Research

CCC to assess climate impact of North Sea oil and gas

The government’s climate advisor is to examine whether developing new North Sea oil and gas fields is consistent with planned cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Photo: DrillOrDrop

The Climate Change Committee, in a report published this morning, said:

“There remain questions over the compatibility of new fields for fossil fuel production in the North Sea with UK and Scottish climate ambitions. We are preparing advice in this area for publication in the new year.”

The report, which examines Scotland’s progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, follows last week’s decision by Shell to pull its 30% investment from the proposed Cambo oil field, west of Shetland.

The Guardian reported that Shell withdrew from the Cambo project after the UK government made it clear that the company would need to meet certain climate concessions to win approval.

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said last month the field should not get the go-ahead.

The fossil fuel supply sector in Scotland, which includes oil and gas production, emitted 4.4 MtCO2e in 2019, the CCC said. This represented 9% of total Scottish greenhouse gas emissions.

The CCC report said 41% of the sector’s emissions came from refining. The remainder were mostly from fugitive methane emissions from the gas grid and from mining.

The report said emissions from the fossil fuel sector in Scotland fell by 0.4 MtCO2e (8%) in 2019. This was mainly because of a decline in refinery output and falling energy use of oil and gas production. But the fall was partly offset by an increase of 0.1 MtCO2e from flaring and venting, it said.

The CCC called for a long-term vision for the use and production of hydrogen in Scotland’s future net zero economy. It also recommended detailed planning on converting the gas transmission networks to hydrogen and a review of how bioenergy schemes were consistent with net zero emissions.

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s director, Dr Richard Dixon, said:

“There is a welcome commitment from the CCC to look at the climate impact of the oil and gas industry but the report fails to state the obvious fact that, at a minimum, opening up new oil and gas fields cannot be compatible with taking climate change seriously.

“A just transition away from oil and gas is mentioned but this cannot begin in earnest without a serious timescale for phasing out fossil fuels. The First Minister should build on her opposition to Cambo and commit to ending fossil fuels over the course of the next decade.”

2% fall in 2019 emissions

According to the CCC, total Scottish greenhouse gas emissions fell by 2% in 2019 to 47.8 MtCO₂e.

But it said Scotland missed its emissions reduction target in 2019 by a “significant margin” . Emissions were 51.5% below 1990 levels, so failed to meet the annual 2019 target of a 55% reduction.

The emissions fall in 2020, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, was likely to “be only transitory”, the CCC report said:

“Future annual targets will also be difficult to meet, but Ministers must try to prevent the gap to their achievement widening further. The credibility of the Scottish climate framework is in jeopardy.”

Lord Deben, the chair of the CCC, said:

“Scotland’s successful hosting of COP26 [climate conference] makes it particularly important for the Scottish Government to respond to the new Glasgow Climate Pact and show how serious it is about delivering Net Zero.

“Strategies alone won’t reduce emissions. Major changes are needed across the Scottish economy, requiring lasting, systemic action in most sectors. Clarity and transparency on policy, supported with detail on how these policies will be delivered has been lacking. My committee cannot assess future progress without this vital assurance.”

The CCC said Scotland had made progress but important gaps remained.

To get on track, the CCC said Scotland must focus on the transition to net zero emissions by 2050, with major changes to meet targets in 2030, 2040 and 2045.

It said Scotland’s emissions reduction ambition for 2030 relied on a “substantial contribution” from carbon capture and storage and this came with “significant risks”.

Earlier this year, a Scottish carbon capture project failed to win UK government finance and the CCC questioned whether it could now be developed in time.

Dr Dixon said the CCC was correct to say that meeting the commitment to keep temperature rise below 1.5C required urgent transformation across all sectors of Scotland’s economy.

“Scotland missed its last three climate targets but the CCC is not convinced by the current Scottish Government plans and calls for more work to show that we are getting back on track to meet these commitments. We would go further and say that the last climate plan needs to be urgently strengthened.”

“In particular the CCC echo calls from the Scottish Parliament to have a plan B to make up for the fact that carbon capture is not looking likely to deliver emission reductions. With the one potential carbon capture site in Scotland recently failing to attract any UK finance, the Scottish Government needs to give up on this pipe dream and instead concentrate on scaling up renewable energy and improving energy efficiency in our buildings and in industry.”

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