MSPs have been told that controversial oil field plans going ahead would be “a betrayal of future generations” amid a warning the climate emergency cannot become “a jobs crisis”.
The Scottish Conservatives held a debate on the future of oil and gas and called on MSPs to pledge support for the Cambo oil field, planned off the coast of Shetland.
The Tories were hoping to cause a rift in the SNP and Greens co-operation agreement – but Greens environment spokesperson, Mark Ruskell told MSPs that the deal between the two parties was “a great starting point for a real just transition” away from fossil fuels industries.
Conservative net zero, energy and transport spokesperson, Liam Kerr, pointed to the fact there is “still significant ongoing demand” for oil and gas, warning that “if we offshore our responsibilities and emissions, we have no means to control them”.
He added: “It cannot be sensible to cut our own resources – it’s Scotland’s oil after all – and become increasingly dependent on countries like Qatar.
Mr Kerr claimed that “we are not yet at a stage where renewables can entirely support the electricity Britain needs”.
Scotland’s electricity supply is almost entirely sources from renewable energy.
Mr Kerr added: “The industry supports close to 100,000 jobs in Scotland – over 60,000 in the North East. A hard shutdown of the industry consigns that region to a bleak future.
“We need these skills to pioneer greener energy, to develop carbon capture, hydrogen and offshore wind at scale and rapidly. Losing them will undermine our transition.”
The SNP’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Secretary, Michael Matheson, stressed that the oil and gas sector has a “vital role to play in Scotland’s energy future”.
He added: “We believe that it will help Scotland to become a world-leader in emerging technologies such as hydrogen technology, carbon capture and utilisation and storage and in offshore wind.”
“Our transition to net zero must be made in a way that is just for the workers, which is key, but also for the sector and our energy needs.
“This transition also needs to be managed in a way that ensures oil and gas developments are compatible with becoming a net zero society by 2045.”
Mr Matheson highlighted the First Minister’s call for new licences to be “reassessed” through a climate lens.
He added: “It’s essential that the UK Government show the necessary climate leadership in reassessing these licences.
“Renewable and low carbon jobs cannot replace oil and gas jobs immediately. That’s why we are committed to ending our contribution to climate change in a way that’s both just and leaves no-one behind.”
Labour’s Monica Lennon insisted that “there can be no new oil and gas – that means no Cambo”, given the climate emergency.
She added: “When report after report makes it clear that Cambo is another nail in the coffin of our dying planet, we have a duty to call it out.
“Pushing ahead with Cambo would be a betrayal of future generations. Industrial and economic change is inevitable. It is our duty as parliamentarians to guarantee that change and decarbonisation delivers justice for workers.
“We cannot allow a climate crisis to become a jobs crisis in the North East or anywhere else in Scotland.”
Mr Ruskell told MSPs that his party’s agreement with the SNP “commits to answering two critical questions” around the future of oil and gas – how much oil “we can afford to burn” while meeting climate targets and damaging demand for fossil fuels.
But he warned that the oil and gas sector will “always be driven by a UK licensing policy of maximum economic recovery, of every last drop from every last reserve”, adding that strategy is “incompatible with the climate crisis”.
A Conservative motion expressing support for the new oil and gas projects, including the Cambo oil fieldwas not been endorsed by MSPs.
Politicians voted by 68 votes to 55 for a Scottish Government amendment, which removed all reference to the original motion’s support for “new oil and gas projects, including Cambo”.
The Government amendment stated “that countries around the world cannot continue to maximise recovery of hydrocarbons if the aims of the Paris Agreement are to be met” and highlighted plans from ministers for a “just transition” for the energy sector.
The motion, as heavily altered by the Government amendment, was then passed by 66 to 55.
Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “It’s astounding that as the UK Government prepares to host and cajole world leaders into tackling the climate emergency with greater urgency at COP26, it simultaneously appears inclined to greenlight an enormous new oilfield at Cambo which will only intensify the climate crisis. We know this will fuel more poverty and hunger.
“The world’s top scientists, the UN Secretary General and the international energy regulator themselves have all been clear: we can’t even afford to burn all the fossil fuels we already know about, never mind go drilling for more.
“It was encouraging to hear strong statements of opposition to Cambo from a range of MSPs with positive recognition of the need to drive down emissions quickly and deeply. But while the Scottish Government has rightly called on the Prime Minister to review this proposed license, it palpably failed to use this opportunity to send him a clear message: that this Cambo climate carry on should be stopped, and it should be stopped now.”