Belgium’s Elia recently completed construction of its own power hub in the North Sea

Sturgeon promises shift away from fossil fuels for Scotland

Image credit: Elia

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that Scotland’s new energy strategy will move away from dependence on fossil fuels, amid pressure to intervene to put a stop to major new oil extraction projects ahead of hosting COP26 in Glasgow.

Sturgeon pledged that the strategy will set out how Scotland can make the “fastest possible transition” away from oil and gas, based on the understanding that “unlimited extraction of fossil fuels, or maximum economic recovery in UK policy terms, is not consistent with our climate obligations”.

The new energy strategy is due to be published next year. However, a preliminary “catch-up plan” will be laid out this week, setting out what actions it must take after having missed emissions reductions targets for three consecutive years.

Sturgeon, speaking to students at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, said that Scotland has some of the strictest climate targets in the world. The Scottish Parliament has approved legislation committing the country to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 (compared with 2050 for the UK as a whole).

“It is not enough to set tough targets – we must meet them,” she said. “Despite all of our progress, we have fallen short on our last three annual milestones. Two years ago, our emissions were 51.5 per cent lower than in 1990. But to meet that year’s annual target, they needed to be 55 per cent 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.”

Speaking about next year’s energy strategy, she said: “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.”

Scotland has a historic oil and gas industry, centred on the vast oil resources in Scottish waters, which still employs tens of thousands of people. Sturgeon conceded that phasing out this sector fairly will be one of the most difficult issues the country will face as it decarbonises, but said it would be “fundamentally wrong” to continue exploring for, and extracting, fossil fuels until the last possible moment.

“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,” she said. “It’s an approach that cannot be justified in the face of the climate emergency, but it can’t be justified economically either.”

She emphasised Scotland’s strength in renewable energy, stating that it is among the countries with the greatest capacity to reap the economic benefits of a fossil fuel phase-out. She also placed pressure on the UK government to reconsider its decision not to support a planned carbon capture and storage facility in the north-east of Scotland, the Acorn project, in the initial phase of a new scheme.

Environmental groups generally welcomed Sturgeon’s comments. Caroline Rance of Friends of the Earth Scotland commented: “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.”

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