Consultation on Scottish energy plan “lacking transparency”

The Scottish Government has been criticised for asking the public for views on its new energy plan without publishing the key independent analysis which underpins it.

Campaigners have told The Ferret that by withholding the analysis of future oil reserves and jobs in the North Sea, the government has undermined confidence in its own consultation and left the process looking “deeply flawed and lacking transparency”.

A draft of Scotland’s new energy strategy was published alongside a roadmap for the future of oil and gas workers – the just transition plan – on 10 January. A finalised version is due to come out later this year, after the consultation process concludes. 

The document outlined how the government believes the Scottish energy sector will change in order to meet the country’s climate targets. It includes plans to scale up renewable power capacity, heat our homes more efficiently, and reduce energy consumption. 

But the headline policy being consulted on is whether the Scottish Government should adopt a “presumption against” new oil and gas licences and a phase out of production in the North Sea.

Green groups and campaigners have questioned how individuals and organisations with a “stake in a just transition” for oil workers can engage with the consultation process when “key pieces” of work are not available to the public.

They called on the government to publish the missing analysis “immediately” and extend the consultation deadline beyond 4 April. 

The Scottish Government said the independent analysis would be made available “shortly” and added that opportunities were being developed to ensure people can learn more about it once it’s published. 

The draft strategy recommends a reduction in North Sea production not only because of the damage further extraction of oil and gas could do to the climate, but also because the “maturity” of the basin means that it is a “declining resource”. 

This view was underpinned by the unpublished independent analysis, which was commissioned as part of the Bute House Agreement which saw the SNP go into coalition with the Scottish Greens

The analysis looked specifically at the “pathway of oil and gas production” projected for the North Sea, Scotland’s energy requirements, and the “just transition impacts” of declining oil and gas resources off the Scottish coast.

“It is not reasonable for ministers to ask people to engage with the consultation without having all the evidence in front of them”

Mary Church, Friends of the Earth Scotland

Oil and gas production is an issue reserved to Westminster meaning the UK Government has the final say on whether or not new fields are opened in the North Sea.

However, the Scottish Government provides some financial support to the North Sea industry and has historically backed further oil and gas production, so it would be an important symbolic step if that support is officially ended when the new energy strategy is published.  

The government’s own Just Transition Commission has already criticised it for a lack of engagement with stakeholders when developing the draft strategy. 

Its chairman, Professor Jim Skea, said in January that he was “deeply concerned” about the lack of “adequate policy actions” in the strategy to move offshore oil workers into the renewables sector, adding he had not been consulted prior to publication. 

According to the strategy, the number of people employed in the energy sector will increase by 2050 due to a booming renewables sector, with workers in oil industry hubs like Aberdeen and Grangemouth retrained to work in green industries.

Business leaders in the north east of Scotland have reacted negatively to the strategy, with the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce describing it as a “betrayal” of North Sea workers.

The energy strategy consultation is questioning whether the Scottish Government should continue to support the North Sea oil and gas industry. Photo credit: iStock/jgshields

Environmental groups like Friends of the Earth Scotland, on the other hand, believe it does not move quickly enough to eliminate climate pollution from the Scottish energy system.

The group’s head of campaigns, Mary Church, said it was “not reasonable for ministers to ask people to engage with the consultation without having all the evidence in front of them”. 

“The consultation process is deeply flawed and lacks transparency,” Church told The Ferret. 

“How can individuals and organisations with a stake in a just transition for the energy sector properly input to the process when key pieces of analysis and input that have supposedly helped shape it have not been made available publicly?

“The Scottish Government should publish the missing information immediately and extend the consultation deadline accordingly.”

Church added that the energy consultation process “doesn’t exactly inspire confidence” ahead of work to develop transition plans for other key sectors such as transport, agriculture, and construction. 

This is also the view held by the think tank, Common Weal. Its head of policy and research, Craig Dalzell, claimed the energy strategy was the “latest in a long run of consultations where the defining buzzword is ‘co-design’” but consultees “are not given the information they need to adequately respond to questions raised”.

Dalzell said: “The Scottish Government knows that its stated policies – even if delivered on time – will not add up to their Net Zero targets and they know that their Net Zero targets are themselves insufficient for Scotland to meet our Paris climate obligations.

“The draft energy strategy should take its start point from that end goal and work out what needs to be done to reach it, rather than the current approach of deciding policies on the fly and working out later how many more will be needed.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As part of the Bute House Agreement, the Scottish Government committed to undertake a detailed analysis to better understand the future prospects for the North Sea.

“We have now received the final report and are making arrangements for it to be published shortly. As part of final preparations for the publication of the report, we are developing opportunities for people from across the energy sector and beyond to learn more about the methodology and data contained in the report.”

Featured image credit: iStock/Alexisaj

1 comment
  1. This so-called ask by our second class politicians, is the exact same way that Brexit was presented by The Conservative & Fascist Party which meant no-one knew what they were voting for, asking for or what the end product would look like. We all know how that farce turned out.

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