Expert commission appointed by SNP raised deep concerns about energy transition plans

Experts appointed by the Scottish Government to advise on the transition away from fossil fuels complained about a lack of consultation and raised deep concerns about a new energy strategy just weeks before it was published.

Professor Jim Skea, chair of the Just Transition Commission, warned of the “urgent need to shift gear” in the coming years.

Scottish ministers published their long-awaited draft "energy strategy and just transition plan" on Tuesday following months of delay. It includes plans to adopt a presumption against new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, a move strongly criticised by business leaders.

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The Just Transition Commission brings together experts, trade unions and figures from the energy sector.

The Scottish Government published its long-awaited draft energy strategy on Tuesday

In a letter to SNP minister Richard Lochhead on December 12, Professor Skea said the commission had "formed the expectation that we would be consulted...on a draft of the outline energy strategy and just transition plan" at a meeting a few days earlier.

He said: "The commission wants to acknowledge the high-level briefing we received from officials on the draft currently under development. However, the view of the commission is that this high-level briefing does not constitute consultation on the plan, and we would not expect other parties to gain the impression we had been consulted."

He added: "Based on the briefing we received, we are also deeply concerned about the lack of evidence of adequate policy actions to deliver a just transition for the energy sector, particularly given the urgent need to shift gear in the rest of the 2020s. Last week, the Committee on Climate Change raised in forceful terms the issue of the credibility of climate policy in Scotland to deliver against the Scottish Government’s stated aims, and the need for a shift in the pace, urgency and scale of policy delivery to achieve critical emissions reductions during this decade in particular."

Responding on December 21, Mr Lochhead stressed his appreciation for the commission's "invaluable" work. He said: "We have made progress, but I am under no illusions about the amount of work that needs to be done to deliver on our collective hopes for Scotland. The commission’s role in shaping this is absolutely crucial and I would like to establish much closer personal involvement with your work as our approach to planning develops."

A memorandum of understanding would "explicitly set out expectations regarding the way the commission, ministers and officials would work together in the coming months", he said, while "concrete plans" for consultation were being worked on.

Elsewhere, SNP Energy Secretary Michael Matheson urged the UK Government not to delay a planned carbon capture and storage facility in the north-east any longer.

The Acorn project, due to be located in St Fergus in Aberdeenshire, is likely to come in the second phase of the UK’s carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) cluster sequencing process after centres in the Humber and around Liverpool won the support of UK ministers.

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Mr Matheson said: “Without the Acorn Project, I believe it will be very difficult for both Scotland and the UK to achieve their net zero targets in 2045 and 2050.”

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