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Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, November 25, 2021

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage, Portfolio Question Time, Violence against Women, Decision Time, Correction


Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-01994, in the name of Gillian Martin, on carbon capture, utilisation and storage as part of Scotland’s net zero ambitions. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises what it sees as the Scottish Government’s ambitious target to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, its interim target of 75% reduction by 2030 and its strong support for the Scottish cluster of proposed carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) projects; understands that the UK Government’s evaluation process scored the Acorn Project in Aberdeenshire as the most deliverable project in the UK; notes the calls on the UK Government urging it to change its decision regarding investing in CCUS in Scotland and award the Scottish cluster;Track-1 status as part of a wider strategy to achieve as much carbon storage as possible; recognises what it believes would be the impact on the north east in particular of the UK Government failing to support the Scottish cluster; believes that this is a pivotal moment for CCUS on the decarbonisation pathway; notes the advice from the Climate Change Committee on the importance of CCUS toward reaching Scotland’s net zero commitments, and believes that this is a view shared by many industrial partnerships.


Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

In bringing the debate to the chamber, I intend to allow a good airing of the extremely strong case for the Scottish Cluster, and the Acorn carbon capture, utilisation and storage project, which is a pivotal component of it, to be given track 1 status by the United Kingdom Government as soon as possible. However, I want to make it absolutely clear from the outset that none of my remarks in any shape or form suggests that the two projects that have been given support by the United Kingdom Government—HyNet and the East Coast Cluster in England—do not deserve the status that they have been given. They absolutely deserve it.

My argument is that, in order to respond to the climate emergency, we need the Scottish Cluster to be given track 1 status too. In fact, just last night, at the meeting of the cross-party group on oil and gas, convened by my friend Fergus Ewing, Deirdre Michie of Oil and Gas UK went even further.

Is it not the case that, if George Osborne had not pulled the funding from the Peterhead carbon capture project in 2014, the technology would be up and running by now?

Jackie Baillie has made a very good point. [Interruption.]

Jackie Dunbar, I think.

Gillian Martin

Did I say Jackie Baillie? I meant Jackie Dunbar. I apologise to them both.

Jackie Dunbar has made a really good point. I will never forget the sense of betrayal that the people of Peterhead, in particular, felt—as did industry partners in Shell and other companies—when the feet were cut from under that project.

Deirdre Michie said:

“We should be throwing the kitchen sink at this. There’s no point in taking bets on a winner. We should be giving all five projects equal support.”

We also need to wake up to the fact that our current power, heating, transport, construction and manufacturing systems still emit more CO2 than is in the targets that we aspire to. Until we have drastically reduced those emissions—it is by no means an overnight process—we can reduce their harm by capturing them and, in many cases, using them as materials for other things.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

If we “throw the kitchen sink” at carbon capture and storage, where will the public funds come from to crowd in investment in renewables? Surely we need to make choices about which technology we wish to deploy public money to, in order to get the biggest bang for our buck and the biggest cuts in carbon emissions.

Gillian Martin

I agree, but only to a certain extent, because it is not either/or but both, combined. As long as CO2 emissions are out there, from industries that may be finding it really difficult to decarbonise, we need to have some way of capturing that carbon. That does not preclude our doing the things that the member has mentioned. He and I have had this conversation before.

Everything around CCUS is backed up by the Climate Change Committee, which, in its advice to both the UK and Scottish Governments, has stressed that CCUS is a key requirement in meeting our climate change targets.

Will the member take an intervention?

Gillian Martin

I am afraid that I have taken two interventions.

Those targets are of course in line with the Paris agreement that we signed up to and with the commitments that have been made at subsequent United Nations climate change conferences of the parties, including this year’s, in Glasgow.

The Climate Change Committee’s 2019 net zero report states:

“Given its strategic importance in achieving ... decarbonisation,”


“is a necessity for a net-zero target.”

The committee’s chief executive, Chris Stark, said:

“The Acorn project is a slam dunk, in my view, for support.”

Will the member take an intervention?

Gillian Martin

I have already taken two interventions; I will not be taking any more.

Of course, another very important thread is the just transition for our workers as we reduce our reliance on burning oil and gas, over time. That issue is not just for the north-east; families all over Scotland are reliant on oil and gas, and on their supply chains, for their incomes, either directly or indirectly. A project such as Acorn, situated in Peterhead, in the constituency of my colleague Karen Adam, will be well served by the talent pool that we already have in the north-east. That is another significant argument for its being put into track 1 immediately.

We have what is possibly the most concentrated transferable skills base right on our doorstep, as well as universities and local companies that can enable the innovation that will surround the project. I am aware of a few university-led projects, which have ready-to-go uses for the captured carbon, including one whose representatives came to speak to me a couple of years ago, which will convert the carbon into fire-retardant bricks for house building.

In economic terms, the Scottish Cluster will contribute, on average, £1.4 billion gross value added per year, up to the year 2050. If the cluster proceeds on track 1, job creation will begin as early as 2022, and the construction phase alone will support 7,000 jobs. Once completed, the cluster will support an average of 15,000 jobs per year until 2050, and that is a significant number of jobs.

Longer term expansion of the cluster would unlock further economic benefits, by safeguarding industrial jobs across the UK, particularly in those sites that are otherwise hard to decarbonise. So many people get that, including my Conservative friend and north-east colleague, Liam Kerr. In a very good article in The Press and Journal in August, he wrote:

“As the UK looks to demonstrate global leadership on low-carbon technologies ahead of COP26, I’m calling on MPs and MSPs to back the Scottish cluster.

With its energy expertise and heritage, existing infrastructure, and ready-to-deliver projects, Scotland is in an ideal place to start this next phase of our net zero journey.”

I hope that he will join me in urging his party at the UK level to listen to his words, because Liam Kerr is absolutely right, and he can bank that.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I am genuinely very grateful for Gillian Martin’s words and I do not disagree with a lot of what she has said today. Crucially, Gillian Martin will acknowledge that, so far, the UK Government has backed Acorn with £31 million. Is she aware of how much the Scottish Government has backed Acorn for?

Gillian Martin

That is probably a question for the Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work, but my point is really to ask the UK Government why it is kicking the project into the long grass when it has already put that investment in, because there is no time to waste.

On hearing the news that the Scottish Cluster had been kicked into the reserve list by the UK Government, Sir Ian Wood did not mince his words either. He said:

“This decision makes little economic or environmental sense and is a real blow to Scotland.

Scotland is the most cost-effective place to begin CCUS in the UK given the capacity for CO2 storage in the North Sea and the existing oil and gas infrastructure available”.

