‘Elephant in the room’: Report finds Scotland must choose between North Sea industry collapse or green transition

Ben Wray

Campaigners call for end of Scottish Government support for Oil & Gas UK plans for fresh rounds of oil extraction

  • New report posits necessary choice between “deferred collapse” or a managed transition to green industry
  • The UK Government and industry bosses plan to extract 20 billion barrels of oil, which would see them rupture with international agreements to reduce carbon emissions
  • UK, Scottish and Welsh governments have all declared a ‘climate emergency’
  • Recent social movements warning of climate catastrophe have forced a new debate on north sea oil extraction

A NEW REPORT from leading campaigners and think tanks has found that Scotland faces a choice between the eventual collapse of the North Sea oil industry or a transition to green alternatives that protects jobs and revenues.

The report, ‘Sea-Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction’, also calls on the Scottish Government to end its support for fresh North Sea exploitation by north sea oil firms.

The report insists that the UK and Scottish Governments face the choice between “deferred collapse”, which would involve continuation of the current regime of massive state subsidy, maximum extraction and declining employment in oil fields, or “managed transition” by ending the licensing of new oil and gas projects, and transitioning to new green industries with like for like job-guarantees for workers and in collaboration with unions.

Speaking on the publication of the report, drafted by Platform, Oil Change International and Friends of the Earth Scotland (FoEs) and supported by the pro-independence Common Weal think tank, Global Witness and the Greener Jobs Alliance, Mary Church, Head of Campaigns at FoEs, said: “Climate science is clear that we urgently need to phase out fossil fuels, yet the government and big oil are doing everything they can to squeeze every last drop out of the North Sea.

“To tackle the climate emergency head on we must ban oil and gas exploration now, and redirect the vast subsidies propping up fossil fuel extraction towards creating decent jobs in a clean energy economy. Real climate leadership means making tough decisions now that put us on a path to a climate safe future. A Just Transition for workers and communities currently dependent on high carbon industries is an essential part of that.”

Read more: ‘Stop dragging your feet’ – Michael Gove refuses to commit to net-zero target at Holyrood committee

The report also found that even the scheduled extraction of 5.7 billion barrels of oil from existing oil fields would mean the UK exceeding its Paris Climate Agreement targets. Current industry and UK Government estimates posit extractable resources equal to 20 billion barrels of oil, a target they aim to meet.

It also found that recent increases in subsidies to the oil industry by the UK Government will create twice the volume of carbon emissions that would be cut by the phase-out of coal-power energy plants.

Greg Muttitt, Research Director at Oil Change International, said: “Our report exposes the elephant in the room of UK and Scottish climate policy: the government is pushing increased oil drilling while seeking to decrease carbon emissions, and it just doesn’t add up. We are facing a climate emergency, and government needs to get serious about a transition to clean energy, rather than maximising North Sea extraction and putting billions of pounds of subsidies in the pockets of oil companies. When you’re in a hole, you need to stop digging.”

The report calls for the closure of the soon to be completed 31st and soon to be opened 32 licensing rounds for oil and gas extraction.

Read more: New @ScotGov export-focused strategy may clash with new climate strategy, think-tank argues

In recent weeks the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments have all announced a ‘climate emergency’ prompted by a wave of mobilisations for climate justice including widespread school strikes and a sustained street presence by the Extinction Rebellion movement.

Anna Markova, Campaigner at Platform, said: “Climate science says we have to stop drilling for oil – the question is how. Right now we’re headed for a ‘no-deal exit’ from oil extraction, crashing out without protecting jobs, ports, construction yards. If we begin a planned transition instead, renewable industries can create hundreds of thousands of decent clean jobs where they’re needed, and fill the economic gap left by the oil industry.

“But to make this happen, UK and Scottish governments must work with trade unions, safeguard an equivalent job guarantee for oil workers, and drive the transition with all the available tools, from national investment banks to public energy companies to education and skills agencies.”

Read more: ‘We need to stand up’ – The Scottish kids taking part in historic global school strikes

A Scottish government spokesperson said of the report: “There is no bigger priority than tackling climate change, and Scotland is already well recognised as a world leader in doing so.

“The first minister has accepted the recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change to increase targets on tackling and reducing emissions. We have therefore committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2045, and are looking at a range of policies to make sure that they align with that increased scale of ambition.

“The domestic oil and gas industry and its supply chain can play a positive role in supporting the low carbon transition. We are committed to achieving a carbon-neutral economy and to managing that transition in a way that is fair for all.”

Picture:  Bruno Glätsch

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