Social Channels


Daily Briefing |


Briefing date 28.09.2023
Britain to allow big North Sea oil field, despite climate concerns

Expert analysis direct to your inbox.

Every weekday morning, in time for your morning coffee, Carbon Brief sends out a free email known as the “Daily Briefing” to thousands of subscribers around the world. The email is a digest of the past 24 hours of media coverage related to climate change and energy, as well as our pick of the key studies published in peer-reviewed journals.

Sign up here.

Climate and energy news.

Britain to allow big North Sea oil field, despite climate concerns
The New York Times Read Article

There is widespread coverage of the UK government’s decision to give the go-ahead to the controversial Rosebank offshore oilfield in the North Sea, which the New York Times describes as “a move that is expected to provide a modest boost to the country’s oil and gas industry, but [has] prompted outrage from environmental groups”. The newspaper adds: “Rosebank is a very large, undeveloped field in the British North Sea, with an estimated 300m barrels of recoverable oil. Discovered almost two decades ago, it has long been on the shelf because of prohibitively high projected costs tied to its location in the far northern part of the North Sea, about 80 miles northwest of the Shetland Islands. A new, cheaper approach led by [Norway’s] Equinor has changed the calculations…But there is heated debate in Britain about whether new oil and natural gas projects in the North Sea should be permitted at all, given the country’s ambitions to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.” The Times says: “Norway’s state oil company Equinor and Britain’s Ithaca Energy said they would now proceed with the $3.8bn development of the first phase of the field, which could produce 245m barrels and begin production by 2026 or 2027. The field could pump up to 70,000 barrels per day at peak, or about 8% of UK oil output in the latter part of this decade, and could still be producing some oil by 2051.” However, the Times adds that campaigners have threatened to bring a legal challenge against the approval for the development: “Tessa Khan, executive director of the campaign group Uplift, alleged there were ‘strong grounds to believe that the way this government has come to this decision is unlawful’.” The Times also cites Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans who has calculated that “burning 300m barrels of oil would release the equivalent of the combined carbon emissions of more than 90 countries”.

The Daily Telegraph notes that the “development of Britain’s largest untapped oil field in the North Sea will generate billions of pounds in tax and boost the UK’s energy security for decades, ministers have said”. It quotes Claire Coutinho, the new energy security and net-zero secretary, saying that Rosebank would “make us more secure against tyrants” like Vladimir Putin and contribute billions of pounds to the economy. It continues: “The government said approval had been scrutinised by regulators, including a detailed environmental impact assessment process and a public consultation prior to approval. It said Rosebank also complied with the UK’s climate checkpoints, brought in last year, which say that all new oil and gas developments must fit within the country’s carbon budgets.” (See Carbon Brief’s factcheck on this issue published earlier this year.)

The Guardian says that “green campaigners, including Greta Thunberg, had called on the UK government to halt the development, arguing that it contravened Britain’s plan for a net-zero economy”. The newspaper quotes Hannah Martin, a co-director of Green New Deal Rising: “Approving the Rosebank oilfield is an act of climate vandalism by Rishi Sunak and his government…but Labour has not committed to reversing this decision, despite acknowledging that Rosebank’s approval is wrong. This position does not make sense, and there is still time for Keir Starmer to put himself on the right side of history and show leadership by committing to revoking Rosebank’s licence.” The Financial Times notes that “the opposition Labour party confirmed it would honour the licence for Rosebank if it wins the election, but stop new oil and gas extraction licences because of concern over greenhouse gas emissions”.

BBC News has published a Q&A headlined: “What is the row over the project?” It says: “Oil and gas from UK waters is not necessarily used here – it is sold on global markets. What Rosebank produces will be sold at world market prices, so the project will not cut energy prices for UK consumers…Equinor…has confirmed that.” Euronews has an article headlined: “UK’s new Rosebank oil field won’t make a ‘scrap of difference’ to energy bills, critics say.” The Independent picks up on comments made by Conservative peer and former minister Zac Goldsmith who told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “It just trashes the UK’s reputation as a reliable, grown up member of the global community, it’s done us immeasurable harm…The party that loses sight of the overall goal [of climate action and environmental protection] is not one that deserves to be given the privilege of power.”