One of the reasons why the Acorn project is so vital is that it has the capacity to store carbon from industrial sites across the UK, including Ineos at Grangemouth and Project Cavendish at the Thames estuary, as well as more local sites, such as Peterhead power station. In fact, there are already memoranda of understanding in place between Acorn and emitters across the UK.

In her intervention, Jackie Dunbar was right to flag up the history around CCUS, and that is another betrayal in that respect.

I have run out of time because I have taken too many interventions, so I will finish now.

We cannot make the same mistake again; regardless of party, we must all urge the UK Government to give the Scottish Cluster track 1 status immediately—for the sake of just transition and thousands of livelihoods but, most of all, for the sake of our drive to the net zero targets that we all signed up to.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am conscious of the number of people who want to speak in the debate and I am keen to get everybody in. If members want to intervene, they should make an intervention rather than comment from a sedentary position.


Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

I thank Gillian Martin for bringing this important debate to members’ business today.

The carbon cluster remains an important project for the UK Government, so I very much hope that the project will go ahead as quickly as possible.

However, the Scottish National Party position on carbon capture is, frankly, ridiculous, because it seems to assume that we have a choice between only carbon capture, or oil and gas. I have to tell Gillian Martin that that is a false choice. Carbon capture works hand in glove with the oil and gas industry, which is leading the way in new technologies that are associated with carbon capture utilisation and storage.

Can Douglas Lumsden point to any part of the speech that I have just given where I have made that assertion?

Douglas Lumsden

It is more the position of the SNP, rather than Gillian Martin. As we heard last week, the First Minister wants to stop not just Cambo oil field, but all new oil fields. Members should think about the impact that that would have on jobs in the north-east.

Now that is a betrayal.

Douglas Lumsden

That is a betrayal—quite correct.

Although reckless, the SNP position is not as absurd as that of its Green partners, whose website states that the Scottish Greens will:

“Oppose public investment in carbon capture and storage as it is unproven and the vast majority of projects are linked to enhanced oil recovery.”

However, thanks to a couple of ministerial cars and a bump in salary, I am sure that the Greens’ principles will be thrown out the double-glazed, well-insulated window. Perhaps the member should send a letter to her Green colleagues and try to get them on board for the carbon capture project, because we need carbon capture and new oil and gas developments.

Gillian Martin’s own constituent, former First Minister Alex Salmond, commented on the issue only this week. He stressed the need for new oil and gas developments and how vital they are for the north-east. He said:

“Without it, then it is not just farewell to tens of thousands of north-east of Scotland votes for the SNP.

Much more seriously, it’s Mossmorran no more, Grangemouth no more, St Fergus no more—and independence no more.”

He knows that the SNP is betraying the north-east. I would urge the SNP members for the north-east to call on their party to stop the constant talking down of the area and the energy industry, and to get behind the industry and start protecting the 100,000 jobs that are at stake.

The Press and Journal reports today that recovery in the north-east is falling behind recovery in the rest of the country. It is time for the SNP to focus on the day job and to start understanding the realities of the situation that we are living in.

Cutting oil and gas exploration means that we will have to import more, and vital jobs will go elsewhere. Instead of offering solutions, the SNP simply adopts the usual grievance politics of blaming Westminster, with no proposals or ideas of its own.

Will the member give way?

Douglas Lumsden

No, I do not have time—sorry.

Carbon capture is a fantastic initiative for the north-east, in partnership with the industries that have brought wealth and prosperity to our region. Carbon capture is possible to do while protecting vital jobs, meeting our net zero commitments and working with industry. I want this project to go ahead and I am confident that it will.

However, the SNP grievance project focuses on talking down the project, as if it is somehow game over. Whether or not the Government supports the project, it is highly dependent on external, private investment and the SNP’s constant cries of grievance are putting that investment at risk.

The north-east deserves better than this failed coalition of chaos that turns its back on the north-east at every opportunity. The Government’s failure to invest, engage or support the north-east is a disgrace. It prefers to play grievance politics rather than engage, and that is to the detriment of Scotland.

I call Karen Adam, who will be followed by Paul Sweeney. Ms Adam joins us remotely, and has around four minutes.


Karen Adam (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I thank Gillian Martin for lodging the motion for debate. The Westminster decision to relegate Scotland’s Acorn project to the second division is an illustration of its misunderstanding of the potential of the Scottish energy industry. It is also a betrayal of future generations, as we witness what has been called

“the terrifying march of climate change”.

It would have been a case of third time lucky, with the first attempt having happened 20 years ago and the second, in 2015, being the £1 billion UK-wide carbon capture and storage competition, which was cancelled by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, George Osborne. Even in 2018, the UK Government admitted that the then infant Acorn demonstrator project had merit. Perhaps if a proposal to build a Peppa Pig World in Peterhead had been on the table, we might have had a different outcome.

I may jest, but this is no laughing matter and neither is investment in a just transition, needed to secure jobs and transfer from the inevitable wind-down of the fossil fuel sector. The experienced and hard workers of the energy sector in the north-east deserve security. The north-east as a whole needs this investment, which will undoubtedly benefit Scotland and the world, as we potentially lead the way in just transition and innovation in the carbon capture and sequestration industry.

I have had recent meetings with Acorn, both prior to and following the recent decision. I am convinced that Acorn will roll up its sleeves and prove Westminster wrong, one way or another. This will not be the end of its story, or Scotland’s story. It is not easy to forget that, at the beginning of this year, Ineos and its joint venture partner at Grangemouth, PetroChina, committed to developing Scotland’s first CCS project with Acorn. In July, it was announced that the Acorn CCS project had agreed to partner with Ineos and Petroineos at Grangemouth to capture and store up to 1 million tonnes of CO2 by 2027. If the Tories will not support Acorn, I am confident that there will be others who will do so. As Energy Voice commented, if they do not support it, perhaps it will be time to say to Acorn,

“get on with it and tell the Tories to take a hike.”

Once again, so much opportunity is being left in the long grass in what seems like punishment. My predecessor Stewart Stevenson said,

“we’ve had enough of stalling—the UK government must now get on with delivering the project at Peterhead.”

To all intents and purposes, it has failed yet again. It is difficult to be objective when we see that the preferred bidders are two competing projects in what can only be described as red wall territory.

To add pain to the loss of jobs and socio-economic advantage, and injury to the despair and betrayal felt in and around my constituency, we are left without any meaningful explanation as to why the Acorn project has not been chosen in the top league. It is perceived as a purely political decision. The industry has observed:

“Objectivity? Er, that got lost somewhere.”

