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The closure of the Mossmorran chemical plant in Fife must be accompanied by the creation of new environmentally friendly jobs with a future, Holyrood has heard.
Green MSP Mark Ruskell said action had to be taken to reduce carbon emissions from the plant and called for a “Just Transition Board” to be put in place similar to the one introduced at the Grangemouth petrochemical complex.
But Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon said it would not be appropriate to commit to such an initiative at the moment while the Crown Office considers a Sepa report into flaring at the Fife plant.
We need to see the closure of Mossmorran, whenever that may be, as an opportunity to pull people across into new jobs that do have a long-term future. Jobs in clean energy could exceed those in oil and gas threefold, but words are not enough and communities need to see action.”
Mark Ruskell, Green MSP
The call came when Mr Ruskell led a member’s debate into the issue at Holyrood.
Mr Ruskell said: “We need to see the closure of Mossmorran, whenever that may be, as an opportunity to pull people across into new jobs that do have a long-term future.
“Jobs in clean energy could exceed those in oil and gas threefold, but words are not enough and communities need to see action.
“Now I welcome the establishment of a Just Transition Board for Grangemouth, I hope that a board can be put in place for Mossmorran with a broad remit to consider all options for the future of the complex and the people it supports.”
But Ms Gougeon said she was unable to commit to any specific action on that front and asked MSPs for understanding.
When asked if she was for the idea of extending a Grangemouth-style board in principle to other parts of Scotland, she replied: “This is something specifically considered for Grangemouth. Not going to rule anything particularly in or out at this moment.
“We are going to have to see how that model works there. When looking at Mossmorran, there are a very particular set of circumstances there that we need to go through that process.”
Mr Ruskell criticised over-reliance on fossil fuels, saying he was “wary” that the concept of Just Transition was being “captured by the oil and gas sector as meaning maximum extraction with some wind-powered oil rigs on the side”.
He added: “Current North Sea reserves of 5.4bn barrels of oil and gas already exceed the UK’s carbon share of the Paris climate agreement, plans to extend this to 20bn barrels will fry the climate.
“These irresponsible plans, wholly supported by governments, leave workers, potentially facing a rapid collapse of their sector as the need for action to cut emissions intensifies in the years ahead.
“This strategy appears to be one of deferred collapse and would push communities dependent on the sector over the cliff edge. It is why we need a managed transition that stays within the limits set by the Paris agreement.”
The time is now to start planning the just transition, to ensure no workers are left behind.”
The Green MSP was also unconvinced by Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology.
“Despite billions of financial support over the last decade, CCS remains largely unproven and untested at scale and neither CCS or hydrogen are expected to deliver emissions cuts during the critical next decade,” Mr Ruskell said.
“Opportunities will be realised by accident, the time is now to start planning the just transition, to ensure no workers are left behind, that no communities are left with a degraded environment and that we can live within the limits of our planet.”
Ms Gougeon said the oil and gas industry remained a “critical component” of the economic and energy mix and would remain “integral” during a “sustainable transmission”.
She added that the Scottish Government had introduced a £60 million fund for the challenges faced by industry in making the transition to low-carbon.