MP for Edinburgh North and Leith
Disinformation and Straw Men
"A regressive move”; “The worst kind of culture war politics”; “A moment of shame” for the UK – these are a few of the appalled reactions to the Prime Minister’s decision to scrap key net zero policies. And that’s just from other Tories.
Rishi Sunak has pushed back the ban on new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035, as well as weakening plans to phase out gas boilers and scrapping requirements for energy efficiency upgrades to homes. He claimed with a straight face these changes are “the only realistic path” to net zero.
Most cynically and dishonestly, the Prime Minister also announced the UK government was scrapping a bunch of made-up policies that were never even on the agenda. Disinformation and straw men are all this sorry Tory government have left; sabotaging Scotland and the UK’s energy future amid a climate emergency in a desperate ploy to salvage a few points in the polls.
While Sunak kicks the can down the road to a time when he will no longer be accountable, catastrophic global heating continues apace, with its devastating consequences exposed on our screens virtually every day.
Of course, this isn’t just about lowering emissions; delaying green investment and energy efficiency measures is going to mean higher bills and colder homes. You only need to look at David Cameron’s decision to ‘cut the green crap’ a decade ago, which climate-data experts, Carbon Brief found are costing every household as much as £150 a year.
Abandoning these promises will also mean fewer jobs and less prosperity. That’s why some of the sharpest criticisms have come from businesses and producers who question how they can effectively plan the transition to clean energy with billions in investment when the time frame keeps shifting.
Meanwhile, the UK will fall behind the US and the EU, in terms of jobs, technology, energy security and economic growth, and in the global race to net zero.
The Office for Budget Responsibility warns that failing to reach net zero emissions and continued high gas consumption could cost the Treasury 2-3% of GDP annually. This would increase an already staggeringly high UK public debt by around 13% of GDP by 2050-51, twice the cost of achieving net zero emissions by mid-century.
The Prime Minister’s announcement, sneaked out during recess to avoid scrutiny at Westminster, was quickly followed by regulators greenlighting drilling in the Rosebank oil field, located 80 miles west of Shetland.
Rosebank will generate emissions equal to the 28 lowest income countries while doing little to reduce bills or boost energy security. The main investor Equinor, headquartered in Norway and due for a massive tax break from the UK government, says “the oil will be sold on the open market and the most likely destination is Europe.”
The claims of a jobs boon are also largely untrue, with even supporters of the project acknowledging that only a minority of the predicted two thousand jobs will go to British workers. The significance of the industry to employment in the North East of Scotland is undeniable, which is precisely why we need to invest heavily in the green transition now – the livelihoods of those working in oil and gas depend on it.
So the Scottish Government’s working on a strategy to make that fair and just transition to a net-zero energy system that offers high-quality jobs and economic opportunities, being firmly committed to ensuring that no one is left behind by decarbonisation.
Scotland has huge potential to be at the forefront of the green industrial revolution, with our abundant natural resources and our strengths in technological innovation, research and development. But to do this, we need the right environment for investment.
My colleague Ian Blackford recently published a roadmap for a Scottish Green Industrial Strategy, led by two experts in the field – one a former Permanent Secretary at the Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and International Trade departments, the other a Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School. Their report identified that to create more jobs in the alternative energy sector, spread more evenly across the country, we need to set up subcontracting networks, get communities involved, and make sure there’s long term political funding and support.
To achieve this, Ian’s report recommends a specific focus on higher education and alternative energy and the formation of a new partnership between key economic sectors and the Scottish government, with the creation of a Scottish Industrial Strategy Council that would report to the First Minister.
These are the kind of ideas the UK government should be supporting and prioritising, rather than its obsession with maximum fossil fuel extraction and the cripplingly expensive dead end of nuclear.
They’ve also failed to follow Scotland’s lead in pledging additional financial support for countries most affected by climate-induced loss and damage. UN Secretary-General António Guterres opened the UN climate ambition summit in September by rightly calling on wealthy nations to rapidly get their emissions down and deliver climate funding to poorer nations suffering from a crisis they have done nothing to create.
The UK government’s actions to the contrary show yet again a total lack of moral leadership at a time when it’s needed most. ■
Production storage and offloading unit for Rosebank