Scottish Government faces ‘policy paradox’ over support for North Sea oil and climate crisis

The Scottish Government faces a “policy paradox” over its continued support for North Sea oil and gas extraction while also attempting to meet its ambitious commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2045, a report has found.

Nicola Sturgeon declared a “climate emergency” in her speech to the SNP conference in April this year and pledged Scotland would continue to “lead by example” when it came to the environment.

But in a blog examining Holyrood’s continued support for the North Sea sector, published by the impartial Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SpICE), researchers noted Scotland remains one of Europe’s largest extractors of fossil fuels, and the industry continues to account for roughly 10 per cent of Scottish economic output.

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They added: “It is one of the great policy paradoxes of devolution that in addition to driving through world-leading climate change legislation, successive administrations have attempted to support, sustain and grow Scotland’s North Sea oil and gas industry.”

Oil platforms stand laid-up in the Cromarty Firth near Invergordon. The sheltered waters have long been used as an anchorage when oil prices fall and the need for rigs is diminished. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA

The Scottish Government said the oil and gas sector could play an important role in Scotland’s energy transition.

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Scottish Greens environment spokesman Mark Ruskell said: “It is good to see Scottish Parliament researchers back up exactly what we’ve been warning the Scottish Government about.

“Their policy on oil and gas is completely contradictory to declaring a climate emergency.

“They pretend that unlimited extraction of fossil fuels can continue past 2050 while they tackle the climate emergency.

“The Scottish Government needs to stop waving its targets about and wake up to what a climate emergency means.”

A separate published yesterday by the independent UK Committee on Climate Change called for Holyrood ministers to “match the ambition of its world-leading Net Zero 2045 target with decisive action to strengthen climate change policy in all parts of the economy”.

The document found that greenhouse gas emissions north of the order were reduced by three per cent in 2017, compared to a 10 per cent fall in 2016. The fall was led by the power sector, due in large part to Scotland’s first full year of coal-free electricity generation.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “The new report from the Committee on Climate Change is a massive boost to Scotland’s climate change credentials, confirming, as it does, that we are committed to world-leading targets for tackling climate change.

“We also strongly agree with the challenge the report sets for Scotland – we must walk the talk and adopt policies over the coming year that make those targets a reality.

“We are committed to achieving net-zero emissions across the economy as a whole.

“While relevant tax powers are reserved to UK ministers, any continued support for oil and gas sector businesses operating in the North Sea is now conditional upon contributing to a sustainable, secure and inclusive energy transition and we support the industry’s Roadmap 2035 that will decarbonise the remaining production in the North Sea.

“The oil and gas sector can play an important role in Scotland’s energy transition, helping to design the diverse energy system we need for the future, including options such as hydrogen production and developing floating wind and marine energy, with many businesses already diversifying into these areas.”