Offshore oil extraction with a large boat nearby

How can Britain commit to net zero and still drill for millions more barrels of oil?

As the first G7 country to adopt a net zero commitment and the host of the upcoming United Nations climate talks, the United Kingdom faces a test of its climate ambitions as it considers a new oil field in the North Sea.

By Greg Muttitt on August 23, 2021

This originally appeared in The Guardian as an op-ed on August 23, 2021. The below excerpt is published with permission.


Just months before hosting the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, the UK government will decide whether to approve a massive new oilfield 75 miles north-west of Shetland. Boris Johnson has hinted at a likely go-ahead. The Cambo field, being developed by private-equity-owned Siccar Point and Shell, would produce 170m barrels of oil – oil the world cannot afford to burn.

The Cambo decision is the government’s first test since the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned against developing new oil and gas fields. In a landmark report this year, the IEA found that already-operating fields will produce more oil and gas over the coming decades than can be consumed if global heating is limited to 1.5C.

The UK was the first country to adopt a net zero emissions commitment. But buried in the small print of Britain’s statute books is a clause that explains the proposed Cambo development and explodes our climate credentials: “maximising economic recovery” – a legal obligation for the UK government to maximise the extraction of its offshore oil and gas. As we allegedly lead the charge towards a cleaner, greener future, UK policy remains legally bound to drill every last economically viable drop from the North Sea.

Read the full article.