SNP hits out at Conservative and Labour approaches to North Sea energy transition

The SNP is opposing the Labour Party’s proposals to end new North Sea oil and gas licencing and the Conservatives’ bullish support for annual licencing rounds, arguing that a more nuanced ‘case-by-case’ approach is needed.

SNP hits out at Conservative and Labour approaches to North Sea energy transition

Pictured: The Shearwater platform operated in the North Sea by Shell. Image: Stuart Conway for Shell.

The Party has set out its preferred approach to the North Sea’s energy transition in its manifesto ahead of next month’s general election.

As an advocate for Scottish independence, the Party wants powers relating to energy regulation, pricing and production devolved from Westminster to the Scottish Government.

The SNP’s manifesto argues that this would help to ease key challenges relating to clean energy adoption, including reforming the electricity grid connection process and modernising renewable energy auctions.

The Party also wants the UK Government to “bring forward an immediate emergency budget” to “reverse cuts to public spending” in energy, with a focus on renewables. The SNP is notably against new nuclear in Scotland while the Conservatives want to identify a large-scale project there.

Such a budget should also include £500m from Westminster coffers to support North Sea oil and gas workers to move into other energy and infrastructure roles as reserves “naturally decline” and the transition “gathers pace”. The Scottish Government is already promising this sum and wants to see funding matched.

The SNP manifesto states that the Party will advocate for new North Sea oil and gas licences to be allocated only on a “rigorously evidence-led, case-by-case basis”.

In contrast, the Labour Party would look to end new licences while honouring those already in train. The Conservative UK Government has sought to increase expansion by legislating for more frequent licencing rounds.

The Tories have justified this approach by pointing to an existing climate stress-test and invoking fears around energy security. Much debate has also been had about the embodied carbon of UK-produced oil and gas compared to imports.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has repeatedly stated that existing climate stress tests are too weak to align with the UK’s 2050 net-zero target and interim carbon budgets. It has called for a presumption against new exploration and extraction.

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) pathway to net-zero by 2050 for the global energy sector includes a near-term end to all upstream oil and gas projects with long lead times. Investment in extraction should instead be focused on making existing projects more efficient.

On the new green sectors that will drive economic growth during the North Sea transition, the SNP makes a dig at other parties for low public funding commitments. The manifesto states that a minimum of £28bn should be spent by Westminster each year in the green economy, including via new blended finance structures.

Labour had initially promised to spend £28bn annually here. However, the Party U-turned on this pledge in February, stating that it would not be able to deliver the full amount due to the ongoing economic downturn.

A new legal challenge

The SNP manifesto release came on the same day that Oceana UK threatened legal action against the Tories’ bullish support of North Sea oil and gas expansion. It has kick-started the judicial review process.

The environmental NGO is contesting that the Department for Energy Security and Net-Zero (DESNZ) and North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) are not properly accounting for the potential impact of new and expanded fields on Marine Protected Areas.

Of the 82 licences for exploratory drilling issued by the NSTA between October 2023 and this May, one third overlap with Marine Protected Areas.

Environmental assessments for these blocks, Oceana UK has argued, are so weak that they could undermine the Government’s marine protection targets – including an ambition for all seas to meet ‘good’ environmental status by 2042. The NGO has voiced concerns about habitat destruction from drilling, pollution risks and the impact of seismic blasting on animal health.

Oceana UK’s executive director Hugo Tagholm said: “The vital opportunity with these latest licences is that it is not too late. Government can take a long, hard look at these decisions and choose instead to end new oil and gas, to protect the ocean, and to invest in a just transition to nature-positive renewables and a future worth having.”

The NSTA has stated that it does not comment on potential or active litigation.

Make sense of the UK general election with our green policy matrix

edie has launched a new, free-to-download table outlining all the key green policy commitments – and some notable omissions – made by in the manifestoes of the Conservatives, Labour Party, Green Party, the Liberal Democrats and Reform UK.

The matrix outlines every mention of green policy across the five major manifestos, from air quality plans to corporate disclosure requirements and covering net-zero and energy grid transformations. This manifesto matrix provides a succinct snapshot of what the green economy could look like under different parties, based on their manifesto pledges.

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