David Duguid writes from Westminster about Extinction Rebellion climate protests and Carbon Capture and Storage
The Extinction Rebellion climate protests in Aberdeen last week understandably garnered a lot of media attention.
Activists blockaded the entry roads to Shell’s North Sea headquarters in Altens, preventing hundreds of staff from getting to work.
Extinction Rebellion Scotland said it wanted to disrupt “business as usual” for Shell. It said the oil major was one of the “top 10 carbon emitters in the world” and needed to stop further drilling for fossil fuels.
In a public statement, Shell said that it “agreed” with the protestors that action was needed on climate change.
However, industry body Oil and Gas UK said that the problem would only be solved by practical action and not by “conspiracy theories and stunts”.
I am sure there will be a range of views among people in Turriff about this.
There is no question that countries all over the world face an enormous challenge to reduce carbon emissions.
The UK Government has already set its target for ‘net zero’ by 2050.
That is not soon enough according to Extinction Rebellion, but it is the most realistic assessment according to the Independent Committee on Climate Change, given the time required to make the transition from fossil fuels.
Ironically, it is the infrastructure used by oil and gas companies in the North Sea that will facilitate a critical path to decarbonisation.
I have long been a champion of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCUS) technology and have made the case for St Fergus to be the first part of the UK in which this will be rolled out.
I was pleased that the Conservative manifesto at the last general election included a commitment to investing £800m to build the first fully deployed CCUS cluster by the mid-2020s.
But that is just one element of what needs to happen. Expertise in oil and gas is also being used to develop technology to use hydrogen as a clean fuel for the future.
I understand why Extinction Rebellion want to target oil and gas companies. And I also understand why they want media attention for their cause.
Keeping climate change at the top of the political agenda is a good thing.
However, attacking fossil fuel companies that are involved in finding some of the solutions to the problems we face is a little misguided.
If we were to shut down oil production tomorrow, then the UK would be reliant on foreign energy imports. Not only would this increase costs but would put jobs at risk, forcing a drain of the very skills required to facilitate the transition from fossil fuels.
Meeting the ‘net zero’ emissions target will require some big policy changes from government. It will require planting a lot more trees, and it may well require the phasing out of diesel cars and it will certainly require a transition to cleaner sources of energy.
However, if we are serious about it, then industry, government and the public must all work together and take real, effective action – not simply argue amongst ourselves.