On Sept. 27, 2023, the UK government gave the green light for the drilling of one of its biggest underdeveloped oil and gas fields in the North Sea: Rosebank. 

While the government’s reasoning behind this decision was to prioritize energy security, environmental campaigners have widely condemned the move. 

The field is operated by Equinor, a Norwegian state-owned multinational energy company. However, no oil is expected to be produced from Rosebank until 2027 and, wherever the oil ends up, experts say it will be sold on the international market at the going rate, meaning it will have little or no impact on the cost of living crisis or energy security in the UK.

The development of the Rosebank oil and gas field is expected to produce 300 million barrels of oil in its lifetime and the field’s operational emissions would exceed the UK’s entire carbon budget allocated to oil and gas production. In fact, burning Rosebank’s oil and gas would create more carbon dioxide pollution than the combined emissions of 28 low-income countries, home to more than 700 million people, according to the World Bank

Just 24 hours before the final decision was taken, the world’s leading energy analysts had reiterated that no new oil and gas exploration should take place if the world is to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures

The controversial move comes after a series of decisions by the UK government that undermine progress towards the nation's climate commitments, including its 2050 net zero emission target. Such decisions include approving hundreds of new licenses for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, removing the housebuilder water pollution rules (under which developers will no longer have to offset nutrient pollution from new homes’ sewage), delaying the ban on new petrol and diesel cars, and scrapping the Energy Efficiency Taskforce

It should come as no surprise then that the UK is “no longer a climate leader,” according to a report by the Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent non-departmental public body, formed to advise the country on matters relating to climate change. 

Despite all this, the fight isn’t over. Since Rosebank’s approval, people have taken to the streets across the country to denounce it as a “climate crime.”

Most importantly, Equinor’s CEO, Anders Opedal, will be meeting with all other major fossil fuel CEOs and the Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the President of COP28, for the Energy Intelligence Forum, taking place in London between Oct. 17 and Oct. 19, 2023. On Oct. 18, in particular, when Opedal will be speaking, there will be mass demonstrations outside the conference.

Here are eight powerful reactions from climate activists, campaigners, and more, about what the UK government’s decision means for the fight against climate change and the future of our planet.

1. Ugandan climate activist, Vanessa Nakate, denounced Global North countries' role in the climate emergency.

“The UK government just approved Rosebank - the BIGGEST undeveloped oil field in the UK,” Vanessa Nakate said. “Rich countries are not only failing to take responsibility for their contribution to the climate crisis, they are fueling it.”

2. British environmental activist group, Just Stop Oil, revealed shocking analysis about Rosebank’s projected emissions.

Just Stop Oil, a climate campaigning group in the UK, reminded us of the World Bank's analysis that burning the 300 million barrels of oil and gas that Rosebank is expected to produce would release roughly the same annual emissions of around 28 lowest income countries.

3. Author Naomi Klen called it 'an act of environmental vandalism.'

4. UK-founded global environmental movement, Extinction Rebellion, condemns short-term thinking behind the decision.

5. Hong Kong climate justice activist, Tori Tsui, reveals the hypocrisy behind the government’s “energy security” reasoning.

Climate justice activist, Tori Tsui, wrote about the energy security issue, providing known alternatives to drilling such as retrofitting, a process of making home improvements so it becomes more energy efficient with lower emissions, and unblocking wind power.

In fact, on Sept. 5, the UK lifted England’s de facto onshore wind ban, whereby an objection from just one person was enough for local authorities to reject a project. However, the renewables industry and climate campaigners argued this did not go far enough.

 “With this decision, the government is siding with oil and gas giants over a liveable future for all whether that’s a habitable planet or not having to choose between heating and eating,” wrote Tsui. “While the government touts that the approval is to increase the UK’s energy security, we know it’s not. If it was, we’d be retrofitting homes and unblocking onshore wind. This is about Equinor making as much money as possible.”

6. The move prompted an immediate backlash from the End Fuel Poverty Coalition.

Simon Francis, a coordinator at End Fuel Poverty Coalition, criticized the decision to award developers including Equinor a reported £3.75bn in tax relief.

"Hidden in the small print of the deal is that this project can only go ahead thanks to a massive tax break the government is giving to international oil and gas giant Equinor," Francis said.

He continued: “Households struggling with their energy bills will be shocked that the new energy secretary has chosen to hand a multi-billion pound tax break to this Norwegian firm, rather than help people in the UK suffering in fuel poverty."

7. Climate campaigner, Lauren Macdonald, highlighted fossil fuel plans beyond the UK.

Speaking following Rosebank’s approval, Lauren revealed that Equinor is aiming to open up not just Rosebank, but oil and gas projects in Brazil, Canada, and Argentina.

8. Oli Frost drew a comparison to the plot of Citizen Kane.

Oli Frost, a content creator who makes songs about the climate crisis, said: “The majority of Rosebank’s reserves will most likely be exported for refining overseas. Any oil that is then sold back to us will be at the international price.”

And the profits of this? Drumroll please. “The oil companies.”

Global Citizen Life

Defend the Planet

Rosebank Oil Field: 8 Powerful Reactions to the Decision to Approve Drilling

By Tess Lowery  and  Fadeke Banjo