SOME OF US RECALL Kermit felt it ain’t easy being green back in the 70s. But being part of the Green Party in Holyrood must have been seriously challenging since they became honorary nationalists, largely ignoring issues of environmental importance by preferring to obsess about the break-up of the United Kingdom and pushing a range of far-left dogma-driven ideas.
But it is in the concurrent failure of the SNP to come up with a long-term solution for the tens of thousands employed directly and indirectly in Scotland by the North Sea energy sector that we see an utter abdication. Instead it is left, as usual, to the UK to step in with initiatives like the £16bn North Sea Transition Deal,.
The SNP’s neglect is part of a wider issue: the Scottish Government is very good at setting ambitious targets when it comes to reducing pollution (or for that matter in education, health, justice), but the actual performance and achievements of those targets has been dire. For example, we learned earlier this month that with the SNP and Greens at the helm all these years, Scotland has missed its greenhouse gas emissions target again – for the third year running.
Dare I suggest it is about the SNP’s priorities – constitutional wrangling trumping all other considerations? Perhaps the fact the SNP underspent the Environment and Transport budgets by £363 million last year gives a clue?
The Green Party’s “solution” appears to be to shut down the North Sea “within the next 2 to 5 years” (as co-leader Lorna Slater said last year), make the 100,000 workers it supports jobless overnight and inflict a financial and economic catastrophe on the region. Extracting oil and gas is directly responsible for around 3.5 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions – yet the way the Greens talk you’d think it was 20 times that.
One look at their manifesto shows they are blindly targeting the industry with propositions riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies. Specifically, it says the party “oppose public investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) as it is unproven and the vast majority of projects are linked to enhanced oil recovery”. Yet experts – including the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, no less – have said CCS will play an important part in meeting the Paris Agreement goal to limit global temperature increases. Incredibly, ‘co-leader’ Lorna Slater appeared to admit, in response to my debate intervention, that she doesn’t actually agree with her manifesto’s provisions to abolish CCS either!
And let’s remember we’re not extracting North Sea oil and gas for fun – the fact is we are going to need hydrocarbons at some level for many years yet.
In a parliamentary answer I received last week, energy minister Michael Matheson confirmed that renewables accounted for only 24 per cent of Scotland’s energy needs in 2019. That’s a far cry from longstanding SNP claims that renewables can provide 100 per cent, and more besides for export. It cannot be a good idea for the Greens to wreak economic havoc on Scotland and the North East only to create a situation where we import our energy needs from other jurisdictions – and which might not have such good controls and targets.
And in any event, our energy sector is taking things immensely seriously. It has pledged to cut emissions by 50 per cent within a decade, with 10 out of 15 majors saying they are on the road to becoming carbon neutral. Frankly, they are far better at meeting their targets than the Scottish Government.
So, politically, it’s left to the Conservatives, both in Westminster and Holyrood, to sort out how Scotland is going to become carbon neutral and establish itself as a global leader when it comes to cutting emissions and develop a sustainable energy policy.
And with Glasgow set to host the COP26 climate summit later this year, there’s an opportunity to show how Conservatism can drive forward environmental progress hand-in-hand with economic growth. To do that, the country needs imaginative policies which bring together these two priorities. The Scottish Conservatives have already set out some of these, for example in our ground-breaking Nature Bill which includes proposals for new “nature corridors” (which would allow species to move between habitats), redevelopment of derelict sites in towns and cities to make green spaces, and to pilot new highly-protected marine areas while radically increasing tree planting. These are all things which spark economic activity, create jobs and bolster community involvement – all while making Scotland a greener and cleaner place to live.
There are basically two approaches to the crisis the planet is facing. Some want the slash and (ironically) burn approach of dogma-based policies which will achieve nothing and set us on a path to social and economic ruin. Or there is the Scottish Conservatives’ approach, which is an ambitious and forward-thinking strategy, in which the public, private and academic sectors all work together to address this substantial challenge.
Instead of destroying existing economies and infrastructure, let’s support change and lead on innovation instead, right here in Scotland. If the Scottish Government wants to take this approach, it will find a willing partner in the Scottish Conservatives.
With COP26 bringing the eyes of the world to Scotland, it’s time for us to be the grown-ups in the room, and to show the rest of the planet that we’re serious about tackling climate change in a comprehensive, inclusive and sustainable way.