In response to last week’s Scottish Government Energy Strategy one newspaper ran a front page headline announcing the end of the oil and gas industry. The truth is less clear.
The long-awaited new Strategy is a draft and public responses are invited by early April. It foresees a rapid increase in renewable energy generation, continues to rule out fracking and finally admits that hydrogen is never going to be heating people’s homes. But it also has some weaselly words on nuclear power and continues half-hearted support for the ACORN carbon capture project.
It includes the first Just Transition Plan to help workers out of fossil fuel jobs and in to renewables and energy efficiency jobs, predicting 77,000 jobs in green energy production by 2050.
On oil and gas it solidifies a vital policy change that the SNP have been talking about for a while – the end of Maximising Economic Recovery as a policy goal for fossil fuels. Still in UK policy, law and licensing this is the aim to get out every last drop possible, with 100 new proposals in the pipeline. Yet, the International Energy Agency, not usually a radical body, said in 2021 that, to limit global warming to 1.5ºC, there should be no new oil and gas developments anywhere in the world, and that oil and gas production must decline. Last week Westminster’s Environmental Audit Committee challenged the UK Government to set a date for the end of oil and gas production.
The Energy Strategy does not actually say that there should be no new oil and gas licences or set a date for the end of fossil fuel production. Instead it asks whether the Scottish Government should support a presumption against new licences, and a phase out.
It calls for the UK Government’s useless climate checklist for new oil and gas licences (will it trash the climate ? Yes. Ok, never mind) to be improved. And it asks if this test should be applied to field which are consented but where work has not yet started, like Cambo and Rosebank.
Importantly it states that any discussion of the oil and gas industry’s climate impact must include the emissions resulting from the use of their products, not just those that come from extracting the oil and gas, as the industry loves to do.
The Bute House agreement between the Scottish Green Party and the SNP made a commitment to an independent scientific review of the role of oil and gas in Scotland’s energy future including a comparison to the reduction in fossil fuel use that is needed to meet the Paris Agreement targets of keeping the planet’s final temperature rise well below 2ºC and preferably below 1.5 ºC (the world is already over 1ºC and heading for 3ºC and 2022 was Scotland’s hottest year on record).
This work is not quite finished but the government has promised to publish this full analysis before the end of the consultation. If done right, it surely cannot fail to agree with the IEA and conclude that no new licences should be issued and existing production should be phased out rapidly.
The draft Strategy is for consultation, please do your bit to make it stronger.
A version of this article appeared in the Scotsman newspaper on the 19th January 2023