It is also worth repeating what Sir Ian Wood, another stakeholder, whom I met not long ago, said:

“Scotland is the most cost-effective place to begin CCUS in the UK given the capacity for CO2 storage in the North Sea and the existing oil and gas infrastructure available to repurpose for CO2 transport and storage”.

Energy Voice reports that Sir Ian

“also urged Westminster to rank Acorn alongside the winning, so-called Tier One projects.”

I finish by speaking up for my constituents who have voiced their anger at the decision, the thousands of jobs not created and a huge missed opportunity. Acorn will keep the door, and the ear, open to Westminster, I have no doubt. However, if we adopt the tone of the 26th UN climate change conference of the parties—COP26—in Glasgow, we do not have plenty of time to make a real and meaningful difference. Opportunities must be seized. We must live adventurously. Others will not wait while Westminster drags its heels. It should just get on with the investment and do the right thing for the people that it claims to have broad shoulders for.


Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

I thank the member for Aberdeenshire East for bringing this vital debate to the chamber and for emphasising how critical the Acorn project is to Scotland achieving its net zero target by 2045. That is why the Climate Change Committee described it as

“a necessity, not an option”.

The UK Government’s announcement last month that the Acorn project would not be selected in the first round of plans for carbon capture and storage was surely galling for all of us to witness. The cluster is widely regarded by industry leaders as providing the most comprehensive business plan, and the UK Government’s announcement was widely condemned. Sir Ian Wood described it as “deeply disappointing” and urged the UK Government to think again.

The carbon reduction benefits are clear. The proposal would also have seen more than 26,000 workers being transitioned out of the oil and gas sector into lower carbon alternatives over the next 10 years, which is a crucial aspect of achieving climate justice for workers. We all know how important the transition away from fossil fuels will be if we are to meet those targets, but we also know the importance of providing a just transition for workers. That is why the decision is particularly galling and disheartening.

Focusing on energy production, Peterhead power station is Scotland’s largest and only thermal generator. If we do not have the ability to capture carbon and we are not able to decarbonise the grid, that will put in jeopardy Scotland’s ability to meet the 2045 target for net zero. As an interesting adjunct to the debate about nuclear power during First Minister’s question time, if we do not decarbonise the base load, we will be in a really difficult position.

Perhaps we should not be surprised by the decision, given that the Conservatives rowed back on the commitment, spelled out in their 2015 manifesto, to the £1 billion carbon capture and storage programme that was proposed for Longannet and Peterhead. This year, we have seen the Tories break their promise on tax rises and rip up manifesto commitments on protecting the triple lock on pensions. Now we have this broken promise in the wake of COP26. It is hardly surprising, but it is certainly shocking. It is not just the broken promises and clear disdain for the Scottish Cluster that are galling; it is the potential cost implications that go along with that.

Has Paul Sweeney actually seen the criteria against which the various projects were scored and ranked?

I have examined the criteria, which is why I am all the more perplexed at the decision that was made.

Have you seen the scores?

Paul Sweeney

I have seen the scores, and I am perplexed at the artificial rationing of resource and investment. We need it to all happen concurrently, not sequentially. That is the biggest problem. We are trying to advocate the benefits of pooling and sharing resources in the United Kingdom, so it really does not help when this sort of thing happens. Someone, somewhere in Whitehall, particularly in the Treasury, will surely have seen the political implications and made it clear that the Scottish Cluster had to be a priority.

It is because of the chancellor’s dogmatic adherence to the cap on capital investment of 3 per cent of gross domestic product that the investment has been rationed in this way. When UK borrowing and the debt burden that the country faces are at their lowest in history, why on earth would we not pump investment in now to unlock huge multiplier effects to increase employment and gross value added for the Scottish economy?

It is a one-way bet and it is baffling that the Conservatives have not seized the opportunity. I urge them to reconsider their position, because we really need the UK Government to look again at this. The decision will hamper long-term investment in the Scottish Cluster that is desperately relied on, and it will harm our chances of reaching our net zero target while providing a just transition for workers.

We need all five UK carbon capture and storage projects that are in the pipeline to happen simultaneously and now, not just HyNet and the Teesside Humber East Coast Cluster. Scotland has 60 per cent of the UK’s storage potential, so it makes sense to have a carbon capture and storage presence in Scotland. I urge the Scottish Conservatives to speak to their colleagues in Westminster to ask them to reverse the decision. That is the right thing to do for our economy and climate ambitions. If the Conservatives had any real ambitions for Scotland, it would be a no-brainer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am conscious of the large number of members who still want to speak in the debate, so I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Gillian Martin]

Motion agreed to.


Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)

This debate is one of the most important of our time, so Gillian Martin is to be congratulated on bringing it to the chamber. I thank members from virtually all parties for attending yesterday evening’s meeting of the cross-party group on oil and gas. It was really informative, and I hope that we can work together across the chamber to promote objectives on which, increasingly, we should be able to find consensus. Part of that consensus must be that the Scottish Cluster, or the Acorn project—perhaps improved and with more emitters and more CO2—must go ahead if we are to achieve net zero targets.

However, it must be said that the UK Government record on CCS is one of a consistent breach of promises. Those promises were first made by ministers in respect of Longannet, then, in 2014, by Ed Davey and David Cameron, who visited Peterhead power station to announce that that would be the CCS scheme site. As I recall, it was an announcement with a fanfare of trumpets of veritable Wagnerian volume, with them patting themselves on the back for what they were about to do for Scotland. Now, with Acorn, we have number 3 for CCS in Scotland—we are once, twice, three times a loser under UK Government decisions. That is the record of fact, but there is a fourth opportunity and we must grasp it.

Will the member give way?

Fergus Ewing

I think that the member might be interested in what I have to say.

We should work with experts in Scotland such as Scottish Carbon Capture & Storage. As the minister will know, when I was in his position for five years, I worked with people such as Professor Stuart Haszeldine, a world leading scientist who, with Dr Emma Martin-Roberts and Dr Stuart Gilfillan, published a report earlier this month that said, in short, that if we proceed at the current rate, we can capture only 10 per cent of the CO2 that we require to capture to meet net zero. I was not the brightest boy in the class, but I never went into an exam saying, “I am determined to achieve 10 per cent”. That is not ambition; it is capitulation.

So, what do we need to do? I say with all sincerity and with absolute conviction that we need to do a number of things. We need a successful, working and thriving oil and gas sector. Without such a sector, we cannot deliver CCS. The oil and gas sector has the expertise; no one else does. If we accept that CCS is a sine qua non of reaching net zero—everybody except those on the fringes accepts it—we need an industry to deliver it. We should recognise that the North Sea operators, led by OGUK, have set a world-class standard, setting out to cut emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, cutting flaring and methane, and using the most carbon-friendly and least-emitting practices. As Sir Ian Wood said, if we stop domestic production, we will import more gas from Qatar, costing 59kg of emissions per tonne as opposed to 22kg per tonne. We will increase, not reduce, emissions.

