INDEPENDENT advisers have warned there must be a “very, very, very strong” justification for approving new oil and gas projects as the Conservatives’ argument to back the controversial Cambo plans have been criticised.
The UK Government has stressed it backs the plans by Shell and Siccar Point Energy to open up the Cambo field based on the continuing need for oil and gas in the coming years.
Earlier this month, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) told the Herald that argument alone was not enough to justify approving the fossil fuel plans – despite the UK Government repeatedly pointing to the CCC stressing that there will be a need for oil and gas while there is a transition to net zero.
Appearing at Holyrood’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, Lord Deben, the CCC’s chairman, warned MSPs that despite the continuing need for oil and gas “we must not allow that to mean that we retain fossil fuels for a moment longer than we have to”.
He added: “That’s another technique that some people will use to try and undermine the whole process (of transitioning to net zero).”
Lord Deben was asked if there was a case for new sources of oil and gas exploration or extending existing projects.
He said: “The international view is that there isn’t. The national view may be that you could argue that by controlling the way in which these things are produced, you have a better chance of ensuring the emissions are reduced.
“The problem with that is it is not always possible to mean that if we do more, someone else will do less. It doesn’t work like that.”
Lord Deben added: “The justification for any new oil and gas exploration or production has to be very, very, very strong and I cannot say that I have so far seen any such evidence.
“We really do have to face up to the issue that there may be some occasions where we think that development could be of a kind which would help our move towards net zero to such a degree that it’s worth doing. But we always have to remember that the moment you do any of that, you’re setting an example that will be quoted throughout the world as showing this kind of development is acceptable.
“We have to be very, very sure before we allowed an extension.
“We are fighting a battle for our existence and if you do that, you really cannot make short-term decisions without thinking about the long-term implications.”
Scottish Conservative net zero, energy and transport spokesperson, Liam Kerr, pointed to Lord Deben’s comments on the justification needed for new oil and gas projects.
He said: “Presumably, given the demand for oil and gas-related products in the UK is not changing dramatically and doesn’t seem to show any signs of, the impact on UK security of supply…could be thought to provide that justification.
“Is that the case?”
But Lord Deben insisted that the question needs asked that “by producing more here, are you actually adding to the total because those already producing when you’re not buying it will still be producing it”.
He added: “There is a real issue about the balance between the fact that we have our interests as a nation, but we have our interests in the fact that climate change is a global problem and we have to have a global answer.
“In those circumstances, it has to be a very, very strong argument to overcome the simple argument that we’ve all got to stop using fossil fuels.
“If we produce more fossil fuels, only if other people reduce their production can that be genuinely be a contribution to what is happening in the world as a whole.
“So far, we have not paid enough attention to the fact that some of the proposals being made are actually additional to the amount of fossil fuel that is produced in the world and we cannot afford additions.”
In bringing about a just transition to net zero for Scotland’s thousands of oil and gas workers, Lord Deben stressed that politicians “have to learn the lessons of the past”, adding that previous UK deindustrialisation took place “without taking seriously affects on localities and communities”.
He added: “You have to look at this industry and say what things can we do to ensure that there are alternative jobs – and are we going to use or ability to have carbon capture and storage, for example, how are we going to make that part of the transition.
“Part of the role of government will be to seek to find ways with the private sector to make that transition as fair as is possible.”