2007 - 2022

Code Red for Cambo

Scottish Conservatives have been humiliated by a report from Friends of the Earth Scotland and Oil Change International which shows that the investment, licensing, and development of new oil and gas fields – including the Cambo oil field – contradicts guidance from the IPCC and IEA. The report Watershed: The Turning Point for North Sea Oil & the Just Transition highlights that since declaring a climate emergency in 2019, the UK has opened new reserves totalling 800 million extra barrels of oil and gas. The report on the devastating impact of expanding oil and gas extraction has been published on the very day the Scottish Conservatives bring a motion to the Scottish Parliament calling for more exploration for new oil fields.

The main findings of the report are:

Since declaring a climate emergency in 2019, the UK’s developed oil and gas reserves have increased by an estimated 800 million barrels

The United Nations and the International Energy Agency warn there can be no new oil and gas developments anywhere in the world if we are to limit warming to 1.5ºC.

UK law and Scottish Government policy remains to drill every last drop from the North Sea, which would triple emissions from oil and gas.

Maximising Economic Recovery

The shared UK and Scottish Government policy towards the North Sea Oil field is called MER (maximising economic recovery”). As the Watershed report states:

“Oil and gas licensing and regulation are reserved to the UK Government. The UK 1998 Petroleum Act introduced the principle objective of “maximising the economic recovery of UK petroleum”. This principle is supposed to direct UK energy policy, and govern the activities of petroleum licence holders, operators, infrastructure owners and developers – all of whom are legally obliged to maximise economic recovery.”

“The OGA strategy entered into force in February 2021, and is an updated version of the MER strategy: it reiterates the objective of MER then simply tacks on the government’s commitment to net zero, as if they weren’t in open conflict. The strategy states that to assist meeting the net zero target, “the OGA encourages and supports industry to be proactive in identifying and taking the steps necessary to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as far as reasonable in the circumstances”. This is token at best, as illustrated by the vague caveat, non-binding language and sole focus on the industry’s emissions from extracting oil and gas, while ignoring the far greater emissions from its use (see 2.5). Thus, licence holders and operators are only required to reduce emissions from flaring, venting and power generation for the purposes of extraction.”

Commenting, Scottish Greens climate spokesperson Mark Ruskell said: “This report from Friends of the Earth is timely, as it comes just weeks before Scotland hosts the COP26 climate summit. But it also comes as a welcome reminder to the Scottish Conservatives that their energy policy is stuck in the 1970s.”
“This report underlines exactly what global science, the International Energy Agency, the United Nations and many nations have already acknowledged – that we cannot continue to expand oil and gas extraction in a climate emergency. Instead of providing a sustainable future and alternative jobs for communities, the Scottish Tories would rather call this overwhelming evidence ‘extremism’.

“We already have more oil and gas in current production than we can safely burn to keep to our climate commitments. The Scottish Greens are clear there can be no more expansion, starting with scrapping the Cambo oil field.”

On the same day the Climate Action Tracker issued a new update. in which they state: “Almost all developed countries need to further strengthen their targets to reduce emissions as fast as possible, to implement national policies to meet them, and to support more developing countries to make the transition. Developing countries also need to update their targets and policies, but also show a pathway for how they could also reduce their emissions as fast as possible if they were supported financially – and to clearly indicate the support they need.”




China Syndrome

Routine as these reports are, this is a critical embarrassment for the Scottish Tories but also a real challenge to the SNP and Greens.

An often heard retort is the “what about China?” defense. This is the lazy argument that Scotland is too small to be significant (when it’s used by Scottish nationalists it becomes a funny variation of the “too wee too stupid” trope) on the world stage. “Why should we do anything while China continues to … [insert exponential coal fields]”.

But this argument falls apart under examination. Not only are China producing less emissions per head than we are, much of the industrial activity they are engaged in is producing goods for us. We’ve outsourced production then cry crocodile tears about their emissions. This is China Syndrome.

As George Monbiot has pointed out: “First, of course, much of its energy use is commissioned by other nations. As manufacturing has declined in countries like the US and Britain, and the workforce is mostly engaged in other activities, the fossil fuel burning caused by our consumption of stuff has shifted overseas, along with the blame. Even so, when China’s total greenhouse gas production is divided by its population, you discover that it is still producing much less per head than we are.

Partly as a result of a massive investment in renewables, the Chinese demand for coal dropped for the first time last year, and is likely to drop again this year. Perhaps because of the bureaucratic chaos of China’s centralised, unwieldy government, there is a gulf between the energy transition rapidly taking place within China and its negotiating positions in international meetings, which are “in the hands of completely different sets of bureaucrats.”

But perhaps the biggest surprise for those who unwittingly invoke the old Yellow Peril tropes is that the Chinese people care more about climate change than we do. A survey released on Monday reveals that 26% of respondents in the UK and 32% in the US believe that climate change is “not a serious problem”, while in China the figure is only 4%. In the UK, 7% don’t want their government to endorse any international agreement addressing climate change. In the US the proportion rises to 17%. But in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, only 1% want no action taken.”


The Watershed report states starkly: “Claiming to be a climate leader whilst at the same time seeking to maximise oil and gas extraction can only be seen by the world as hypocrisy.”