We must go ahead now with the Acorn project. If the Prime Minister does not listen to this debate, and if he says no for a fourth time, he will be committing an act of betrayal worthy of Cassius and Brutus in the assassination of their great friend, Julius Caesar. The Prime Minister is fond of quoting Latin phrases. The last word on the tombstone of CCS in Scotland must not be, “Et tu, Boris.”


Maurice Golden (North East Scotland) (Con)

I start by saying how pleased I am that the SNP agrees with so much Conservative policy on carbon capture. Like us, the SNP supports the technology, wants it to play a part in net zero, and believes that it can help to create a just transition in the north-east. With common goals, it makes sense to collaborate. It was therefore deeply disappointing to see the SNP do the opposite this week. Instead of working together on carbon capture, the SNP issued a needlessly hostile letter to Scottish Conservative politicians. Full of confrontational language, it was more a political rant than a sincere attempt at dialogue. It is bizarre to target colleagues who share common ground.

To be clear, I was disappointed that the fantastic Acorn bid did not place higher, as were my Scottish Conservative colleagues, but the bid is still live.

What interaction has Maurice Golden had with the decision makers in the UK Government about his disappointment?

Maurice Golden

I have had no interaction with the UK Government. I know that some of my colleagues have represented us on that. It is, however, important to note that I do not have a reporting mechanism to the UK Government, I am not accountable to the UK Government, and I have no bosses in Westminster, other than when Douglas Ross is there. To suggest otherwise is absolutely outrageous.

The British Government is still engaging on the Acorn project, and that is all the more reason to work together to get it over the line in round 2. Why, then, is the SNP trying to pick a fight? Let me explain. Its hostile letter is not really about carbon capture, net zero, or the north-east; it is just a tacky public relations stunt to whip up grievance at Britain and divert attention from SNP failings.

For starters, why is the SNP targeting Scottish Conservatives? We support carbon capture. It is the Greens who oppose it. The Greens would shut down the Acorn project in a heartbeat. Where is the SNP letter to the Greens? Better yet, why does the SNP not use its energy to come up with a clear industrial road map to support carbon capture. Professor Stuart Haszeldine has already warned about the lack of such a road map and made it clear that the British Government is forging ahead on this.

We know that the British Government is serious about a low-carbon future. Members should look at the North Sea transition deal, which is cutting emissions, supporting up to 40,000 jobs, and investing up to £16 billion in new technologies, including carbon capture. The same cannot be said for the SNP. Its innovation and targeted oil and gas decarbonisation plan puts a paltry 100MW cap on floating offshore wind innovation projects, whereas the figure for the rest of the UK is 300MW. The SNP’s failure to act will put Scottish projects at a disadvantage and risks costing the north-east its pre-eminence in renewables.

That is the sort of foot-dragging failure that the SNP is trying to hide. Its £100 million green jobs fund took more than a year to pay anything out, it has delayed the deposit return scheme and its active travel target will not be met for 290 years. We can add to that its failure to meet the recycling, biodiversity and renewable heat targets. On emissions, it has failed three years in a row. When will SNP MSPs stand up to their Holyrood bosses, who continually fail to tackle climate change?

I make it clear that the Scottish Conservatives want to tackle climate change and want carbon capture to succeed; we most certainly want the north-east to succeed. If the SNP shares those goals, let it ditch the cheap public relations stunts and work with us for the common good.


Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I thank Gillian Martin for raising the topic for debate. From her role as convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee in the previous session, she will be aware of the cross-party concerns that the committee expressed unanimously about a reliance on CCS to cut Scotland’s emissions by a quarter by 2030. In fact, the committee went further and, in its report on the climate change plan, which was published only in February this year, called for the Scottish Government to produce a plan B alternative. As we head towards the beginning of a new climate change plan cycle next year, I hope that the minister is aware of the pressing need to come up with that plan B.

Capturing carbon emissions and storing them underground appears, at face value, to be part of the solution, but the unfortunate reality is that, so far, the history of CCS deployment has been one of overpromise and underdelivery—

Will the member take an intervention?

Mark Ruskell

I would like to finish my sentence.

That is at a time when we need technology that can be rapidly and cost-effectively deployed in the next eight years.

I will certainly give way to Ms Martin, if I can get the time back.

I can give you the time back.

Does Mark Ruskell agree that the failure of CCS has been to do with not the technology but the fact that funding has repeatedly been withdrawn from it?

Mark Ruskell

No. I think that the global context is that there has been a technical failure with the capture of emissions. That is just the reality. I will say more about that later in my speech.

The key test is whether CCS accelerates a phase-out of fossil fuels to keep us to a rise of less than 1.5°C or whether it just builds in dependence that delays a just transition while diverting and crowding out investment in renewables.

I will offer an example that relates to the blue hydrogen that would be produced from the carbon storage element of the Acorn project. The current plans are to blend blue hydrogen, at a rate of 20 per cent, into the gas grid, but the question that that begs is about the other 80 per cent of the fuel mix, which will continue to be natural gas that will be burned in boilers with no carbon abatement. At the point in the next decade when we should be scrapping gas boilers, we would be extending our dependency on a gas grid and gas fuel, with blue hydrogen as the enabler.

The argument that will be made in reply is that we are talking about a transition and that, in the future, we will be able to switch from blue hydrogen to green hydrogen, which is made from renewable energy. I get that, but green hydrogen will be a precious and highly sought-after commodity that will be used to fuel the steel furnaces of Europe. I hope that Scotland will have a serious role to play in that, but it would be an expensive low-grade use of green hydrogen to use it just to heat our homes.

There are critical questions to be answered about the effectiveness of CCS. A recent report by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research showed that the scale of deployment that would be necessary to reduce emissions in line with our climate targets has not yet been demonstrated anywhere in the world. Projects around the world have received billions in public investment, but with pretty minimal success.

In fact, right now, CCS global capacity is 0.1 per cent of annual global emissions per year. Not only are these technologies underdelivering, but capacity is not intended to increase significantly until 2030. Deployment takes six to 10 years from construction to completion, by which point our emissions targets will already have been missed.

There are critical questions that we need to ask of, and which need to be answered by, Government. For example, what guarantees will there be with regard to the capture rate for plants that will feed into the Acorn project? What about the huge energy requirements to power CCS, which risk causing more emissions than will actually be captured?

