Exclusive:Humza Yousaf under fire for meeting with oil and gas giant during COP28

Details of the meeting were disclosed in documents obtained by The Scotsman

Humza Yousaf has been criticised after using the UN climate conference last year to hold talks with the CEO of a North Sea oil and gas giant, despite also calling for a phase out of fossil fuels at the summit.

Documents obtained by The Scotsman show that the First Minister met with the chief executive and the overseas oil and gas chief of TAQA, a state-owned United Arab Emirates fossil fuels giant while at the event in Dubai in December.

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The meeting took place on the day before Mr Yousaf publicly called for a “phasing out” of fossil fuels at COP28.

TAQA have begun decommissioning some of their oil and gas infrastructure. Picture: Coen de JongTAQA have begun decommissioning some of their oil and gas infrastructure. Picture: Coen de Jong
TAQA have begun decommissioning some of their oil and gas infrastructure. Picture: Coen de Jong

A briefing document prepared by Scottish Government officials ahead of the First Minister’s meeting, seen by The Scotsman, stresses “TAQA is a significant player in the North Sea”.

It adds that “the North Sea business, which is run from Aberdeen, operates eight platforms employing 870 people and has stakes in a range of fields, including the Brae area assets north east of Aberdeen, the Brent system pipeline and the Sullom Voe terminal on Shetland”.

The agenda for the meeting lists two items of discussion - the “energy transition” and the “North Sea”. The briefing paper stresses that “Scotland is well placed to support TAQA in achieving your ambitious energy transition goals”.

The minutes of the meeting show that Mr Yousaf met with TAQA’s CEO Jasim Husain Thabet, the company’s head of overseas oil and gas Franco Polo and its chief communications officer Gareth Wynn. The minutes also show the First Minister’s chief of staff Colin McAlister and Reuben Aitken, the managing director of Scottish Development International, were present.

A Scottish Government spokesperson insisted the meeting “had a focus on increasing clean energy supply and on maximising the vast benefits and opportunities of a transition to net zero”.

But Friends of the Earth Scotland’s climate and energy campaigner, Caroline Rance, said: “It’s a disgrace that while the UN climate conference was trying to negotiate a global agreement on phasing out fossil fuels, Scotland’s First Minister was colluding with oil company bosses on the sidelines.

“Oil giants have no place at a climate conference and the First Minister should certainly not be endorsing their presence by meeting with them there.”

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She added: “Companies like TAQA are still pumping oil and gas out of the North Sea at huge cost to our climate and to people’s energy bills.

“The Scottish Government loves to talk up its climate commitments on the world stage but the reality is that they’re completely failing to deliver the action needed and have been repeatedly exposed as cosying up to major polluters at home and abroad.

“If our politicians really cared about delivering a fair and fast transition away from fossil fuels, they would be sitting down with workers to hear about their needs, discussing a jobs guarantee and investing in a fully renewable energy system for the future.”

Speaking publicly at COP28 the day after his meeting with the oil and gas giant, the First Minister said he hoped the summit “is the one that agrees to the phasing out of fossil fuels”. In September, during a keynote address at New York climate week, the FM pledged that Scotland will “transition from being the oil and gas capital of Europe”.

But the SNP has been softening its approach to the oil and gas sector since the turn of the year in an apparent bid to win over voters in the North East - opposing Labour’s planned extension of a windfall tax on fossil fuels giants.

The Scottish Government’s draft energy strategy suggested a move towards a presumption against new oil and gas licences being granted, but the publication of the final blueprint has been delayed by ministers.

Asked by The Scotsman about the apparent change of tact from his party’s government partners, Mark Ruskell, Scottish Greens climate spokesperson, said that there was “an element of local messaging, particularly with the North East, when it comes to some of these debates”.

Scottish Conservative shadow secretary for net zero, energy, and transport, Douglas Lumsden, said: “Humza Yousaf should be supporting Scotland’s oil and gas sector in public rather than just behind closed doors.

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“Tens of thousands of highly-skilled workers will be questioning the true intentions of this meeting. It is only a matter of months since he flew to New York to boast about Scotland no longer being the oil and gas capital of Europe.

“Only the Scottish Conservatives are fully standing up for our oil and gas sector and recognising its importance for Scotland’s economy and energy security while the First Minister turns his back on them.”

Minutes with the First Minister’s meeting with TAQA show that “the decommissioning of TAQA’s oil and gas assets in Scotland” was discussed.

TAQA’s production of overseas cables, potentially at Hunterston, was also talked about, and Mr Yousaf “made clear that the TAQA CEO should contact him directly if action was needed to help the project progress”.

On its website, TAQA boasts it has “played a significant role in exploration and production in the United Kingdom Continental Shelf”.

It adds: “We operate seven platforms that produce from several fields spread across the northern and central North Sea, the majority of which is wholly owned and operated.

“We are also the operator of the Brent system pipeline, which connects the Cormorant Alpha platform to the Sullom Voe Terminal in Shetland, which we also have a non-operated interest in.

“We are now focused on safely and efficiently managing late-life operations and delivering excellence in decommissioning our assets as they reach cessation of production.”

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister took part in over 50 engagements and held meetings with a number of key stakeholders, world leaders, and businesses while at COP28, including announcing £2 million of funding to address loss and damage and hearing from those on the frontline of the climate crisis.

“The meeting with TAQA had a focus on increasing clean energy supply and on maximising the vast benefits and opportunities of a transition to net zero which leaves no workers behind - both of which are key to Scotland’s economic future.”



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