Nicola Sturgeon calls on Boris Johnson to ‘reassess’ Cambo oil field plan

Green groups accuse first minister of ‘PR exercise’ over letter sent to No 10

Adam Forrest
Thursday 12 August 2021 14:03
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Related video: Nicola Sturgeon confronted over failure to oppose Cambo oilfield

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has called on Boris Johnson to “reassess” plans for the new Cambo oil field near Shetland following an outcry by climate campaigners.

In a letter to the prime minister, the SNP leader said the UK government should reconsider drilling licenses for the waters around Shetland where no development had yet taken place.

Ms Sturgeon – who has been under intense pressure from the Scottish Green Party and environmental activists on the issues – also asked for a four-nation summit on the climate crisis.

“I am also asking that the UK government agrees to reassess licenses already issued, but where field development has not yet commenced. That would include the proposed Cambo development,” she said.

The first minister said licenses should be reconsidered because of the urgency of the climate emergency and need to move away from fossil fuels. “We must ensure that the decisions and investments we make now are aligned with that ambition,” she wrote in her letter.

But Greenpeace UK slammed her letter as a “PR exercise” – with campaigner Sam Chetan-Walsh saying: “Nicola Sturgeon is deferring to Boris Johnson to check the climate impact of Cambo, but until she makes her own stance clear this is just a PR exercise.”

Friends of the Earth also accused Ms Sturgeon of “deferring to Boris Johnson on the future of North Sea oil and gas.”

The group’s climate campaigner Caroline Rance said: “She has failed to actually state her government’s opposition to Cambo or any new oil and gas. If the first minister wants to show leadership she must go further than calling on someone else to review their position.”

Both the first minister and prime minister have come under fire over plans by Shell and Siccar Point Energy to drill in the Cambo oil field in the face of runaway climate change.

At the weekend Ms Sturgeon was cornered by anti-oil campaigners in her Glasgow Southside constituency – but insisted the decision on Cambo lay with the UK government.

Challenged on whether she would oppose the oil field in Shetland, Ms Sturgeon said: “Look, I’m not going to stand here ... it’s not an issue for the Scottish government. We are thinking about all of these things ... There’s no doubt we should be moving away [from oil].”

Campaigners at the Green New Deal Rising group also responded with dismay to Ms Sturgeon’s letter on Thursday, saying it was “not enough” to stop the oil field development.

Jennifer Kowalski, who had challenged the first minister face-to-face in her constituency, said: “Asking the government to ‘reassess’ is not enough. She needs to stop hiding behind the Conservatives and commit to no new oil fields in Scotland.”

Calls to oppose the Cambo development intensified after Monday’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which painting a stark picture of the impact of humanity on the climate due to the burning of fossil fuels and other pollutants.

While not a full-throated opposition to Cambo going ahead, the first minister’s intervention is her first on the issue. It also marks a significant shift away from SNP talk of an oil “bonanza” in Scotland. Ms Sturgeon said Shetland was on the cusp of a “second oil boom” in 2014.

Explaining her stance on Thursday, she tweeted: “Oil and gas supports thousands of jobs in Scotland so our transition away from fossil fuels must be a just one. But the climate emergency demands that it happens at pace.”

In her letter to Mr Johnson, Ms Sturgeon said: “We are both well aware of the importance of oil and gas over many decades – not least in terms of jobs – to the Scottish and UK economies. However, the answer to these challenges, given the urgency of the climate emergency, cannot be business as usual.”

The SNP leader added: “Indeed, I am asking that the UK government now commits to significantly enhancing the climate conditionality associated with offshore oil and gas production.”

The proposed Cambo oil field development is estimated to produce 132 million tonnes of carbon during its lifetime – a figure that would need a land mass 1.5 times bigger than Scotland to counter.

Last week Mr Johnson claimed that the government “can’t just tear up contracts” as campaigners urged him to block the Cambo project.

“This was a contract that was agreed in 2001 and we can’t just tear up contracts,” the prime minister told Sky News. “There’s a process to be gone through.”

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