SNP criticised for hosting major polluters at conference

The SNP’s annual conference featured exhibits from an oil giant and an energy firm accused of being “the world’s biggest tree burner”. 

Campaigners said that the involvement of the two firms at the conferenceBP and Drax — was “a deliberate attempt” to “gain access and influence with political decision makers”. They called on SNP members to “see straight through the greenwash” presented by the firms at the event. 

BP is the world’s sixth biggest oil company and has reaped massive profits this year on the back of soaring energy prices across the world. 

Although it has invested more in renewables over recent years, the majority of its profits still come from the fossil fuel sector. BP is also planning to drill new oil and gas in the North Sea and its climate plan was branded “grossly insufficient” earlier in 2022. 

Meanwhile, Drax has come under fire over recent weeks following a report that its bioenergy plant in Yorkshire is allegedly powered by wood pellets produced by felling trees from important natural forests in Canada. 

Drax has denied the allegations and said the forests are harvested for high value timber used in the construction industry, not for the production of biomass. It said that the biomass used at its Yorkshire site is sustainable. 

The company was also forced to make multi-million dollar settlements to US regulators after claims it had breached limits on dangerous air pollution at wood pellet factories close to low-income, majority-black communities in the US Deep South. 

Drax also hosted events at the Conservative and Labour party conferences. 

The attendance of major polluters at the SNP conference is a deliberate attempt by these companies to gain access and influence with political decision makers.

Freya Aitchison, Friends of the Earth Scotland

The SNP conference was hosted in Aberdeen between 8-10 October. The party said that it provided assistance in arranging exhibitions and meetings at the conference, but that this “does not necessarily imply support” for groups hosting them. 

A pro-vaping conference event co-sponsored by a tobacco firm and featuring right wing think tank was cancelled at the last minute, reportedly after the anti-smoking charity, Ash Scotland, complained to Peter Murrell, the party’s chief executive.

BP said it is reducing its production of oil and gas by 40 per cent by 2030 as well as investing in offshore wind and hydrogen capacity to support the energy transition. Drax argued that it has supported over one thousand jobs in Scotland and owns a portfolio of renewable energy assets in the country. 

The Scottish Greens – who have a cooperation agreement with the SNP at Holyrood – called on all political parties to “get behind the transition to net zero”. They added that there would be “no place” for firms to spread an “anti-climate message” at the Greens annual conference in Dundee. 

Drax and BP were joined as exhibitors at the conference by the Scottish Cluster, an initiative formed to scale up carbon capture and storage (CCS) and other low carbon technologies in Scotland. 

Supporters of CCS believe that it will play an important role in Scotland’s transition to net-zero by offsetting emissions from high-polluting sectors. 

But CCS has also been branded a “false solution” to the climate crisis by green groups, who claim it is being promoted by fossil fuel companies to prolong oil and gas extraction. Scottish Cluster partners include Shell, ExxonMobil and Ineos.

As well as these exhibits, there were also a number of fringe events at the conference which involved climate change and Scottish energy policy. 

The Scottish energy secretary, Michael Matheson, was part of the panel for an event on energy security alongside a representative of Offshore Energies UK, the trade body that represents the North Sea oil and gas industry. 

SSE – which operates the Peterhead power station, Scotland’s dirtiest site – hosted a similar event on energy security. The panel included a representative from Storegga, one of the companies behind Scotland’s biggest fledgling CCS project.

BP is attending the SNP conference and is planning to drill for more oil and gas in the North Sea.
Image credit: iStock/avstraliavasin

Friends of the Earth Scotland oil and gas campaigner, Freya Aitchison, said that it was “shocking to see that the SNP is happy to take BP’s money” despite the “devastation the company is causing round the world”. 

She added that it was likely the firm’s exhibit focused on their renewable projects and electric vehicle charging points, but would have been “silent on their continued climate-wrecking expansion of new oil and gas around the world”. 

Aitchison said: “The attendance of major polluters at the SNP conference is a deliberate attempt by these companies to gain access and influence with political decision makers. SNP members hopefully saw straight through the greenwash and recognise the company’s scandalous role in driving the climate emergency.”

According to Katy Brown of Biofuelwatch – which campaigns against bioenergy plants like the one Drax operates in Yorkshire – the involvement of big polluters in party conferences should “become a thing of the past”. 

“Drax is the world’s biggest tree burner and is directly involved in the destruction of natural forests in Canada,” Brown told The Ferret. 

“How can we expect political parties to make decisions in the best interest of the climate when they are receiving money from a company that is destroying forests, harming wildlife, polluting communities and making the climate crisis worse?

“Whilst Drax was promoting itself as a purveyor of renewable electricity at the SNP conference this weekend, nothing could be further from the truth.”

You can read more of The Ferret’s coverage of the oil industry here

The SNP directed The Ferret to a disclaimer in its conference programme when asked about the involvement of Drax and BP. 

The disclaimer said: “The Scottish National Party has provided assistance in arranging exhibitions and fringe meetings by various organisations at conference. This assistance does not necessarily imply any support of that organisation.

“Fringe listings and selection of speakers are wholly a matter for the sponsors and organisers of fringe meetings, and as such the content of the listings and the meetings may not reflect the views of the SNP. Likewise, the SNP does not endorse the products advertised in this guide or recommend any of the services advertised.”

A spokesperson for Drax claimed that the company contributed £133m towards the Scottish economy last year and supported 1,250 jobs. They added that plans to increase the capacity of the company’s Cruachan hydroelectric power station would “support hundreds more jobs and enable more renewable power onto the grid”. 

A BP spokesperson said: “While BP is reducing its overall oil and gas production globally by 40 per cent by 2030, our focus in the UK is on developing homegrown resources that are close to our existing strategic production facilities in the North Sea.

“In parallel to this, we have teams in Aberdeen today working on our Morven offshore wind project on the east coast of Scotland which, once operational, will power approximately three million homes. Our joint venture with Aberdeen City Council is progressing plans to develop Scotland’s first scalable green hydrogen production facility.

“We welcomed the opportunity to share more detail about these plans with delegates at the SNP conference.”

Featured image credit: flickr/the SNP

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