The Scottish Government has been told to “get off the fence” over the Cambo oil field after being challenged to state whether it supported plans for more fossil fuel extraction.
The Scottish Conservatives challenged MSPs to back the proposal for a new drilling site off the west coast of Shetland, arguing it will protect jobs and reduce the reliance on imported energy.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly dodged questions on whether she supports or opposes the plans for Cambo, but did ask Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “reassess” licences for as-yet undeveloped projects.
Opening a debate on a motion calling for Holyrood to explicitly support the development of the new site, Tory net-zero spokesman Liam Kerr claimed that a “hard shutdown” of the oil and gas industry would consign the north-east of Scotland to a “bleak future” with the loss of jobs and the skills to develop renewable energy.
Mr Kerr also suggested renewable energy was currently unable to meet the UK’s energy demands so would require more power generated overseas and would “plunge thousands into fuel poverty” because of the additional cost.
The response from Net-Zero Secretary Michael Matheson contained no mention of Cambo, although he reiterated a call for a “climate compatibility checkpoint” to review existing licences – with an initial exploration licence having been first granted for Cambo in 2001.
He said the Scottish Government was working with the oil and gas sectors “to secure the environmental benefits of decarbonising our energy system” and to “seize the economic opportunities that the energy transition presents”.
“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 is both just and leaves no one behind,” Mr Matheson told MSPs.
He added: “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 for our energy needs.”
Following Mr Matheson’s speech, Scottish Labour’s net-zero spokeswoman Monica Lennon warned that Cambo would be “another nail in the coffin of our dying planet” and accused the Tories of being “on the wrong side of history”.
She said: “For many years the biggest threat to our planet was climate denial. Now, the biggest threat to our planet is climate inaction.
“The message from climate scientists could not be clearer: to limit global warming to 1.5C – the internationally agreed target of the Paris Agreement – there can be no new oil and gas.
“That means no Cambo.”
She continued: “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.
“Without immediate action to reduce emissions, the consequences will include, rising sea levels, the extension of vulnerable species, and a higher frequency of natural disasters.
“Pushing ahead with Cambo would be a betrayal of future generations.”
“Labour’s position is clear: Cambo must not go ahead and nothing less than a green new deal will address the twin challenges of climate change, and economic transition,” Ms Lennon added.
“We can and must do better – with a managed, well-resourced, just transition to unlock new economic opportunities.
“The Scottish Government needs to get off the fence and we will be opposing the Tories at decision time, they’re on the wrong side of history.”
Despite the Tories seeking to get Holyrood’s backing for the new oil field proposals – which will be decided by the UK Government – an amended motion was ultimately passed by the Scottish Parliament, removing any mention of Cambo.
The SNP’s amendment, passed with backing from the Scottish Greens, instead stated: “Unlimited extraction of fossil fuels is simply incompatible with protecting the planet”.