Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of jeopardising jobs after she demanded the UK Government launch a review of previously-approved oil and gas licences in order to respond to the “severity of the climate emergency”.
The First Minister’s intervention came on Thursday in a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in which she said the Westminster government should “reassess” proposed schemes such as the controversial Cambo development, off Shetland.
Ms Sturgeon had been under growing pressure to state her position on the future of Cambo and North Sea oil and gas in the wake of this week’s UN climate change report, and ahead of the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow.
The Scottish Conservatives criticised the letter, claiming the SNP leader was willing to “throw away thousands of jobs and risk hikes to energy prices”.
However, others said the first minister did not go far enough. Labour branded it a “baby step towards having a position” while Friends of the Earth said she was “deferring to Boris Johnson”.
Greenpeace posted a message on social media claiming: “Nicola Sturgeon must stop hiding behind Boris Johnson, if she wants to show leadership on climate she must clearly say: stop Cambo.”
I am asking that the UK Government agrees to reassess licences already issued but where field development has not yet commenced. That would include the proposed Cambo development.”
Previously, the first minister had stopped short of expressing a firm view on the future of Cambo, despite being confronted by protesters while visiting the Govanhill Carnival in her Glasgow Southside constituency on Saturday.
255 million barrels of oil
The final decision on the oil field will rest with the UK Government but if given the green light, Cambo could yield as many as 255 million barrels of oil over its lifetime – and produce an estimated 132m tonnes of CO2 emissions.
In her letter, Ms Sturgeon said: “I am asking that the UK Government agrees to reassess licences already issued but where field development has not yet commenced. That would include the proposed Cambo development.
“Such licences – some of them issued many years ago – should be reassessed in light of the severity of the climate emergency we now face, and against a robust Compatibility Checkpoint that is fully aligned with our climate change targets and obligations.
“The Scottish Government would be happy to engage further about exactly what this process should involve to ensure that it is credible and commands confidence.
“There is no doubt how important our highly skilled oil and gas industry and workforce are to Scotland but we must ensure they, and the existing infrastructure, can help Scotland seize the opportunities of the transition to net zero – we cannot rest on business as usual in the face of a climate emergency.”
On a recent visit to Scotland, Mr Johnson insisted that the Cambo field “contracts” could not simply be “torn up”.
Ms Sturgeon’s intervention comes as a new report showed 35,000 UK jobs that were supported by the oil and gas industry were lost in the last year, as a result of Covid and volatile prices.
Liam Kerr, the Scottish Conservative spokesman for net zero, energy and transport, criticised the first minister’s intervention.
He said: “Nicola Sturgeon is putting her nationalist alliance with the Greens ahead of Scotland’s economy.
“We’re already seeing the dangerous influence of the Greens and their hardline ideology on the SNP Government, even before the coalition of chaos has been rubber-stamped.
“The oil and gas sector supports over 100,000 Scottish jobs and the development of the Cambo field could create thousands more.
“However, Nicola Sturgeon is clearly willing to damage our oil and gas industry, throw away thousands of jobs and risk hikes to energy prices.
“Her anti-business approach is undermining Scotland’s economic recovery from the pandemic.”
2. Our responsibility to tackle climate change must govern the approach to any new licence applications. But licences for fields like Cambo were granted many years ago. That’s why I am asking UK Govt – who hold the power – to reassess these licences in light of climate emergency.
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) August 12, 2021
Scottish Labour’s net zero spokeswoman Monica Lennon had previously written to Ms Sturgeon urging her to publicly oppose the development after a landmark UN report found it was “unequivocal” human activity is responsible for global warming.
The report, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN group on the science of climate change – warned that climate change was already causing chaos in some areas and may take hundreds or even thousands of years to reverse.
SNP-Green power-sharing deal
The first minister’s call for a reassessment has been made as the SNP is thought to be finalising a potential power-sharing agreement with the Scottish Greens.
Scottish Greens climate spokesman Mark Ruskell said: “It is welcome to see the Scottish Government start to come off the fence when it comes to the Cambo oil field, but it is clear there is still far too many hopes pinned on the oil and gas industry to get us out of the climate emergency.
“The IPCC report is very clear that we cannot wait for the development of new technologies, we must listen to the UN Secretary General and stop fossil fuel expansion entirely.
“That means revoking Cambo and no new oil and gas licences whatsoever, with a just transition ensuring no worker is left behind.”
Ms Lennon, Scottish Labour net-zero, energy and transport spokeswoman, said: “Scottish Labour has been urging Nicola Sturgeon to get off the fence and oppose the Cambo oil field plans in the face of climate catastrophe.
“In the wake of growing pressure from grassroots campaigners, she has taken a baby step towards having a position.
“Now is not the time to ‘reassess’. It’s time for Nicola Sturgeon to firmly and loudly oppose Cambo, once and for all.”
Friends of the Earth Scotland climate and energy campaigner Caroline Rance said: “Nicola Sturgeon is deferring to Boris Johnson on the future of North Sea oil and gas, when she must take a bold stance against Cambo and the climate devastation it will unleash.
“The science on this is already crystal clear, burning fossil fuels is the key driver of this crisis so to avoid climate breakdown there can be no new licenses or developments, and existing production must be wound down over the next decade.”