COP26: Nicola Sturgeon says continued oil and gas extraction is ‘wrong’

Continued unlimited oil and gas extraction is “wrong”, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said ahead of climate change conference COP26, as she warned the summit is the “possibly last opportunity” to avert global climate catastrophe.

Speaking at the University of Strathclyde’s Technology and Innovation Centre on Monday, Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government’s focus would be on “achieving the fastest possible just transition for the oil and gas sector” in Scotland into renewable energy.

She also said UK Government plans to approve a new drilling permit at the Cambo oil field, west of Shetland, “must be reassessed” in light of the climate emergency, but did not condemn the project outright.

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Friends of the Earth Scotland welcomed Ms Sturgeon's position as a “significant shift”, but warned the Scottish Government needed to actively call for the Cambo oil field to be rejected.

First Minster Nicola Sturgeon spoke at Strathclyde University this morning ahead of Cop26.

Ms Sturgeon said Scotland would act as a “bridge builder” between major world leaders and those whose voices are not usually heard during COP26, which begins from Sunday.

The First Minister admitted the Scottish Government had fallen short on its past three annual environmental milestones, but pointed to a report from the UK Committee on Climate Change, which said last year that Scotland had decarbonised more quickly than any G20 nation.

The government will this week publish a catch-up plan to highlight some of the actions already announced this year and set out a range of additional measures, including to decarbonise public sector buildings, promote home upgrades, and make bus travel cleaner and more accessible.

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It will also set out plans to further increase Scotland's onshore wind capacity.

Separately, Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government would publish a new Energy Strategy next year, which will state that unlimited extraction of fossil fuels, or maximum economic recovery in UK policy terms, was "not consistent" with climate obligations.

She said: "Tens of thousands of jobs are dependent – currently – on oil and gas production. Those jobs and the people in them matter. And, of course, much of our energy use is still catered for by oil and gas.

"So for countries like ours, with significant remaining reserves of oil and gas, it is tempting to tell ourselves that for both economic and energy reasons, we must keep exploring for and extracting oil and gas until the last possible moment. That, in my view, would be fundamentally wrong.

"It’s an approach that cannot be justified in the face of the climate emergency, but it can’t be justified economically either."

Ms Sturgeon added: “Instead, our focus will be on achieving the fastest possible just transition for the oil and gas sector – one that delivers jobs and economic benefit, ensures our energy security, and meets our climate obligations.

​"I​n many areas – offshore wind and green hydrogen are good examples of this – the skills that oil and gas workers currently already have are hugely valuable and eminently transferable.​"​

Last month, MSPs overwhelmingly rejected a Scottish Conservative motion calling on the Scottish Parliament to back new oil and gas projects, including Cambo, following a debate on the future of the industry.

Ms Sturgeon said: “The International Energy Agency is even blunter – in its assessment, there should be no new oil and gas fields approved anywhere.”

She warned the COP26 summit would “shape the future of the world we all live in” and warned that “absolutely nothing – and certainly not party politics” should stand in the way of the Scottish and UK governments working together.

Ms Sturgeon said: “One of Scotland’s objectives during the summit itself is to be a bridge builder – to connect those whose voices are too rarely heard, with those making the decisions. And so part of our role at this COP will be to provide the spaces and forums, and support the initiatives, that will allow these bridges to be built.”

She added: “This may well be the world’s best – possibly last – opportunity to avert climate catastrophe. But if that opportunity is seized, the benefits will be plentiful.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s climate and energy campaigner Caroline Rance said: “This is a really significant shift from the Scottish Government to end their years of support for drilling every last drop of oil and gas.

"The First Minister said that Scotland must lead with actions not words, so this welcome change of heart must be followed with a change of policy that can truly take Scotland beyond oil and gas."

She added: “The First Minister and her government must now call for the Cambo oil field to be rejected and to support a ban on all new oil and gas projects. The Scottish Government must ensure that people and communities working in oil and gas are at the heart of planning this rapid phase out of fossil fuels, whilst scaling up renewable energy and oil rig decommissioning to help create decent green jobs."

Scottish Greens co-leader and zero carbon buildings minister Patrick Harvie said: “The First Minister is right. Global inaction on the climate emergency must not be allowed to continue.

"With Greens in government, Scotland is finally facing up to the reality that continual fossil fuel extraction, so-called ‘maximum economic recovery’, is incompatible with climate action. Until very recently this destructive ideology was almost a consensus, but now only a stubborn few continue to pretend that it can continue.”

Previously, the Scottish Greens had previously opposed new exploration for fossil fuels and called for undeveloped licenses to be revoked.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "The First Minister is much better at shallow soundbites than she is at tackling the climate emergency. So long as she continues to back the expansion of Heathrow and 75,000 new internal flights, all her warm words mean nothing. She's even ambiguous about whether to open up a whole new front of hydrocarbons with the Cambo oilfield.

"Scotland needs to show leadership ahead of COP26.

"Since becoming leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats I have set out plans for boosting electric vehicles, cutting heating bills and insulating homes and protecting our communities from the effects of extreme weather. I would urge the First Minister to show the same level of ambition."

Scottish Conservative shadow net zero secretary Liam Kerr, said: “Nicola Sturgeon won’t stand up for projects like Cambo, which will create jobs and support Scotland's economy as we rebuild from the pandemic. The SNP need to realise our domestic demand for oil and gas will outstrip supply for years to come, even as the industry transitions towards net zero.

"Appeasing Green coalition partners would mean switching production off now and buying it from abroad, potentially doubling the carbon footprint for no gain. Nicola Sturgeon must face reality – the SNP's slow progress on a fair transition is jeopardising 100,000 jobs.”

Deirdre Michie, chief executive of OGUK – the representative organisation for the UK offshore oil and gas industry – said: “We need to learn from the political mistakes of the past and deliver a fair transition for the oil and gas sector that protects jobs, the economy and affordable energy while meeting our climate goals.

“The UK oil and gas industry is changing. Today it supports 71,500 jobs in Scotland and contributes billions to our economy in production taxes alone. With support for our plan to slash industry emissions while using our skills to build the greener energies we need, we can unlock 40,000 new jobs across the UK and protect energy communities – and it’s already happening.”

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