In an unprecedented referendum this month, the people of Ecuador voted to stop oil drilling in the Yasuní National Park in the Amazon. Despite dire warning about economic collapse, 59% backed the ban and the state oil company now has a year to close down all its current operations.
The vote ends a ten-year battle to end the destruction caused by oil drilling in the national park and means that nearly three-quarters of a billion barrels of oil will stay in the ground.
How would a similar vote go here ? Opinion polls in the UK and Scotland repeatedly show very high level of concern about climate change and a recent British poll by YouGov found that 56% of people expressing a view supported an end to new oil and gas production. In Scotland this was 53%.
The decision in Ecuador increases the pressure on the Scottish Government to join the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance. The Alliance was launched at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow in 2021. It aims to help bring about a managed phase out of oil and gas production. It is led by Costa Rica and Denmark, and its core members include France, Ireland, Sweden and Wales. As well as the 12 core members there are also two associates and five friends of BOGA. Scotland isn’t one of them.
At COP26 Nicola Sturgeon said that Scotland couldn’t join right away. Despite being the joint host of the talks and one of the nations with the toughest climate targets in the world. Rumour was put about the conference centre that Scotland might join in about six months, Sturgeon herself using the phrase ‘not too distant future.’ Twenty-one months later, nothing has happened.
Four Scottish parliamentary questions in the last year have received the same response: “we continue to engage with BOGA and as part of a wider programme of analysis and engagement with a range of organisations and stakeholders.”
A freedom of information enquiry revealed that civil servants’ excuse for not joining BOGA at the time of COP26 was that Scotland should first produce its new energy strategy. It was also revealed that Scotland was only ever considering joining as a friend of BOGA, the lowest level of membership.
A consultation on the much-delayed energy strategy was launched in January of this year and closed in May, with a final version of the strategy expected to be published in the autumn. If waiting for the strategy was ever a valid excuse, it is about to run out.
This month Labour MSP Monica Lennon challenged the Scottish Government once again to sign up to BOGA.
First Minister Humza Yousaf has recently said that the UK government, including their plans to ‘max out’ North Sea fossil fuels with 100 new oil fields, are holding back climate action. He accused Rishi Sunak of climate denial. He is trying to assert the kind of climate change leadership that Nicola Sturgeon was so good at.
If Mr Yousaf is sincere now is the time to demonstrate this by joining the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, and not just as a friend but as a full member.
A version of this article appeared in the Scotsman newspaper on the 30th August 2023.