Climate chief blasts 'collective failure' of Tories and SNP to work together on net zero

Chris Stark has warned that Scotland’s two governments failing to co-operate is putting climate progress at risk.
Chris Stark, chief executive of the Climate Change CommitteeChris Stark, chief executive of the Climate Change Committee
Chris Stark, chief executive of the Climate Change Committee

The outgoing chief executive of Holyrood and Westminster’s climate progress has hit out at the “collective failure” of UK and Scottish governments to work together effectively to reach net zero as he called on both administrations to “trade off” policies.

In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, Chris Stark, the chief executive of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), also warned that political wrangling over new oil and gas licences has “mostly been a complete waste of time” and “disruptive” as he called for a “reset” to the debate over fossil fuels.

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Mr Stark, the former director of energy and climate change at the Scottish Government, is leaving his role at the CCC after six years to join the Carbon Trust.

As he exits his top position at the statutory adviser for both the UK and Scottish governments, Mr Stark has warned Scotland’s progress on climate change is being put at risk by the frosty relationship between its two governments.

He spoke after the CCC issued a damning assessment of Scotland’s progress, warning that a legally-binding target to cut emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 cannot now happen.

Mr Stark said: “I think there is a collective failure of the Scottish and UK governments to develop a proper roadmap to net zero. The UK has a goal for net zero for 2050 Scotland has a goal for 2045 - they are the same target. Scotland simply has more ways to store carbon and therefore Scotland needs to hit its 2045 goal if the UK is going to be on track. So we should be thinking of this as a plan that requires reciprocation.”

He added that Scotland will need to specialise in some aspects of the strategy while “there are some bits that the UK is going to have to do to do the heavy lifting to allow Scotland to hit its target”.

Mr Stark said: “And we haven't got that positive enlightened discussion on that so far. And I would prefer it if we did actually. There needs to be deeper cooperation between the two governments.”

The Scottish Government has repeatedly criticised UK ministers for not prioritising the Scottish carbon capture project for funding over similar schemes south of the border. Responding to the CCC’s latest report in Holyrood on Wednesday, SNP Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan pointed to the “inexplicable failure to support the Acorn carbon capture, utilisation and storage project”.

Mr Stark pointed to the prioritisation by UK ministers, stressing that “politicians in the northwest and northeast of England did the hard yards to make sure that the political argument for that project was heard and made and understood in London”, adding “that did not happen with the Scottish project because of polarisation and politics”.

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He added: “The last time we had the kind of the cooperation I think you need to make this work was probably the Alex Salmond era when we were doing onshore wind policy with our planning powers in Scotland, delivering UK targets.”

“That’s my greatest frustration as a Scot who works on UK policy that we should have much better forums to discuss this and yet we don’t.”

Scotland is lagging behind with planting trees and restoring peatland as part of its net zero strategy.

The Scottish Fiscal Commission has warned that “Scotland contains 32% of the UK’s land mass, with roughly half of its trees and 70% of its peatland”, but stressed “Scotland is expected to invest more … relative to the size of its population” without the funding from Westminster to back it up.

Mr Stark said this additional funding could be passed on from Westminster or “even more productively, Scotland agrees to do that kind of investment in return for which some other aspects of the transition is looked after better by UK policy”.

He said: “You can imagine Scotland agrees to do planting of trees and restoration of peatland at the appropriate level, and in return for which it has a better policy environment to do decarbonisation of buildings.

“Especially in an election year we have a very much more polarised discussion taking place. And that's a great shame actually.”

Asked about the political debate over new oil and gas licences between Scotland’s two governments, Mr Stark gave a scathing assessment.

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The UK government has made clear its intention to open up the North Sea to new fossil fuels projects, while the Scottish Government has opposed this strategy despite the SNP now criticising Labour’s oil and gas windfall tax plans.

Mr Stark bluntly said: “I think the discussion of the oil and gas licences has basically mostly been a complete waste of time.”

The CCC chief insisted that “we've been having a discussion about the wrong thing for years now instead of getting focused on the stuff that matters”, stressing that “we need a reset”.

He added that the Conservatives’ policy “is now being forced upon the licensing authority”.

Mr Stark said: “We need gas, right through to 2050 so domestic production of it makes sense, because otherwise it will be importing it.“Prior to all this, we were expecting a 97% reduction in gas production between now and 2050. With new licences, a 95% reduction in gas production. It's two percentage points, and it's probably at the most, hundreds of jobs rather than thousands.

“And what's determining that change is not licences or legislation or the attitude of the Scottish Government or the attitude of the UK government, it’s geology. And we should be more focused on the geological issues here because they ultimately determine everything.

“So I think the whole discussion on this has been disruptive.”



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