A new energy strategy for Scotland will set out how the country can make the “fastest possible transition” away from oil and gas, Nicola Sturgeon has pledged.
The new strategy, which will be published next year, will be based on the understanding that “unlimited extraction of fossil fuels … is not consistent with our climate obligations”, the First Minister said.
She promised the new strategy at the same time as saying that the Scottish Government would publish a “catch-up plan” this week setting out what actions it aims to take after missing emissions reductions for three consecutive years.
The First Minister, speaking ahead of the global Cop26 climate change summit, which gets under way in Glasgow on Sunday, said that Scotland’s climate change targets were “amongst the toughest” in the world.
While the Scottish Parliament has passed legislation committing the country to achieving net zero by 2045 – five years earlier than the UK – Ms Sturgeon said more still needed to be done.
Addressing students at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, she said: “It is not enough to set tough targets – we must meet them.
“Despite all of our progress, we have fallen short on our last three annual milestones.
“Two years ago, our emissions were 51.5% lower than in 1990. But to meet that year’s annual target, they needed to be 55% lower.
“The law in Scotland stipulates that if we miss any annual targets, we must outperform in future years to make up for it.
“So this week we will publish a catch-up plan.”
She also promised her government would produce a new energy strategy next year.
This, she said, would have the “principle underpinning… that unlimited extraction of fossil fuels, or maximum economic recovery in UK policy terms, is not consistent with our climate obligations”.
Ms Sturgeon stated: “Instead, our focus will be on achieving the fastest possible just transition for the oil and gas sector – one that delivers jobs and economic benefit, ensures our energy security, and meets our climate obligations.”
With Scotland having a “significant and long-established oil and gas industry” that employs tens of thousands of people, Ms Sturgeon conceded that this would be “one of the most difficult issues we face as we tackle the climate emergency”.
But she was clear it would be “fundamentally wrong” to “keep exploring for and extracting oil and gas until the last possible moment”.
The First Minister stated: “The more we tell ourselves we will always have oil and gas as a safety net, the less motivated we are to speed up the development of the alternatives, to train people for new jobs in emerging technologies, and to deliver the just transition we and the world need.
“It’s an approach that cannot be justified in the face of the climate emergency – but it can’t be justified economically either.”
She added that Scotland’s “highly advanced renewable energy industry” meant that the country was among those with the “greatest capacity to make the transition away from oil and gas – and to reap the economic benefits of doing so”.
The First Minister insisted: “The necessity of accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels could not be clearer.”
As well as promising a new energy strategy, Ms Sturgeon called on the UK Government to think again on its decision not to include a planned carbon capture and storage facility in the north-east of Scotland in the first phase of a new scheme.
The Acorn project, due to be located in St Fergus in Aberdeenshire, is now 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 backing of UK ministers.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Despite the fact that Acorn was considered the most advanced of the projects bidding to be taken forward, it was passed over.
“I find that decision inexplicable on any objective grounds.”
She said the project would support approximately 15,000 jobs over the next three decades or so – and crucially would also be able to store up to six million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2030, the equivalent of about 10% of Scotland’s current emissions, with this rising to up to 20 million tonnes by about 2040.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I know there is a fear – and I understand that fear – that carbon capture and storage will simply be used to justify the unsustainable extraction of more and more fossil fuels.
“That must not be the case. But it is a vital part of meeting our climate targets.
“That is why the Scottish Government made clear that we would support the project. And why in my view last week’s decision must be revisited.”
Environmental campaigners welcomed the announcement that the new energy strategy would move away from oil and gas.
Caroline Rance of Friends of the Earth Scotland said: “This is a really significant shift from the Scottish Government to end their years of support for drilling every last drop of oil and gas.
“The First Minister said that Scotland must lead with actions not words, so this welcome change of heart must be followed with a change of policy that can truly take Scotland beyond oil and gas.”
She urged the UK Government to follow suit.
Deirdre Michie, chief executive of the industry body Oil and Gus UK, stressed the need to “learn from the political mistakes of the past and deliver a fair transition for the oil and gas sector that protects jobs, the economy and affordable energy while meeting our climate goals”.
Ms Michie said: “The UK oil and gas industry is changing. Today it supports 71,500 jobs in Scotland and contributes billions to our economy in production taxes alone.”
She added that “prematurely stopping production” in the North Sea “wouldn’t make a jot of difference to demand” for oil and gas, stating: “The cliff-edge transition proposed by a minority would see all of Scotland’s oil and gas needs met by imports from other countries with no benefit to jobs, taxes paid or environmental accountability.”