It has been a couple of weeks since COP26, and, yes, the eyes of the world are on Scotland, with a demand for meaningful change. However, we need to cast a critical eye particularly on strategies and solutions that come from the boardrooms of oil and gas corporations, which, to be honest, have spent decades denying even the existence of climate change. We just need to have a bit more critical thinking about the deployment of these technologies.


Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I thought that it would be helpful to clear up certain areas where some members seem to have misunderstood crucial facts. First of all, Karen Adam said that this was a political decision, but she appeared unaware that there were objective criteria for approval that all bidders knew and pitched to.

Paul Sweeney said that the Acorn project had the most comprehensive business plan. Given that it is unlikely that he can have seen and compared all the scoring involved, it might be somewhat difficult to substantiate that claim. In any event, he appears to be unaware that only one of the criteria pertained to how far along a project might be.

Among what were otherwise very fair and measured comments, Gillian Martin suggested that the UK Government might have betrayed the north-east. However, as I pointed out in my intervention on her, the UK Government has already backed the Scottish Cluster with £31 million. If Karen Adam had really been listening to the people whom she purports to have met, she would have known that the UK Government continues to work with the partners. Indeed, SSE Thermal has reported that it is engaging with the UK Government and its Scottish Cluster partners. Far from kicking this into the long grass, the UK Government has told the Acorn partners to keep working towards going live and has continued in regular meetings between Storegga Geotechnologies executives and ministers in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury to move the project on.

The Scottish National Party’s constant griping and politicking are really not helpful, and its position has been rather undermined by its coalition with a party whose manifesto explicitly rejects the idea of CCUS. If it were up to certain Government ministers, we would have no carbon capture projects at all. I heard no public protest—not one—from any of the SNP members when their tawdry deal was being stitched up, and I heard no public dissent from north-east SNP members when Sturgeon performed a handbrake turn on Cambo and signalled her willingness to throw the north-east oil and gas industry over a cliff. That is betrayal.

Will the member give way?

Very briefly.

Stephen Kerr

The member is making an excellent speech and is clearly in command of the subject. He mentioned the £31 million that the UK Government is investing in the project, but how much has the Scottish Government put in?

Liam Kerr

I am very grateful for the intervention. I will hear what the minister has to say in his response, but to the best of my knowledge, the Scottish Government has put in zero pounds.

The important thing about the investment is that this is all part of a bigger picture. Acorn, like the oil and gas industry, needs investment, especially external foreign private investment. [Interruption.] I think that the minister would do well to listen to my comments. Getting that investment requires stability collaborative working and integrity, not manufactured grievance and division in both the Parliament and the media.

I want to make one other point. Karen Adam mentioned the SNP’s much-trumpeted £500 million just transition fund. I have submitted around 10 parliamentary questions on the matter to the minister, and I have found that the fund is just a soundbite. There are no details about when, where, to whom, from whom or from what it will be paid. We do not even know which budget it is coming from. The contrast with the UK Government’s £16 billion North Sea transition deal—which is, yes, 32 times larger than the SNP’s soundbite and is planned to deliver 40,000 new energy jobs—could not be starker.

There is also the energy white paper, the 10-point plan, previous and on-going investment in offshore wind, carbon capture and, as announced yesterday, £20 million for tidal energy. That has been shown to attract around £15 billion of private investment—which satisfies the point that Mark Ruskell made in his intervention on Gillian Martin. That is what Kwasi Kwarteng meant when he said that the UK delivers “Plans, not platitudes”. It is time for the SNP to do the same.

I say to the SNP: enough—enough of the grievance, the division and the misinformation. Let us work together with the UK Government, partners and the industry to make Acorn happen.


Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

I, too, thank Gillian Martin for securing this important debate.

My constituency of Aberdeen South and North Kincardine has oil and gas running through its veins, so I am invested in Scotland’s journey to net zero and in the opportunities that carbon capture and storage will bring to my constituents.

Our global population continues to grow; so does energy demand; so do carbon dioxide concentrations; so, too, do global temperatures. There are different schools of thought on how we get to net zero, one of which involves a suite of technologies including the capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions produced through power generation and other industrial processes.

Carbon capture and storage is not a new technology. One of my constituents recently reminded me that CCS has been used in enhanced oil recovery since at least the 1970s, using captured carbon to reinject and boost reservoir pressures. For some time now, carbon capture and storage has been the subject of on-going focus as a vehicle by which skills from the oil and gas sector can become a force for good in supporting Scotland to meet its climate change obligations.

Does the member agree with the First Minister, who said that there should be no new oil and gas developments?

Audrey Nicoll

My interpretation of what she said is that, until the appropriate climate compatibility assessments are undertaken—and given that the original licensing was many years ago—there should be no new progress on that until that point. That is my interpretation.

According to the “UK Offshore Energy Workforce Transferability Review”, which was published by the Robert Gordon University, 90 per cent of oil and gas industry jobs have

“medium to high skills transferability”

into net zero industries, not only by virtue of the industry’s experience in implementing and operating large offshore infrastructure projects, but through its extensive knowledge of subsurface technologies, reservoir management and the transport and storage of substances.

Oil & Gas UK’s “Energy Transition Outlook” report outlines a total capacity to hold 78 billion tonnes of CO2 under the North Sea and the Irish Sea, which is about 190 times greater than the UK’s annual emissions of 400 million tonnes.

There are, of course, challenges, too. Friends of the Earth has expressed concerns about the positioning of carbon capture and storage as a climate solution. There is also the matter of linking education providers, training organisations and the private sector more effectively.

In his research on North Sea carbon capture, Dr Abhishek Agarwal of the Robert Gordon University highlights challenges with carbon pricing and infrastructure and with the industry leadership of CCS, rather than leadership by Government. However, he also concludes that

“CCS is both desirable and feasible”.

In that regard, the Scottish Cluster that we have already heard a great deal about is working to unlock access to one of the UK’s most important CO2 storage resources, through repurposing existing oil and gas infrastructure. It is therefore hugely disappointing that, despite the potential for the Scottish Cluster to support an average of 15,000 jobs per year to 2050 and £1.4 billion a year in gross value added, it was selected as a reserve cluster by the UK Government, compromising our ability to take crucial action now to reduce emissions, not just in Scotland but across the UK.

The Scottish Government has committed £500 million to a new just transition fund for the north-east and Moray over the next 10 years, and is calling on the UK Government to match that investment.

Will the member take an intervention?

She is just concluding, Mr Kerr.

Audrey Nicoll

Like many members here today, I will continue to urge the UK Government to match that funding commitment, and I urge the Scottish Government to continue reflecting its commitment to net zero by using all its powers to support carbon capture and storage opportunities as part of our just transition.

