On Wednesday, Paul Wheelhouse, the Scottish government minister for Energy, Connectivity, and the Islands, suggested that firms operating in the North Sea should start using wind turbines to power their oil and gas platforms.
This initiative is already being trialled in Norway by the country’s state-owned petroleum company, Equinor, Wheelhouse said, and could help the UK oil industry realize its “low carbon ambitions” ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year.
As a metaphor for political complacency in the face of environmental collapse, harnessing green energy for the benefit of the fossil fuel lobby seems a bit heavy-handed to me. But it’s entirely consistent with the SNP’s broader approach to the climate crisis.
On one hand, the party wants to be seen as a champion of decarbonization and has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality for Scotland within the next 25 years. On the other, it remains staunchly committed to a policy of maximum economic extraction from the UK continental shelf.
In 2017, Kirsty Blackman, the SNP MP for Aberdeen North, criticized the British government for moving at a “glacial pace” in its efforts to cut taxes for oil and gas companies. In 2019, Maureen Watt, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen South, welcomed the prospect of another 12 billion barrels of oil being dredged from Scottish waters by 2050.
The 2050 timeline is apt because, according to the UN, this is the official cut-off point for planetary survival. If we haven’t all but eliminated greenhouse gas emissions by then, global temperatures will rise by up to 3 or 4 degrees Celsius by 2100, ushering in a series of apocalyptic shifts in the environment and fundamentally transforming the way we, and every other species on Earth, live.
The SNP isn’t alone in positioning itself at the forefront of the fight against climate change while simultaneously bolstering the carbon economy.
In Canada, Justin Trudeau presents himself as a ‘global climate leader.’ But just four months after winning a second term in office, the Liberal prime minister is considering approval for a new bitumen mine twice the size of Vancouver that experts say will boost emissions from Canadian oil-sands by one fifth over the next three decades.
If it goes ahead, the project “could make it impossible to achieve [Canada’s] long-term climate targets,” the environmental journalist Geoff Dembicki wrote recently. “Not to mention the near-term Paris agreement targets Canada is already on track to miss because of [existing] emissions.”
Norway is another example. Oslo offers a slate of generous public subsidies to promote electric car ownership and has set out plans to reach the all-important zero-carbon threshold within the next decade and a half.
At the same time, Norway has 87 active oil fields and, in line with current industrial projections, overall Norwegian oil and gas production will continue until 2070 — well passed the point of no return for the global climate and long after the international oil industry should’ve been irrevocably shut down.
Norway’s addiction to carbon is so severe — the oil and gas sector accounts for 18 per cent of Norwegian GDP and 62 per cent of its export revenue — that the country even earned a reprimand last year from the UN.
“Norway should stop exploring for additional oil and gas reserves,” David Boyd, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said in September. “Emissions from [the Norwegian] petroleum industry … are well above 1990 levels … despite clear evidence that human society cannot burn existing reserves while meeting the targets established in the Paris agreement.”
Centrist leaders are sufficiently conscious of this hypocrisy to try and dress it up in ostensibly progressive political language.
Nicola Sturgeon and Justin Trudeau both say they have a responsibility to safeguard jobs — in Aberdeenshire and Alberta, respectively — against an accelerated transition away from non-renewable industries.
Indeed, during the 2019 general election campaign, Sturgeon even claimed that winding the North Sea sector down too quickly would produce the same economic results as Thatcherism. “I saw the effects of [de]industrialization in the 1980s,” she told Channel 4 News in December. “We can’t make that mistake again.”
Oslo, meanwhile, insists that its oil and gas is much cleaner than the alternative sources of energy — coal from Ukraine, for instance — that would flood the European market in the absence of Norwegian supplies.
All this reasoning ultimately amounts to, however, is yet more inertia.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says emissions have to fall by 45 per cent over the coming decade in order to stop large swathes of the planet becoming uninhabitable. And Antonio Guterres, the UN general secretary, believes the political decisions that will determine whether or not we meet that marker will be made in the next 12 months.
If it isn’t apparent by now, it should be: we can’t triangulate our way around the climate crisis. Either we are reducing carbon emissions rapidly enough to avoid catastrophic levels of global warming — or we aren’t.
One thing’s for sure: fixing wind turbines to oil rigs isn’t going to cut it.
Read the original piece here.