“In light of the incompatibility of MER with meeting Scotland’s climate targets and commitments under the Paris Agreement, and in view of Glasgow’s hosting of COP26, we urge the Scottish Government to enact the following seven recommendations”:

  1. Remove all support for maximising economic recovery of oil and gas in government policy and financial decisions, whilst urging the UK Government to remove MER from all statute, policy and licences.
  2. Develop a new Scottish Energy Strategy aiming for a fully renewable energy system in Scotland, and replacing the commitment to MER with one to support and enable a just phase-out of oil and gas production in line with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5oC.
  3. Call on the UK Government to cease all new oil and gas field investments, developments, and licenses, revoke all undeveloped licences, and assess which developed reserves need to close early. All future licencing rounds should be cancelled.
  4. End all financial support for the oil and gas sector, and call on the UK Government to end all subsidies, including tax breaks, and redirect them to fund a just transition. This should include COVID-19 recovery funds, particularly in light of the fact that by November 2020, the UK had committed the greatest proportion of public money to unconditional fossil fuels support out of all G20 countries’ recovery packages – nearly $40 billion compared to under $20 billion on clean energy.
  5. Recognise the conflict of interest in allowing fossil fuel companies to influence energy and climate policy, in light of the decades of evidence that they have denied science, and delayed,weakened, and sabotaged climate action, while making billions in profits from fuelling climate change.92 Protect climate policy from this conflict of interest, including by removing fossil fuel interests from advisory positions, and demanding the UK Government safeguard COP26 from their participation and influence.
  6. Redirect public policy and financial support from CCS and blue hydrogen to renewables, storage and energy savings technologies, and urge the UK Government to do the same. Cease membership of the Global CCS Institute, which puts the Scottish Government on the same platform as oil giants BP, Chevron, Eni Spa, Equinor, ExxonMobil and Shell.
  7. Join the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance as a ‘Friend of BOGA’, a category for nations or jurisdictions without full power over oil and gas licencing, to express support for the alliance and help accelerate the just energy transition around the world.

Download the full report Watershed: The Turning Point for North Sea Oil & the Just Transition here.


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Comments (7)

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  1. Mark Bevis says:

    The End by the Doors was playing in the background whilst reading this, even dumb PC’s have a sense of synchronisity.

    Sigh, or aaaaaaaaaaarggggggggggggggh, when when renewable advocates realise that to “transition” to ‘renewables’ will require an enormous amount of fossil fuels to build, transport, install, erect and maintain?
    Phase out fossil fuels by all means, and it is essential, but also realise that by doing so you phase out any more renewables AS WELL.

    The nettle that has to be grasped is that it’s not just CO2 emissions that need to reduce by 10% a year in the next 9 years, it’s total energy use that has to reduce by that amount. A complete transition to a low energy localised society without growth as a driver is essential to get halfway to where we need to be, assuming we all would like the human experiment to continue into the next century and beyond.

    Before any one chimes in and says that people will never vote for this (true), consider this:

    modern humans have been on the earth for ~320,000 years. Of that time, 310,000 years we had no fossil fuels, no heirarchy, no religion, no money, no borders and thrived, including the production of art. Although we did slaughter pretty much all of the megafauna over a 9000 year period starting 40,000 years ago, so we still have other lessons to learn. Of the following 10,000 years unfortunately dominated by agriculture, only a mere 400 or so had money as a requisite to societal functioning. And for all but 270 years of that 320,000 years, we lived on renewables, and had no fossil fuels. What once was, so can be again.

    I fully expect the next main news items to be the outrage at loss of priviledge as the implications of what a transition away from fossil fuels actually means.

    1. John Learmonth says:

      So are you going to set an example for us all to follow?
      Go live in a cave, live on road kill and wild vegetables. Don’t send the kids to school(in fact don’t have kids) and if you get ill don’t bother the NHS and just die.
      Nasty, brutish and short was life before the Industrial Revolution, lets see how many people you can convince to go back.
      In the meantime I’m bloody starving and I’m off to the local chippy, all cooked in beef fat…yum yum

    2. John Learmonth says:

      Sorry Mark,
      One final point, humanity has used fossil fuels throughout our existence.
      The creation of fire using fossil fuels is whats sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom (for better or worse)

    3. Mons Meg says:

      ‘What once was, so can be again.’

      No, it can’t. We can’t unknow what we know now, so there can be no going back to how things once were. We can only ever go onwards a fate unknown.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Mons Meg, I thought you believed in some grand historical procession (and a rosy establishment view of the status quo)? Anyway, this BBC short asks if you are a Fox or Hedgehog:
        What did research apparently discover was the personality characteristic that distinguished between rubbish predictors of the future and significantly better ones? A clue: it’s something to do with dogmatic and confident personalities.

  2. Islander says:

    China has higher emissions per capita than the U.K. even when you include carbon imports via finished goods. This makes sense as most Chinese production is for domestic consumption.

    A just transition sounds good but oil and gas is a tenth of Scottish GDP and 100,000 Scottish jobs mostly paying above average wages.

    Expect stiff resistance to whatever scheme you dream up to replace it.

  3. SleepingDog says:

    It is interesting how the pro-hell Scottish Conservatives are fine about Scotland setting world class standards as an example for Scots to take pride in and for others to follow in, say, Education, whilst arguing for a return to the dirty-man-of-Europe heyday of pollution, industrialized fossil-fuelled militarism, The Royal War Against Nature, and squandering of natural resources. Extracting North Sea Oil is also extremely inefficient by world standards and a sure-fire stranded asset: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stranded_asset

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