I encourage members to stick to their four minutes from now on.


Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

When I read Gillian Martin’s motion on carbon capture, utilisation and storage, I had no hesitation in supporting it. I support the view that carbon capture is a crucial tool that can be used as part of the broader solutions that are needed to reach net zero in Scotland. We cannot kid ourselves that carbon emissions will stop altogether, nor can we pretend that reaching net zero will be a simple process. We will still require large-scale energy-intensive processes, including cement production, chemical processing, hydrogen production and power generation. We must also consider the carbon that is produced by agriculture and transport.

To reach net zero, we will have to massively reduce the amount of carbon that enters the atmosphere, and I support measures to make that happen, but we also have other means at our disposal to reach net zero targets, and carbon capture is just one of them. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change fifth assessment report states that it would cost 138 per cent more to restrict a rise in global temperatures to no more than 2°C without carbon capture and storage. That shows that although not producing carbon in the first place may be more ideal, using carbon capture can help to balance the environmental impact with economic concerns as we move to reaching net zero emissions.

The technology has come a long way. Carbon capture and storage technologies can capture more than 90 per cent of CO2 emissions from power plants and industrial facilities. Scotland has much potential to play a major role in the advancement of the technology and we cannot fall behind the rest of the world as projects elsewhere expand. Two days ago, Singapore announced targets to capture at least 2 million tonnes of carbon. We have the potential to be at the forefront of demonstrating the benefits of this technology, especially given that there are only 27 operational commercial carbon capture and storage facilities in the world. That is why, when I saw the news that the UK Government was not supporting the decision to invest in carbon capture in Scotland at this stage, I, like many other members, was dismayed.

That is a bizarre assertion. The UK Government clearly supports the technology, but made that decision on objective criteria. Does the member acknowledge that?

Alex Rowley

People were astounded at the decision given the progress that has been made. The member should be honest, accept that, stand up for Scotland and make the case, as the rest of us are trying to do.

I am happy to support the Scottish Government in its calls for the UK Government to reverse its decision and invest in the Scottish Cluster as a national priority. Had that been done the first time around in 2014, when the UK Government also did not invest, we would be well on our way to making carbon capture fully established in Scotland and, in turn, the UK would be further on its way to meeting its climate targets.

Given that we have just had COP26 here in Scotland, it is good that the issue is back at the forefront. We have to recognise that carbon capture is only one tool that we have at our disposal, and there is no question but that we have to reduce carbon production, which means pursuing greener energy, greener production methods and greener processing. We also need to expand woodland and restore peatlands, both of which play a major role in storing carbon and have a clear, long-term future.

You will have to conclude now, Mr Rowley.

There is much that we can and should do. I hope that the UK Government will recognise that Scotland has an integral role to play.


Dean Lockhart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I will start on a note of consensus: the Scottish Conservatives’ position has always been that carbon storage will play a vital role in the transition to net zero. That is all the more important after agreement was reached on article 6 of the Glasgow climate pact in relation to international carbon markets.

One of the other fundamental takeaways from the Glasgow COP was the absolute necessity for Governments to work together and for constructive engagement between Parliaments, politicians, the public sector and the private sector. That is where I take issue with the SNP’s approach to the debate. To suggest that the UK Government has utterly betrayed the north-east is not only factually wrong but counter-productive to our collective efforts to transition to net zero. To be frank, it is playing politics with the climate crisis and the future prospects of the Scottish Cluster.

UK Government support for the north-east and the renewables sector in Scotland speaks for itself.

Will Dean Lockhart give way?

Dean Lockhart

I have only four minutes. If the Scottish Government wants to hold a full debate on the matter, I would be happy to give way in it.

The UK Government introduced the North Sea transition deal, investing up to £16 billion in the sector and region and supporting more than 40,000 jobs. Only this week, the Whitelee green hydrogen storage project was announced. It is the first of its kind in the UK. Also this week, the UK Government announced £20 million a year for the development of tidal stream electricity. That is more support for the sector in Scotland.

Will Dean Lockhart give way?

Dean Lockhart

I do not have time.

Let us not forget that that investment is all on top of the UK Government saving 75,000 jobs and 10,000 businesses in the north-east during the pandemic, thereby helping the north-east economy to keep going in the face of the global pandemic.

The UK Government has already invested significantly in the Scottish Cluster and continues to support it. It made it clear that the cluster will be central to the future of carbon storage in the UK. Already, £31 million has been invested in the project and we will hear from the minister shortly whether that is £31 million more than the Scottish Government has invested in it. The cluster is now first reserve and on track for further investment. All that was underpinned last month by the UK Government announcing a £10 billion low-carbon hydrogen energy plan—the most ambitious in the world. That plan will secure the future of carbon storage throughout the UK, including in the north-east.

That massive investment by the UK Government stands in stark contrast to the Scottish Government’s track record in the renewables sector. The Scottish Government promised to deliver 130,000 jobs in that sector, yet only 20,000 were delivered. It lost tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on the Pelamis and Aquamarine wave power projects. It has also put at risk £600 million of Scottish taxpayers’ money to prop up Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance, all for the sake of creating just 44 jobs. When it comes to the much-vaunted £500 million just transition fund, many people in the sector fear that it is just a headline announcement and will go the same way as the mythical publicly owned energy company—that it is all spin and will never see the light of day.

Listening to the debate, the ultimate irony is the concern that SNP members express about saving jobs in the north-east just a week after Nicola Sturgeon announced opposition to the development of the Cambo oil field. In effect, that announcement confirmed that the SNP-Green coalition wants to close down the oil and gas sector in the north-east, thereby losing 100,000 jobs and the massive technical expertise of workers and businesses throughout the sector, and requiring Scotland to import oil and gas in the future.

Talk about soundbites!

Dean Lockhart

Someone said “soundbites”, but I have said precisely what their colleague Fergus Ewing highlighted would happen if the Cambo development did not go ahead.

Let us stop playing politics with the climate crisis and let the Scottish Government work with the UK Government to transition Scotland to net zero.


Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)

I congratulate Gillian Martin on bringing the debate to the chamber, and I commend her for once again standing up for her constituents and for the wider north-east. She is a doughty campaigner for them, and that shone through in her contribution today. I support the case that she made for the need to support carbon capture and storage in the north-east, in addition to the projects that are already in receipt of track 1 support. After discussing that, I will move on briefly to our net zero ambitions.

