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Over 400 Christian leaders say 'No' to Prime Minister's new oil field plan

by Ros Mayfield

In an open letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, 427 UK Christian leaders have called on Rishi Sunak to reverse the decision approving the Rosebank oil field off the coast of Shetland.  Signatories including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow William Nolan, who say the site, which will be mostly owned and operated by a Norwegian energy company, “will not provide energy security, uphold our obligations to care for our global neighbours or create sustainable jobs fit for the green energy future we need”.

The letter states: “As Christian leaders from around the UK, we do not take a partisan view on Rosebank, we take a moral view. It’s time to show international and moral leadership – and stop Rosebank.”

It comes after protests were held across the country following the government’s announcement that the oil field had been given the green light, and just a day after Pope Francis issued a papal document, calling for decisive action as ‘the world in which we live is collapsing and may be near breaking point’.

Rt Revd Rowan Williams, said, 'We need to remember that postponing action on the climate is not a neutral matter but makes the problem more acute. Do we really want to leave the next generation with a challenge even more hard and costly than the one we face today?'

Operation Noah is a Christian environmental charity working with the Church to inspire action on the climate crisis, and spearheaded the letter campaign.  Cameron Conant from the charity tells Premier he’s pleased with the number of Christian leaders who signed it:  “I’m really excited that people are standing up that churches and Christians are standing up and saying, This is not a partisan issue. This is a moral issue. And that's what faith leaders have said in this in this letter.”

Also among the 400+ signatories are some of the most senior Christian leaders in the UK, including the General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Wales, Revd Judith Morris, Moderator of the the United Reformed Church’s National Synod of Scotland, Revd Paul Whittle, and Campaigns Lead for the Young Christian Climate Network, Dr Chris Manktelow, as well as 20 Catholic and Anglican bishops.

Leading climate scientists have stated that keeping climate change to a manageable level is still possible, but only if the world pivots fast - away from oil and gas towards renewable sources of energy. 

The government says Rosebank is necessary to provide greater fuel security for the UK during the changeover. Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho said: 'We are investing in our world-leading renewable energy but, as the independent Climate Change Committee recognise, we will need oil and gas as part of that mix on the path to net zero and so it makes sense to use our own supplies from North Sea fields such as Rosebank.”

Conant doesn’t agree with the government’s assessment: “The primary stakeholder is the Norwegian government. Even they have admitted that this oil, which is pumped out of this field in the North Sea, will be sold on the international market at international prices… this is not the UK’s oil, so it's not going to bring prices down.”

He says change is happening faster than people realise - for better and for worse: “For those who might have ‘climate change fatigue’, the exciting news is that the International Energy Agency now says that this year, for the first time, we will very likely have more investment in renewable energy than we will in oil and gas. So things are changing, the tide is turning.  The problem is… we don't have time for what the Prime Minister thinks of as a proportionate sort of moderate response.”

He said bolder and different decisions are needed from the government, to create a UK that’s carbon-free in terms of energy use: “What the government should really be doing is investing in the jobs of the future, helping all of us to make the transition - to get gas hobs out of our homes, and to not heat our homes, our buildings, our churches and our schools with gas heating, but to do that with things like air source heat pumps.”

Rosebank could attract up to £8 billion investment, and is expected to provide around 1,600 jobs during the construction phase, according to UK company Ithaca who will share the operation of the site with Oslo-based Equinor.   That number will drop to 450 UK-based jobs once construction is complete.

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