The First Minister’s critics warn that if the new field does not go ahead, jobs will be lost and the UK will be forced to import oil and gas from overseas.
However, if they are to win the argument, they need to do much more than that because the carbon emissions that Cambo’s oil and gas would cause must be accounted for.
If it is possible to open this field and stay on the required path to net-zero emissions – we are currently off course – then it could, perhaps, be acceptable. Carbon-capture-and-storage might enable that.
But, with CCS technology not commercially viable to date, Cambo’s extra emissions would need to be balanced by swifter reductions than currently envisaged in other areas. If Cambo gets a green light, what activities will be shown a red one?
The UK government appears set to allow Cambo, but if it does so it will need to demonstrate how this is compatible with our commitments under the Paris Agreement and the Glasgow Climate Pact.
However, the decision is more complicated than that because of the potential effect on the wider world of COP26’s host country going ahead with a new oil field.
Many other oil-producing nations could use the same argument – that cutting their own supplies will lead to job losses and more imports – which is a recipe for the whole world to make no reductions at all.
Giving evidence to MSPs in August, Lord Deben, who served in John Major and Margaret Thatcher’s governments and is now chair of the Committee on Climate Change, the UK and Scottish governments’ independent advisers, said that the “justification for any new oil and gas exploration or production has to be very, very, very strong and I cannot say that I have so far seen any such evidence”.
“We are fighting a battle for our existence and if you do that, you really cannot make short-term decisions without thinking about the long-term implications,” he added.
Climate change is a real and serious threat. Those who glibly demand new oil fields need to start treating it as such.