As we have heard today, the Scottish Cluster’s Acorn project was the most advanced project of those submitted to the UK Government. That assessment is not mine, nor the Scottish Government’s—the UK Government scored St Fergus as the most deliverable carbon capture project anywhere in the UK. The infrastructure is already there, as is the workforce. Everything is in place, so it is crazy that the Scottish Cluster has been left behind. Although that is not the end of CCS in the north-east, it certainly makes it much harder to deliver. In addition, it puts at risk jobs—up to 20,000, to be exact—as well as the decarbonisation of Grangemouth, which is Scotland’s largest industrial emitter.

To add insult to injury, the reserve status that Acorn has apparently achieved gives no guarantee of future support, and still cuts the cluster out of any future potential Treasury funding streams, lending of last resort or gaining storage liability. That means that the Scottish Cluster is now at a clear disadvantage. That is bad news for the north-east and for our net zero ambitions, and the Tories know it.

This is not the first time that we have been let down as a result of short-sighted UK Government decisions. As Fergus Ewing said, we remember Longannet, and the £1 billion funding that was promised for CCS in Peterhead in the run-up to the 2014 referendum, only for David Cameron to renege on that promise the following year, once that one area of constitutional difficulty was out of the way—

Will the member give way?

Neil Gray

I am sorry—I would give way, but I am conscious of the time strictures that the Presiding Officer has already imposed.

The UK Government must urgently review its decision on the Scottish Cluster and provide the Acorn project with the necessary support as quickly as possible.

It must also review its decisions on the provision of support in other areas in order for us to meet our net zero targets. Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced £20 million to support marine tidal technology. On the face of it, that sounds great, but in reality the UK Government is about to miss another good opportunity. The UK, and Scotland in particular, is already home to that technology, which is potentially game-changing for the energy sector. The tidal industry has the potential to generate £1.4 billion for the UK economy and support 4,000 jobs. Just as importantly for our net zero objectives, it is predicted that tidal stream technology will provide 11 per cent of the electricity not just for Scotland, but for the UK—[Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am sorry, Mr Gray.

That is enough chuntering, Mr Kerr. In a moment, you will have an opportunity to make a speech of your own.

Please continue, Mr Gray.

Neil Gray

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

The support that the UK Government has offered is less than a third of what the industry requires. As with carbon capture, the tidal stream industry has been let down, when we need to do all that we can to encourage its swift expansion.

In the meantime, the UK Government, while it is £50 million short for the tidal industry, which is based in Scotland, is committing billions to new nuclear power stations. If it does not invest now, we will lose the investment, the technology and the jobs. Alan Brown, Stephen Flynn and Ian Blackford continue to make the case at Westminster for both CCS and tidal stream. I hope that the Scottish Tories can join them in standing up for those crucial Scottish industries and make the case for them both to the UK Government.


Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

I congratulate Gillian Martin on bringing the debate to the chamber. She gave an excellent speech, except for the last few words of the final paragraph. I also thank Fergus Ewing, who gave an excellent speech—again, except for a few choice words mixed in along the way.

However, when it comes to Karen Adam and Neil Gray—honest to goodness me. I include in that Neil Gray’s comments about the tidal stream sector, which are so misguided that it is almost unbelievable.

I disagree completely with the motivation behind today’s debate, which has become apparent from the contributions from certain members of the SNP. The conversation about the UK Government’s support for CCUS clusters should focus on the environmental benefits that they will provide. Sadly, I am afraid that the motivation for today’s debate comes directly from the SNP’s one-page playbook on stoking up—

Will the member give way?

I wish that I could. Honestly, the member has no idea how much I would love to give way, but unfortunately I am not allowed to.

You are perfectly able to take an intervention, Mr Kerr, although you will still be restricted to four minutes.

Stephen Kerr


The debate is all about stoking up grievance. That is the SNP’s one-page playbook: stoking up grievance against the UK Government. That narrative is and has always been false. Rather than have the SNP’s inward-looking approach, our efforts to protect the climate must focus on co-operation. We must work together with our partners across the UK and countries around the world. COP26, which was hosted by the UK Government in Glasgow earlier this month, showed the challenges and frustrations involved in co-operation, but it also showed that, through hard work, patience, determination and co-operation, things can and will get done. Co-operation produces positive outcomes that put us on the path to protecting our planet.

It is in the same spirit of co-operation and with the determination to do what is best for our planet that I approach the debate and the motion. As part of the UK Government’s net zero strategy, four CCUS clusters will be operational in the UK by 2030. This is a world-leading development, and I am amazed, though not entirely surprised, to hear the Greens talking about the need for us to be so conservative and not take any strides forward as no one has ever done this sort of thing before. I am afraid to say that the attitude shown by Mark Ruskell shows exactly why the Greens are on the fringes of political debate in this area.

Two of the clusters will be operational by the mid-2020s and the other two by 2030. Last month, the UK Government’s energy minister, Greg Hands, announced that the first two clusters will indeed be East Coast Cluster and HyNet, but the Acorn project in Aberdeenshire has been designated as a reserve site in the first phase and will continue to receive UK Government support. Being designated as a reserve site also leaves Acorn in a promising—and, I would say, advantaged—position to be selected for full support in the second phase.

Determining which clusters would be selected was always going to be a competitive process based on objective criteria—and, by the way, I would say that Paul Sweeney has certainly not seen the scoring in that respect. Although it was disappointing to learn that the Acorn project would not receive the full support that we all wanted it to receive in the first phase, it is fundamentally misleading and self-defeating for the SNP to say that the UK Government has abandoned Scotland. All the language about betrayal and all the other stuff in the letter that was sent to us were outrageous.

The important thing is to meet the carbon goals that we all agree on, not necessarily what part of the country or what order the projects appear in. When carbon is captured and stored, we all benefit, no matter whether we are in Scotland, England or any other part of the world. Reducing carbon reduction targets to tit-for-tat, pork-barrel politics is to betray the science that sits behind all this. We must act locally and think globally.

I sense that you are about to tell me that I have no more time, Presiding Officer, so I will conclude simply by saying that I hope that the Acorn project will be part of the second phase and will get full support, and we will work across the chamber to that end. The technology deserves our support. It can make a major contribution to our carbon reduction targets, and it deserves more than SNP grievance and spin.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Kerr. I apologise to those who spoke later in the debate for having to curtail their time a little—the debate was heavily oversubscribed. That said, I will protect a bit of time for the minister to respond to interventions, if he so wishes.


The Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work (Richard Lochhead)

I thank Gillian Martin for lodging this motion on carbon capture, utilisation and storage and for highlighting a technology that will play a crucial role in helping Scotland to decarbonise and reach our world-leading statutory emissions targets by 2045.

