Scotland, Climate and Oil

By Harley Brewer

Recently I attended the Scottish Climate Challenge Fund conference. It was the second time I have heard Roseanna Cunningham (Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform) speak on climate change and the second time she did not wait around for any questions. I am starting to think that the  Scottish Government has something to hide when it comes to their climate change commitments. It is now widely known that the Scotland has some of the highest emission reduction targets in the world Recently it met its targets for 2020 emissions reductions six years early and this is laudable and should serve as an example to other countries around the world of what is possible with limited funding and a lot of drive. We can hope the the new Climate Change Plan to be published this winter will continue in this vein and set even higher targets for Scotland’s emission reductions.

There is, however, something of an elephant in the room when it comes to the governments plans. We all know it. North sea oil. The Guardian’s ‘Keep it in the Ground’ campaign claims that we have a carbon budget of 565 gigatons, anything above this figure will lead to higher than the 2 degrees of warming that represents the border of catastrophic climate change. The amount of carbon in already discovered fossil fuel reserves is estimated at around 2795 gigatons. This means that if we use only 20% of the fossil fuels that we have already identified we will lock in far higher than 2 degrees of warming. To put this in context the Paris Climate Conference aimed at keeping warming below 1.5 degrees. If these fossil fuels are taken out of the ground then everything else we do will be meaningless, the fight to stop climate change will be over. We will have lost. No amount of walking to work, shorter showers or cutting down on red meat will save us.

It is estimated that fossil fuel companies spent $700 billion in 2014 searching for new reserves. That means that not only do these companies predict that they will extract the current reserves, but that they predict they will be able to continue extracting well into the foreseeable future from reserves as yet undiscovered. There is only one reason we would take these fuels out the the ground and that is to burn them. The consequences of this extraction and subsequent burning will be devastating. If these companies get their way we will use far more than our 565 gigaton carbon budget, locking in higher than 2 degrees of warming. It is not hyperbole to state that this is a threat to civilized human existence.  We cannot allow this to happen. Keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the major battle we must win to prevent catastrophic climate change.

At the conference I took part in a workshop on Scotland’s future as a green economy. I brought up the matter of Scotland fossil fuel reserves and was assured by someone who worked for the government that the SNP had plans in the programme for government for phasing out the extraction of fossil fuels. I decided to read through myself. What I found was that not only does the Scottish government plan to allow fossil fuel companies to continue to extract oil, they “will continue to take steps to support the industry” in this extraction. They further plan to “provide support to the industry in its ambitions to increase the total economic value of the North Sea sector through export-led growth”. This isn’t some hidden internal memo. This is publicly available stated aims of the government of Scotland. They are publicly committing themselves to actions that will render all their other climate efforts pointless.

Scotland cannot be a world leader on climate change and continue to extract its fossil fuels. The aims of making our environment liveable for future generations cannot be reconciled with the short term interests of the fossil fuel industry. The only way we can keep warming below 2 degrees is to continue with Scotland commendable plans for emissions reduction and end fossil extraction.  Keep it in the ground.



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