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THE failures of the Scottish oil and gas industries, their professional advisers, advocates, lobbyists, and apologists to cut carbon and protect global and Scottish Public Health can surely not be justified in any form. Will the Scottish Government now finally act urgently to curtail or reduce the industry’s development onshore and offshore where it has powers over public procurement, planning, enterprise funding and public health to do so?
Politicians need to escape from their short-term self-interested thinking and address the climate crisis as the principal national political priority. They must move away from warm words for and photo opportunities with climate campaigners that mean nothing and take major and far-reaching action on the Scottish oil and gas industry. Procrastination and obfuscation are no longer options. The reasons why are outlined below.
The International Energy Association report months ago on Net Zero approaches made it clear oil and gas companies must stop all new oil and gas developments from 2021 if global warming was to be halted. This was not an option but a necessity and could be done by cutting energy demands and carbon emissions linked to the ways we run our societies and economies.
This must mean the Cambo field should not be developed nor should other smaller but similar projects floated in recent weeks. The Scottish Government should unequivocally oppose these developments even though it may not currently have the powers to stop them.
Bill Hare, the chief executive of Climate Analytics, in November has also been crystal clear: “Natural gas is not a bridging fuel. It is a fossil fuel. Gas is the new coal. Governments, investors and the financial sector must treat it the same way as they do coal: phase it out as soon as possible.”
Massachusetts and other US states are presently taking companies like ExxonMobil to court over their global climate effects and greenwashing that misleads the public. Little similar action seems to be happening in the UK or Scotland.
ExxonMobil has , according to the BBC on November 6, 2021 “invested more than $10 billion (£7.25bn) over the past 20 years in researching and developing what it describes as ‘lower-emission energy solutions’. But the company’s latest annual report shows it invested $10.4bn just in 2020 to develop new, unexplored oil and gas reserves.”
In Scotland ExxonMobil’s Mossmorran Ethylene Cracker Plant, started in the 1980s, supplies chemicals for plastics and Shell’s plant produces propane, butane, natural gasoline and provides ethane for ExxonMobil.
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Both companies have large carbon footprints and so are significant contributors to climate change. Independent US reports reveal plastics is the new coal in that country because the US plastics industry’s contribution to climate change is on track to exceed that of US coal-fired power by 2030 and is reliant on fracked gas.
Scottish oil and gas companies also have developments in countries like Nigeria where the industry directly and indirectly has had major local and global environmental and public health impacts through climate change and air pollution.
Cutting the demand for plastics made from oil and gas will be important as will recycling. However, the key approach must be upstream governmental interventions that sunset fossil fuels as soon as possible linked to just transition, fair work, green jobs, and toxics use reduction.
The Scottish Government has moved forward slowly on some but by no means all of these remedies. The big oil and gas and plastics industries have had years to change their approach. Green chemistry researchers for example identified bio-based alternatives to oil and gas based ethylene for plastics.
Yet it seems both ExxonMobil and Shell at Mossmorran (above) effectively ignored green chemistry solutions over the decades although Exxon was involved ironically in early discussions in the 1980s to establish toxics use reduction policies in Massachusetts.
Neither company are listed as members of the Scottish Government initiative, Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre, started in 2014 that looks for plant-based alternatives to fossil fuels.
There is one other missing dimension in the various steps needed now to stop the fossil fuel industries. We can hold our politicians to account in elections but there are those that still slip under the responsibility radar for the global climate crisis.
These are the environmental consultants, lobbyists, lawyers, bankers, engineers and insurers who “enable” the oil and gas industries. They do not seem to have paid much attention to either environmental justice or global public health whatever protestations to the contrary some members of these professional groups may try to make. They should now.
Professor Andrew Watterson is an expert in public health and environmental justice at the University of Stirling