Ms Martin rightly and eloquently highlighted the consequences of the recent UK Government failure to award the Scottish Cluster, led by the Acorn project in Aberdeenshire, track 1 status and funding in its recent cluster sequencing process. Although the cluster was previously considered to be the most advanced and deliverable CCS project in the UK, it was rejected by the UK Government. As Sir Ian Wood said, that was like leaving the best player on the subs’ bench. It is fair to say that the public, industry, the Scottish ministers and many others were shellshocked by the decision, and I honestly hoped that today we could all stand together and say that it was a serious mistake that must be corrected without delay.

Gillian Martin has also drawn attention to the north-east of Scotland, the home of oil and gas and a natural home for CCUS development and deployment. The UK Government’s decision risks the just transition to good green jobs that the region urgently needs and which members across all parties keep calling on the Scottish Government to support.

The Scottish Government supports CCUS as a means to decarbonise industry and as a vital tool to achieve Scotland’s emissions targets.

Liam Kerr

To go back to the north-east industry, Fergus Ewing rightly pointed out that, when Acorn is up and running, it will need a supply of oil and gas. Does the minister support Nicola Sturgeon’s view of future oil and gas, or Alex Salmond’s position on future oil and gas?

Richard Lochhead

I am about to come to that theme. Alex Rowley mentioned the importance of COP. I spent two weeks of my life at COP, and I saw ministers from the UK and Scottish Governments, tens of thousands of people from across the world and non-governmental organisations saying together that the planet is burning and that we have to take faster action, be braver and be bolder. Yet, in the debate, the Conservatives, and Liam Kerr as the Conservative net zero spokesperson, have been attacking the SNP Government for saying that we should transition away from fossil fuels in Scotland and play our role in saving the planet.

Our 2045 net zero target is based in part on advice from the UK Climate Change Committee, which describes CCUS as a “necessity not an option”, as Gillian Martin said. Significantly, the CCC pointed to Scotland’s CO2 storage potential in recommending the date of 2045.

I am heartened to hear that the SNP will finally meet targets, specifically the 2013 household waste recycling target of 50 per cent. Will the minister confirm that that will be met next year?

Richard Lochhead

Just last week, the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity gave a statement to the Parliament on the circular economy. In response to the many attacks from members on the Conservative benches on Scotland’s climate change record, I say that we have reduced emissions more in percentage terms than the rest of the UK has. However, we do not get one word of credit from the Conservative members for Scotland’s progress towards meeting our climate change targets.

As many members have said, CCUS is an important transition opportunity for Scotland’s mature oil and gas industry, and it can utilise the existing skills and expertise of those across Scotland to transition to a low-carbon economy. The livelihoods of significant numbers of oil and gas workers in Scotland are at stake. Recent figures show that the oil and gas sector currently supports around 70,000 jobs in Scotland. The Scottish Cluster, which we are debating today, could support an average of 15,100 jobs from 2022 onwards.

Fergus Ewing

With regard to the future operations of the North Sea oil and gas operators, does the minister welcome the opportunity that now exists to build a consensus across almost all parties that the forthcoming climate compatibility checkpoint—which, I understand, the UK Government, having consulted on it since last September, is introducing—offers an opportunity to demonstrate that future production can continue, provided that it meets the high standards that, I hope, will be the outcome of that consultation, and will enable the 70,000 jobs to continue for the foreseeable future?

Richard Lochhead

On several occasions, the Scottish Government has asked the UK Government that it be involved and included in the conversations about the compatibility test for future oil and gas fields in the North Sea. Following COP, anyone would think that that is a sensible position to take, and that the green light should not be given to any fields until we have seen the compatibility test applied.

I will return to the issue of jobs, which is crucially important to the debate. At the moment, there are 70,000 jobs in oil and gas, with the Scottish Cluster and the Acorn project likely to create 15,000 jobs from next year onwards. To put that in context, the number of green jobs that are put at risk by the failure to support that project, which is one of many projects that are happening, represents more than 20 per cent of existing jobs in the oil and gas industry.

The UK Government’s decision means that some of those employment opportunities will be delayed or even lost. The UK Government’s failure to support the Scottish Cluster is a blow to our net zero ambitions and to the people of Scotland, particularly communities in the north-east of Scotland that are so dependent on energy transition. We have announced £500 million just transition funds for the north-east and have asked the UK Government to help by matching that. We are also supporting those in carbon-intensive industries with a skills guarantee.

Does the minister agree with the former SNP golden boy Fergus Mutch, who said in The Press and Journal just today that the just transition fund is

“a drop in the ocean”?

Richard Lochhead

That is why we want the UK Government to match it. I am glad that the member agrees with the point, and I hope that he will make representations to the UK Government to that effect.

The Acorn project is at the heart of the transition for which everyone is calling for support. Scotland has vast potential for CO2 storage in the North Sea and remains the best-placed nation in Europe to deploy CCUS. The Scottish Cluster projects clearly present the best opportunity to develop industrial emissions reductions at scale by the mid-2020s.

As Gillian Martin said, when asked about the UK Government decision, the chief executive officer of the Committee on Climate Change, Chris Stark, stated that the Scottish Cluster seemed a “slam dunk … for support”, noting that:

“we should be able to get a third project going and that the Scottish project would be a really good candidate for that.”

Stephen Kerr

Does the minister also agree with Chris Stark’s comment that the UK Government’s announcement

“is a substantial step forward that lays out clearly the government’s ambitions to cut emissions across the economy over the coming 15 years and beyond”,

factoring in the fact that there will be further announcements?

Richard Lochhead

Chris Stark said that the Scottish Cluster was a “slam dunk ... for support”, but of course it did not get that support in the announcement from the UK Government. I hope that today we can all rally round and ensure that we get the Scottish project included in track 1 as soon as possible. The fact is that Acorn is expected to store over 6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2030, which is roughly 10 per cent of Scotland’s current emissions, and it plans to take that up to 20 million tonnes by 2040.

In conclusion, the UK Government’s decision not to award the Scottish Cluster track 1 status is illogical; shows a clear lack of ambition; represents a huge missed opportunity for green jobs in Scotland, particularly in the north-east of the country; and shows a lack of leadership on climate change. Ian Wood, again, described the decision as making

“little economic or environmental sense”


“a real blow to Scotland”.

I therefore urge all the parties to heed Gillian Martin’s advice and stand together to make the case that this project is essential for Scotland to meet its net zero ambitions and to deliver green jobs as part of the energy transition, particularly in the north-east of Scotland. We need the mistake of the Acorn project’s rejection to be corrected as an absolute priority so that we can get the project off the ground, get going and get the transition under way to help Scotland meet our net zero targets.

That concludes the debate.

14:02 Meeting suspended.  

14:30 On resuming—