billion through tax breaks. Due to a loophole in the UK’s windfall tax which incentivises oil and gas investments, the British taxpayer may effectively contribute towards 90% of the overall development cost – a claim which Equinor disputes.
On the other hand, Equinor argues that Rosebank will create up to 1,600 jobs. However, Alex, whose parents used to work in a coal power plant, encourages people to listen to the concerns of fossil fuel workers and offer them alternatives in the renewable sector. He told The Glasgow Guardian: “People have to work to get by, but these industries can’t carry on forever. The impacts won’t just be felt in Shetland – they’ll be felt all across the world – so we need to transition to a cleaner future by bringing them along.”
Moreover, climate campaigners criticised the UK Government’s claim that the Rosebank oil and gas field would provide energy security by reducing its dependence on hostile states. In a recent BBC interview, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended the Rosebank approval, asserting: “I don’t want our young children to grow up and be dependent on foreign dictators, like Putin, for our energy.” Especially after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, European reliance on Russian gas has been brought to the forefront of global energy politics.
Nevertheless, #StopRosebank protesters argue that the oil extracted from Rosebank will be exported from the UK and refined abroad. It is then expected to be sold on the international market to the highest bidder, with the majority of the profits collected by energy giants Equinor and Ithaca. In fact, Equinor’s senior vice president has said: “If the UK needs Rosebank oil, it will go to the UK through open market mechanisms”. Therefore, campaigners say it is highly unlikely that the Rosebank oilfield will offer the UK energy security or lower energy bills.
For instance, Meg, 28, told The Glasgow Guardian: “What are we gaining from this? Absolutely nothing. It’s an absolute lie that this is for energy security.” In addition, Solomon, 20, remarked: “The UK government hasn’t made many moves towards energy sovereignty in a genuine sense”, noting Conservative party donor links to fossil fuel companies. The Edinburgh University student added that he feels “incredibly disappointed to see them repeat the same rhetoric”.
Instead of developing new oil and gas fields, experts argue that investing in renewable energy is imperative for ensuring an energy-secure future. In fact, a House of Commons Committee report published in January 2023 concludes that “accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels will enhance the UK’s energy security and reduce the ability of aggressive or repressive regimes to use oil and gas supplies as an economic weapon. It will also help to protect households from volatile fossil fuel prices permanently.”
While some protesters feel hopeful about the #StopRosebank campaign, others have expressed doubts. Katie, who studies at the University of St. Andrews feels very disheartened by the decision to approve Rosebank and told The Glasgow Guardian: “I want to say it might [be stopped], but unless there is a massive governmental reform and public hysteria – it will go ahead.”
Madigan, who is from Canada, compared the Scottish oilfield to the Keystone pipeline in her home country, remarking that “no one actually thought it was going to go through and then it did”. The St. Andrews student added: “If I see something like that go ahead at home, I think it could very well happen here.”
Nevertheless, campaigners will continue their fight to #StopRosebank by demonstrating and launching legal action against the UK government. In addition to calling on the Conservative-led government to revoke Rosebank, protesters across the country are urging Labour to take a stronger stance against the approved oilfield. In particular, the protesters I met in Edinburgh are motivated by their previous success in halting the Scottish oilfield Cambo, remarking: “We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again”. As one passionate protester exclaimed in front of the UK Government building over the sound of resilient applause: “The Rosebank rebellion starts now.”