Media release: 27 September 2023

UK government pushes climate action further off track with Rosebank approval

The approval of a massive new ‘carbon bomb’ oil and gas field in the North Sea risks making it even more difficult for the UK to get back on track to meeting its climate targets, ClientEarth lawyers say.

The UK Government today approved Rosebank – the biggest undeveloped oil and gas field in the North Sea – just a week after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak rolled back on existing climate policy and assured the public that the government remained committed to net-zero by 2050. 

Analysis shows that if Rosebank’s nearly 500 million barrels of oil were to come online it would put the sector on track to overshoot the emissions targets agreed with the UK government under the North Sea Transition Deal – targets which themselves have been criticised by the Climate Change Committee as being significantly too weak.

ClientEarth lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said the project risked pushing the UK even further off track from meeting its carbon budgets and international commitments, and risked locking in a dangerous stranded asset, when the world needs to be winding down – not scaling up – fossil fuel production. It also flies in the face of the International Energy Agency’s confirmation yesterday that new oil and gas fields continue to be inconsistent with its net zero pathway. 

“The government is already projected to miss its climate targets and this approval will only make the government’s task more challenging while doing nothing to bring down people’s energy bills. Like the government’s recent policy rollbacks, this decision risks putting the UK even further off track from meeting its legal targets. 

“In fact, it will only further lock in dependence on expensive fossil fuels that have been the root cause of the current crisis – and it will make it harder to do what Rishi Sunak committed to only last week, which is meet the UK’s climate targets. 

“Doubling down on crisis-prone fossil fuels won’t provide people in the UK with energy security – that can only be done through measures that reduce demand for fossil fuels, including rapidly rolling out home insulation and heat pumps, properly investing in public transport, and moving to an economy based on renewable energy.”

Energy firms Equinor and Ithaca Energy are backing the Rosebank project.

In February this year, ClientEarth lawyers filed a case arguing that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) acted unlawfully by approving the prospectus of Ithaca, despite the company’s disclosures failing to adequately describe the climate-related risks faced by the company and therefore breaching legal requirements.


About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.