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A group of former government ministers from Westminster and Holyrood have joined forces to demand “full support” is given to the UK oil and gas industry – which they say is “essential” to helping meet climate change targets.
The five senior politicians – including former home secretary Amber Rudd and former Scottish rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing – were in Aberdeen to sign a joint declaration in support of the sector.
This backed “continued exploration and development” within the North Sea “in order to ensure the continuance of a thriving oil and gas sector”.
The declaration comes in the wake of action by climate change protesters, who are demanding ministers block new oil and gas fields, such as Cambo and Jackdaw.
The group – which also includes former Liberal Democrat Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael and former energy ministers Brian Wilson and Charles Hendry, who served under Tony Blair and David Cameron respectively – stressed their support for targets set to reach net zero by 2045 for Scotland and 2050 for the UK as a whole.
They insisted the oil and gas sector is an “essential contributor to the achievement of net zero targets” and, as such, “deserves the full support of all governments in the UK”.
The group challenged the Scottish Government to use its forthcoming energy strategy to “support our oil and gas sector” while the UK Government was urged to “accelerate” efforts to develop carbon capture and storage technology, particularly the Acorn project in the north east of Scotland.
Mr Carmichael, the Lib Dem MP for Orkney and Shetland, said the politicians were working together to try to achieve a “shift in the debate” about the role the oil and gas sector can play.
He said: “Working with other political parties is always challenging, it is never easy, but if we are going to achieve the shift in the debate that we really need in order to get our country to meet these massively important climate change targets, I will work with anyone who will work with me on that.
“I think the political narrative has started to change, there is a realisation certainly since events started to unfold in Ukraine that the assumptions we made previously were not well-founded.
“Governments when they find themselves in that position, of any colour, always find it difficult to dig themselves out of their own holes.
“I hope if we have done nothing else today we have maybe offered them the opportunity to at least put down the shovel and get hold of the ladder to get to where we need to be.”
Mr Ewing, who previously served as energy minister in the Scottish Government, said he was “hopeful” current ministers would listen.
The Inverness and Nairn MSP stressed the importance of the North Sea, stating: “We will need oil and gas for some time to come and if we cease production here we would have to import far more carbon-intensive gas … so it would make things worse, not better.
“But, above all, carbon capture and storage cannot be delivered without the skills, expertise, the workforce, the supply chain in the oil and gas industry to do the drilling, the reservoir management, the pipeline construction and maintenance, and perhaps, above all, working in the unforgiving North Sea environment safely.
“Only the oil and gas industry can do that.”
He said he hoped the declaration would make a “positive contribution to the debate” as he called for action from ministers in Edinburgh and London.
However Ami McCarthy, political campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “Are these guys joking? The government has been falling over itself to support oil and gas companies, granting them massive tax breaks and approving a destructive new gas field – meanwhile allowing fuel poverty to soar.
“The idea that supporting fossil fuel companies would somehow help tackle the climate crisis is like backing the tobacco industry as a way to cure cancer.”
She added: “If the government really cared about a thriving North Sea industry and long term sustainable employment, and about tackling the cost of living or the climate crisis, they’d prioritise a just transition to renewable power, boosting our supply chains, upgrading the grid and bringing secure green jobs to Scotland and the north east of England.”
A spokeswoman for the UK Government said: “The Government has repeatedly said that energy security is our ultimate priority, âincluding supporting the oil and gas sector, and its transition.
“This is why the British Energy Security Strategy sets out how we will accelerate security of supply through cheap renewables, betting big on new nuclear and maximising domestic production of gas in the North Sea.
“Through our landmark North Sea Transition Deal we are backing the decarbonisation of the oil and gas industry while supporting tens of thousands of jobs across Scotland and the wider UK, ensuring high-skilled workers are not left behind.”
We are equally clear that the oil and gas sector plays an important role in our economy
Scottish Government spokesman
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government’s position is clear that unlimited extraction of fossil fuels is not consistent with our climate obligations, a position supported by the UK and Scottish governments’ statutory advisers on climate change.
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest reports show that the impacts of climate change are even worse than previously thought and that business as usual is not an option.
“We are equally clear that the oil and gas sector plays an important role in our economy and that a bright future lies ahead for a revitalised North Sea in supporting a net zero energy system.
“Our oil and gas infrastructure and highly-skilled workforce have long been at the forefront of energy innovation.
“That is why we are committed to a just transition that supports those currently employed in oil and gas to capitalise on the employment opportunities of net zero energy.”