Stop Cambo: Meet The Climate Activists Trying To Block Scotland's New Oilfield

Around 170 million barrels of oil could be extracted from the Cambo oilfield between 2025 and 2050.
Plans for the Cambo oil field off the coast of Scotland are set to go ahead.
Victoria Jones via PA Wire/PA Images
Plans for the Cambo oil field off the coast of Scotland are set to go ahead.

From washing out the yoghurt pots to carefully separating out the paper recycling from the plastic, we’re all doing our bit to try and fight climate change.

But we also know that tackling the climate crisis doesn’t stop with us – large global companies and governments hold responsibility.

While the UK is getting ready to host COP26 in Glasgow, one of the biggest climate conferences in the world, plans for a huge oilfield off the coast of Scotland are set to go ahead.

The Cambo oilfield has already been highlighted in the run up to COP26 as Greenpeace activists recently protested outside Downing Street. Campaigners at a climate event in Edinburgh also took to the stage to speak out against the controversy of Shell’s CEO being involved in a panel discussion.

Young climate activists feel “terrified” over their futures if the plans are approved.

“We’re boasting about the fact that we’re climate leaders in the UK and we’re hosting this global summit and they’re trying to inspire other leaders to action,” says Coll McCail, a 17-year-old climate activist from Scotland. “But no one could be inspired to act on climate change by a country that are about to approve a new oilfield and continue drilling.”

Coll McCail attending a climate strike in George Square, Glasgow.
Coll McCail
Coll McCail attending a climate strike in George Square, Glasgow.

What is Cambo?

Cambo is the name of a potential new oilfield in the North Atlantic Ocean, off the west of Shetland, that holds around 800 million barrels of crude oil.

Coll is part of a group of activists that make up the Stop Cambo campaign to raise awareness about this project and call for the government to take immediate action.

He says that as a Scot, he “has no choice” but to speak up against it.

“What Cambo symbolises is this idea that we can extract and take and accumulate as much wealth and resources as possible without really stopping. We're showing no recognition of that and that's terrifying.”

- Coll McCail, climate activist

The oilfield is operated by Shell and Siccar Point Energy who already hold a license for Cambo but are waiting for the final stamp of approval.

Drilling could begin as early as next year, with oil production running between 2025 and 2050.

This field would produce around 170 million barrels of oil in the first phase of the project. We’re talking some big numbers! Extracting that amount of oil has the same carbon footprint as running 18 coal fired power stations for a year, according to Stop Cambo.

An activist holds a placard during a Stop Cambo protest by Greenpeace.
SOPA Images via Getty Images
An activist holds a placard during a Stop Cambo protest by Greenpeace.

And Cambo is just the start. Around 18 other similar projects have licenses and are waiting to get approved.

Coll says he feels a “climate guilt” because the communities that will see the effects of these UK oil and gas projects are in the global south.

“It’s terrifying and it’s horrifying that we may be safe but it’s only because of our geographical positioning.

Our lives are entirely dependent on a colonial legacy which means the people who are going to feel the climate crisis the worst are those who have the least to do with it and that should weigh immensely on us all.”

What is the Stop Cambo campaign?

The Stop Cambo campaign is a group of organisations and grassroots activists who are working together to try to stop the government from approving this oilfield and future ones.

Tessa Khan is a climate lawyer and the director of Uplift UK who are leading the campaign.

She believes Cambo would be “a disaster for the climate”.

Tessa Khan (left) is a climate lawyer helping to lead action to stop the Cambo oil field getting approved by the government.
Tessa Khan/Jessica Kleczka
Tessa Khan (left) is a climate lawyer helping to lead action to stop the Cambo oil field getting approved by the government.

“If a country like the UK can’t commit to doing the right thing and keeping oil and gas in the ground, it sends a disastrous message to the rest of the world, especially in a year that the UK government is hosting these incredibly important international climate talks in Glasgow.”

What can you do to help?

You’d think the UK government would be the ultimate decision-maker and in a sense they are. But direct approval for these projects come from the Oil and Gas Authority (OAG).

Kwasi Kwarteng is the Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy so the OAG falls under the area of work he looks after.

Tackling climate change is also a key part to his job which makes him the cabinet member most closely tied to Cambo.

“It will affect all of us, there's no question, no one is safe from the impact of this crisis.”

- Tessa Khan, climate change lawyer and director of Uplift UK

Tessa believes public awareness can create change around the Cambo project and wants people to speak up about it.

“Make this an issue for your MP, make it clear they have to take a stand on Cambo and to oppose it.

“There’s never been any scrutiny of the government’s decision-making on this. So if the government is really feeling like the public is outraged about it then it’s going to make it much more difficult for them to give the project the green light.”

Greenpeace activists during a Stop Cambo protest outside Downing Street.
SOPA Images via Getty Images
Greenpeace activists during a Stop Cambo protest outside Downing Street.

Why does this all matter?

We know that it is crucial for countries to act together to stabilise global warming to a temperature of 1.5C as mentioned in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Drilling the oceans for more oil will harm this target.

If you’re thinking the project might at least benefit the local job market, unfortunately not.

Contracts for the project have mostly been given to firms outside of the UK.

With recent energy supply shortages you might be thinking, well the UK will be able to use the oil it’s extracting, right?

It’s a no again, for two reasons. The type of oil being extracted at Cambo is heavy crude oil, used for tarmac in roads and not what we use in our cars.

Also, around 80% of it will be exported to the global market and any additional amount that’s left will make up a small contribution to the UK’s own energy supply.

Activists come together for a Stop Cambo protest in Edinburgh, July 2021.
Jessica Kleczka
Activists come together for a Stop Cambo protest in Edinburgh, July 2021.

What about the UK government’s green goals?

The government’s Climate Change Act promises the UK will reach net zero by 2050. To reach a global net zero, experts say investments in new oil and gas fields must end this year. As in 2021.

The government also recently announced a target of cutting emissions by over 75% by 2035.

With the UK hosting COP26 this year, it’s under a spotlight. Any new fossil fuel investments approved by the UK will give other countries encouragement to follow suit.

Coll knows that Cambo won’t be the last oilfield to come across the government’s desk but hopes it’s the one that will make a difference.

“Inspiring politicians to act through inspiring people is the greatest outcome we can hope for.”

Help and support:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
  • CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email help@themix.org.uk
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.