COP26: Keir Starmer calls for hard timetable to end oil and gas extraction from North Sea

A hard timetable to end the extraction of fossil fuels in the North Sea needs to be set by government and industry, Sir Keir Starmer has said, as he accused Boris Johnson of failing to lead on climate change ahead of the COP26 summit.

Sir Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar during a visit to the Hamiltonhill Claypits Local Nature Reserve in Glasgow.
Sir Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar during a visit to the Hamiltonhill Claypits Local Nature Reserve in Glasgow.

The UK Labour leader said a consensus needed to be reached about when to stop drilling off Scotland’s coast or the net zero target set for 2050 will not be met, stressing he opposed the opening of the new Cambo oil field off Shetland.

In Glasgow on a three-day visit to Scotland, he also urged the UK and Scottish governments to create a strategy to ensure jobs were not lost in the north east of Scotland, criticising the SNP for not meeting a pledge to create 28,000 jobs in offshore wind.

And he said the UK was looking for leadership from Boris Johnson in the run of to COP26 to ensure agreement at the UN summit was not put “at risk”.

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“The Paris Agreement obviously told us what we needed to do. Glasgow is going to tell us how we're going to do it,” he said. “It's probably one of most critical conferences we've seen in a very, very long time.

“So we need leadership like never before and international diplomacy, the ability to bring countries together in a coalition, which are not characteristics and skills of the Prime Minister, who's got the opposite reputation.”

Asked if he thought Mr Johnson would put the summit at risk he said: “I'm saying this is a test of his leadership. Because what we need at the moment is leadership. This is genuinely about building coalitions and diplomacy.

"I fear that the failure of leadership by our Prime Minister puts COP at risk. Obviously I hope it doesn't, because I can't stress enough how big of a moment this is. The next 10 years is absolutely vital.”

Mr Starmer reiterated his opposition to a third Heathrow runway if it did not “satisfy certain tests, including tests in relation to climate change.”

On the controversial Cambo oil field he added: “No, we don't support it. Because it isn't consistent with the targets we need to meet.”

He added: “We absolutely have to protect and look after people's jobs, and you have to have a set of targets and a strategy to hit those targets. Take offshore wind turbines – have we created the jobs in Scotland, for building those wind turbines? No.

"They’re being brought in from places like Indonesia. So it needs a strategy around it. The amount of wind and wind energy that we have generated needs to double and double again, so if you've had a strategic plan in the UK, including in Scotland, you could be creating high quality manufacturing jobs, over the next 10 to 20 years, not just for the wind turbines that are going to be needed off the shores of Scotland, but also to export the rest of the world.

"There is a difference between ambitious targets and a strategy.”

On oil and gas he said a timetable needed to be agreed “subject to consensus”.

"We've got to bring communities with us on this otherwise there'll be a disconnect between the obligations that we've got to fulfil in order to deal with the climate crisis and the communities that are going to be most deeply affected. And that's why they deserve the strategic planning.”

Asked if that would be ten or 20 years, he added: "We'll have to sit down and agree, but we've got to have a hard-edged timetable.”

He said a “clear roadmap” was needed for people to see “alternative forms of employment” as without it “we’re not going to win the trust of people across the country.

"We've got to work with the economies, particularly the northeast where we rely so heavily on the gas industry.

“But, you know, we also have to be a bit critical here. The SNP was saying that they would create 28,000 jobs in offshore wind. They've created one in 20. People now say to us, ‘you've missed the boat, it's all too late’ – that is a terrible failure.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said OP26 was a “massive opportunity” for Glasgow “in terms of demonstrating that Scotland is open for business again, coming through the pandemic.

"It's also a huge opportunity to recognise the need for international cooperation – climate change does not recognise borders. We want to be unified in the fight against climate change, to have more than warm words, to take the meaningful action needed to confront the climate.”

He said the north east had been “decimated by the reduction in the hospitality and tourism industry” and now faced “huge challenges” in oil and gas.

"We hear a lot about the just transition but a just transition is only truly one if you're not decimating entire communities in the process, and not losing thousands if not tens of thousands of jobs in the process.

"And this goes back to the point about a strategic approach. We've got to do the investment in the new industries of the future.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said that ending oil and gas extraction “confirms that Labour have abandoned Aberdeen and the north east.

“They’ve no longer got any MSPs from Aberdeen and they’ve kicked out councillors from the city for working with unionists.

“People across the north east will be appalled to hear that Keir Starmer is happy to throw away their livelihoods by agreeing a hard edged timetable to shut down the North Sea sector.

“Labour’s plans would risk the 100,000 jobs that depend on our vital oil and gas industry.

“This position is potentially even more extreme than an SNP-Green coalition would hold. It’s beyond reckless, especially when jobs and Scotland’s economic recovery from Covid must be our top priority.”

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