Meanwhile, in other UK news, the i newspaper covers remarks made by Claire Coutinho in which she claims that climate change “zealots”, such as protest groups Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion, are the “biggest threat” to the UK reaching net-zero. The Press Association reports that “Ineos boss Sir Jim Ratcliffe has hit out at what he sees as the UK’s ‘total lack’ of an energy policy, which he branded ‘completely irresponsible’”. It adds: “The billionaire owner of the chemicals group accused the UK government of seeking to discourage local oil and gas production and making the country reliant on supplies from overseas producers.” The Guardian reports that “the UK has fallen well behind the rest of Europe in the growth of electric vehicle sales and risks falling further back after Rishi Sunak’s ‘screeching U-turn’ on its climate policies, according to industry analysts”. And in Scotland, the National covers new polling which shows that “British support for the UK’s 2050 net-zero target has risen following prime minister Rishi Sunak’s screeching U-turn on key green policies”. (See Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A: “What do Rishi Sunak’s U-turns mean for UK climate policy?”)

Nature crisis: One in six species at risk of extinction in Great Britain
BBC News Read Article

Many UK publications cover a new report jointly published by conversation groups which concludes, reports BBC News, that “numbers of the UK’s most precious animals and plants are still falling, as a countrywide nature-loss crisis continues”. The broadcaster adds: “The State of the Nature report found 16% of 10,000 mammals, plants, insects, birds and amphibians assessed were threatened. They include UK wildlife icons such as the turtle dove and hazel dormouse. The government has said it is committed to ‘increasing the amount of habitat for nature to thrive’. But conservation organisations say more investment and a shift to much more wildlife-friendly farming and fishing are urgently needed.” The 203-page document was produced by more than 60 organisations, including wildlife conservation groups, government agencies and academics. Its analysis of decades of research paints a grim picture – natural spaces and the wildlife that depends on them are in decline.” The report should make everyone “sit up and listen”, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) chief executive Beccy Speight is quoting saying, with BBC News adding that “restoring nature would also help to tackle the climate crisis”. The Financial Times describes the report as the “most comprehensive assessment ever carried out of UK biodiversity”, adding: “The study estimated that the abundance of the species studied – the number of individuals living in the wild – had declined on average by 19% since 1970. But flora and fauna had already been highly depleted by human activity over previous centuries, so ‘the UK now has less than half of its biodiversity remaining’, the report said.” The Times also covers the story, noting that “fishing, farming and climate change contribute to the ‘consistent pattern of decline’”.

Shell CEO comes under pressure from within on renewables shift
Reuters Read Article

Shell’s CEO Wael Sawan has “come under pressure over his strategy from within the energy company after two employees issued a rare open letter urging him not to scale back investments in renewable energy, sparking an internal debate”, reports Reuters in an “exclusive”. The newswire says that the “open letter, posted earlier this month on Shell’s internal web and seen by Reuters this week, comes after Sawan outlined at an investor day in June plans to slow investment in renewables and low-carbon business as part of a strategy to boost returns”. The letter was signed by Lisette de Heiden and Wouter Drinkwaard, who both work in Shell’s low-carbon division, and, according to Reuters, they said: “For a long time, it has been Shell’s ambition to be a leader in the energy transition. It is the reason we work here…The recent announcements at and after the capital markets day deeply concern us…We can only hope the optics of the [capital markets day] announcements are deceiving us and that Shell continues its path as a leader in the energy transition.” The letter received “more than 80,000 views and 1,000 likes, and sparked a long exchange of comments on the open platform, including from Sawan, according to company sources”. Reuters says that Sawan wrote in his response: “For an organisation at the crux of the energy transition, there are no easy answers and no shortage of dilemmas or challenge.” The Daily Telegraph also covers the story.

China’s climate action contrasts with western countries ‘empty gun’: permanent representative of China to the UN
China News Read Article

Zhang Jun, the Chinese permanent representative to the UN, has argued that China is “a resolute actor in addressing climate issues, contrasting sharply with some Western countries that engage in empty talk”, reports the state newswire China News. He is quoted saying that the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities” is being evaded or even overturned by developed countries, who make “unrealistic demands” on developing nations. The state news agency Xinhua has published an opinion piece by Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, COP28 president-designate, in which he states that China will “play a key role in making [the COP28] agenda a reality”. Another China News article covers Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s comments that China is “a doer” when it comes to climate governance.

Meanwhile, power industry news outlet Power Technology covers remarks made by Arvea Marieni, a “consultant to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change”, claiming that climate cooperation is at a “make or break” point and the EU and China must collaborate to “advance the energy transition”. Bloomberg notes that the EU is in the process of enhancing collaborations with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia to strengthen domestic production of critical materials, as it “vies with China to secure essential resources for the green and digital sectors”. Nikkei Asia says that China has “increased its rare-earth metal production quota for 2023 by 14% compared to the previous year…in a move aimed at bolstering its thriving electric vehicle sector”. And the Financial Times carries an article headlined: “What ‘peak oil’ will mean for China.”

In other China news, the ministry of ecology and environment (MEE) and the National Bureau of Statistics have signed a “cooperation framework agreement on carbon emissions statistics and accounting work”, reports the Chinese financial outlet Yicai. The Communist Party-backed newspaper People’s Daily states that a batch of “climate-adaptive pilot cities” will be selected nationwide to “explore pathways and models for climate-adaptive city construction”. Finally, Reuters reports that China “expects to greenlight six to eight new nuclear power units a year within the foreseeable future”.

Britain’s energy grid operators expect sufficient supplies this winter
Reuters Read Article

Reuters reports that “Britain’s electricity and gas grid operators [says] they expect to have sufficient supplies this winter, with more power generation available than last year and brimming gas stores across Europe, but cautioned geopolitical risks remain”. The newswire adds: “Last year, National Grid’s Electricity System Operator (ESO) warned Britain could face three-hour planned power cuts if the country was unable to import enough gas as Europe grappled with reduced supply from Russia and low gas storage levels.” BBC News says the reports notes that this year the UK was “in a different position”. It continues: “Chances of the lights going out were almost back to where they were before the energy crisis, it said. But a scheme to pay people for cutting electricity use at peak times will still be used to help manage demand. Craig Dyke, head of national control at National Grid’s ESO, which is responsible for balancing demand and supply on the network, said the main change this year was a ‘big uptick’ in overall capacity. On top of that, ‘stress events’ from last year had faded, Mr Dyke said, such as lower gas stores in western Europe following the war in Ukraine and a reduction in electricity supplies from France’s nuclear power stations.” Sky News says “the main challenge facing the grid this autumn is the loss of five coal-fired power plants that were held in reserve last winter”, meaning “gas and nuclear capacity becomes more essential”. The Times says that National Grid has “urged households and businesses to sign up to its demand flexibility service, which it said could be used in a scenario of ‘unexpected reduced output’ from power plants in Britain or ‘reduced imports available from Europe’”. The Financial Times says “households in Britain could be offered payments to turn down their heating if needed to prevent gas shortages, under plans being considered by the UK’s biggest network operator”.

Climate and energy comment.

The Guardian view on the Rosebank oilfield: a symbol of Sunak’s cynicism
Editorial, The Guardian Read Article

Most UK national newspapers carry editorials commenting on the government’s decision to greenlight the Rosebank offshore oil field. The Guardian’s editorial says “the willingness of a backs-against-the-wall Conservative administration to max out on North Sea oil and gas sends a disastrous message”. However, the right-leaning newspapers are broadly supportive of the government. An editorial in the Daily Telegraph says: “Reality has finally caught up: carbon-based energy sources will likely be needed for decades to come even as the world moves increasingly in the direction of renewables.” The Times states: “No sensible politician doubts the need to reduce Britain’s reliance on fossil fuels over the coming decades. But it is only pragmatic to acknowledge that in making that transition Britain will continue to use fossil fuels. The independent Climate Change Committee recognises that even after meeting net zero targets, a quarter of Britain’s energy needs will be supplied by oil or gas. Given this, the greener, more secure and economically productive option is to exploit domestic resources…None of this detracts from the urgent need to clean up and diversify Britain’s energy supply…Fossil fuels are needed for now. But a greener and more secure energy future means a low-carbon one.” An editorial in the Daily Mail argues that the “need for fossil fuels can’t be wished away”, adding: “Vast revenues will accrue from this field, enabling the government and energy companies to invest more in renewables and help expedite the green revolution. Who could possibly argue with that?” An editorial in the Daily Express says: “We must limit our dependency on imported energy; this is a matter of national security. It is also true that climate change threatens global security. A responsible government will work towards net-zero while doing everything to ensure no foe can engineer an energy crisis that would leave the country in the dark.” Finally, the Sun says: “To inevitable howls of protest from an army of Greta Thunbergs, the government has rightly granted permission for drilling in the untapped Rosebank oil and gas field…It is…horribly anti-green to use polluting giant tankers to ship fossil fuels here where they already exist…We need to extract our own oil and gas as cleanly as possible – without having to beg it from abroad.” An editorial in the Yorkshire Post is headlined: “Rosebank encapsulates challenge of balancing energy security with net-zero.”

Rosebank is the final nail in the coffin for Rishi Sunak's net-zero pretence
James Dyke, The i newspaper Read Article

Many commentators in the UK national newspapers focus their attention on the Rosebank decision. James Dyke, who is an associate professor in Earth system science at the University of Exeter, writes in the i newspaper that the Conservative government is “putting near-term politics above the climate – and the economy”. Similarly, in the Guardian Green MP Caroline Lucas argues that “the Tories’ huge new oilfield is a moral obscenity – but Rosebank can still be stopped”. Ben Marlow in the Daily Telegraph’s business pages says that the decision “smacks of panic”. He concludes: “Nor will Rosebank have any impact on energy bills because the oil and gas that comes from it will be sold on the international markets at corresponding prices. Once again, it appears that ministers are trying to gaslight voters on an issue of national importance. But no amount of spin can disguise the flawed thinking behind this decision.”

However, several right-leaning newspapers promote the views of climate sceptics. For example, the Daily Telegraph has a comment piece by Allister Heath, who edits its sister Sunday title, arguing that “the [Conservative’s] real fightback started earlier this month when he watered down many of the more extreme net-zero proposals, until now a taboo subject, before signing off on more North Sea oil. These were all excellent moves.” The Sun carries the views of omnipresent climate-sceptic commentator Ross Clark who claims: “Oil – or black gold as it is sometimes called – may be a dirty, carbon-intensive product, but we should be glad we are able to produce it in Britain’s waters. The Rosebank decision has just made our country’s future a little more energy-secure.” The Times’s chief business commentator Alistair Osborne writes: “In giving the go-ahead to the Rosebank oilfield, the PM is once again on the wrong side of both the green lobby and millions of Britons, not least young voters. But he’s also made the right decision…Due to start by 2026-27, it will use a redeployed floating production unit, with the project’s carbon intensity expected to be below UK and global averages: 12kg of CO2 per barrel versus 20kg across the North Sea. Electrify production – such as via a link to a wind farm – and it would cut emissions to 3kg per barrel. One job for the government? Setting Equinor a deadline for that.”

Meanwhile, the Times gives its Thunderer column to Tim Knox, former director of the free-market “thinktank” the Centre for Policy Studies, in which he calls for an “honest debate about the costs of net-zero policies”, based on a a “pamphlet” published by fellow Tufton Street residents Civitas. Knox does not mention his own role in the publication. The Sun devotes an editorial to the Civitas report, calling for an end to “dishonest rhetoric” on the costs of net-zero. [The report ignores the cost savings from net-zero due to buying less fossil fuels. Among various errors, the report’s author confuses units of electricity generating capacity with those for electricity generation, leading him to say that wind power costs £1.3m per megawatt hour. The true figure is more like £50.] The Daily Mail says a government spokesperson “dismissed the findings” and quotes them saying: “We simply do not accept these figures. The report fails to recognise the financial savings from lower fuel costs and technological advances – such as offshore wind costs falling by 70% more than we projected in 2016.” The Sun and the Daily Express also cover the story.

New climate research.

Weather explains the decline and rise of insect biomass over 34 years
Nature Read Article

A new study’s finding that terrestrial insect biomass is largely driven by complex weather conditions challenges the previous assumption that climate change primarily affects insect populations in the tropics. The researchers reanalysed insect global biomass data and found that temperature and precipitation conditions during sampling and weather anomalies during the insects’ life cycle explained changes in biomass over time, including in temperature zones. The authors note that “new combinations of unfavourable multi-annual weather conditions might be expected to further threaten insect populations under continuing climate change”.

Disentangling local and global climate drivers in the population dynamics of mosquito-borne infections
Science Advances Read Article

Global climate drivers, such as the El Niño–Southern Oscillation, affect the variability of mosquito-borne diseases from year to year whereas temperature and other local factors affect their seasonality, according to new research. The paper analyses almost 200 time series of dengue and malaria around the globe at different geographical scales to better understand and predict epidemics. The authors note that being able to separate the time scales of different factors “enhances detection of climate drivers and indicates those best suited for building early-warning systems”.

Expert analysis direct to your inbox.

Get a round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. Find out more about our newsletters here.