United Kingdom

Has Boris Johnson killed off North Sea oil and gas? PM says industry should go green 'fast'

Boris Johnson appeared to sound the death knell for North Sea oil and gas today as he said the industry needed to move into green power 'as fast as we reasonably can'.

The Prime Minister called for a 'transition' away from fossil fuels as he visited an offshore wind farm off the Scottish coast today. 

He drew a parallel with the scaling down of coal use in power stations across Britain over the past 40 years.

But he drew the fury of Labour by saying Thatcher's 1980s closure of mines -  which led to bitter protects and strikes, had given the UK a 'big early start'. 

While he insisted that existing North Sea contracts should be honored, he said there had to be a 'smooth and sensible transition' to green alternatives like wind.

Both leaders are in Scotland ahead of the Cop26 UN climate change summit in the autumn, which is being hosted by the UK in Glasgow.

Global leaders will attend the summit, to be held from October 31 to November 12, in what is seen as a critical moment for the future of the planet. 

The Scottish oil industry is already under pressure amid opposition to plans for a new Shetland oil field.

Currently, an application is being mulled by the Oil and Gas Authority for the Cambo field. It could produce up to 255 million barrels of oil during its lifetime, but would release an estimated 132 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

The Scottish Greens, who are on the verge of agreeing an electoral pact with Nicola Sturgeon's SNP, are opposing it, as is Labour.

He last night attacked Sir Keir's over his call for the running down of oil and gas, saying it would put 100,000 jobs at risk.  

The Prime Minister boarded a ship on his way to visit an offshore wind farm in the Moray Firth this morning.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson onboard the Esvagt Alba during a visit to the Moray Offshore Windfarm East, off the Aberdeenshire coast

Mr Johnson tuned down an offer to meet Ms Sturgeon at her Bute House residence in Edinburgh before undertaking an engagement just 30 miles away yesterday

Mr Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer are visiting renewable energy projects in Scotland today as the country prepares to host the Cop26 climate conference.

PM offers Sturgeon Cop26 role after meeting snub 

Boris Johnson last night offered Nicola Sturgeon a 'huge' role at an upcoming global climate conference - after snubbing her offer of face-to-face talks during his visit to Scotland.

The Prime Minister said he wanted the Scottish First Minister and her Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts to be involved in Cop26, which takes place in Glasgow in November.

His offer comes amid a stand-off between Westminster and Edinburgh after he dismissed an offer of talks about Covid rebuilding during his current visit to Scotland.

Mr Johnson turned down an offer to meet Ms Sturgeon at her Bute House residence in Edinburgh before undertaking an engagement just 30 miles away. 

Both sides denied the move was a snub, but the First Minister branded his decision 'odd'.

The offer of a Cop26 role may also raise some Tory eyebrows. At the party's conference in 2019, Mr Johnson told an event that he did not want the Scottish leader involved, saying: 'I don't mind seeing a Saltire or two but I want to see the Union flag and I don't want to see Nicola Sturgeon anywhere near it.' 

However last night he told the BBC: 'It's a huge undertaking by the whole of the UK.

'I hope very much that the First Minister, along with all her colleagues around the UK, at whatever level in government, will evangelise, will exhort everybody she represents to do the needful.' 

Ms Sturgeon said his refusal to meet her was 'strange' and said it was for him to explain his refusal.

Mr Johnson denied snubbing her, when asked by reporters at the college, where he posed with police dogs in an area away from public access.

'No, I haven't. I'm always delighted, always, always, always, delighted - and look, we, seriously, we work together,' he said. 

Mr Johnson boarded the vessel Esvagt Alba for his visit to the Moray Offshore Windfarm East, off the Aberdeenshire coast today. 

Speaking to reporters aboard the ship this afternoon, Mr Johnson described the turbines he has seen as 'colossal', and added: 'The potential of Scottish wind is just incredible. This is an opportunity to generate high wage, high skilled jobs that have the additional pleasure and motivation for people that by doing them they're doing something to save the planet.'

Pressed on whether he would set a deadline for ending fossil fuel extraction, Mr Johnson said: 'Look at what we've done already. We've transitioned away from coal in my lifetime.

'Thanks to Margaret Thatcher, who closed so many coal mines across the country, we had a big early start and we're now moving rapidly away from coal altogether.'

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said: 'These are shameful comments from the Prime Minister, and reveal the Conservative Party's utter disregard for the communities still scarred by Thatcher's closure of the mines and failure to deliver good new jobs in their place.

'Without investment in good, green jobs as we move away from fossil fuels, the Conservatives risk repeating the mistakes of the past. It is vital that the green transition is a fair transition.

'The Prime Minister should apologise.'

Mr Johnson added that North Sea oil had been a 'huge part of the UK economy for decades now'. 

'We recognise that and there has got to be a smooth and sensible transition,' he said.

'But that doesn't mean there aren't massive opportunities to increase the use of green technology.'

Sir Keir, who today visited a wind farm in Eaglesham, south of Glasgow, last night called for a talks to discuss a closure of the oil and gas fields that worked for local people employed in them.

'It's got to be subject to consensus and agreement and we've got to... bring communities with us on this, otherwise there will be a disconnect between the obligations that we have to deal with the climate crisis and the communities that are going to be affected,' he said. 

When asked what timescale he would look to usher in, the Labour leader said it would be subject to agreement with areas of the country which would be impacted, such as in the north east of Scotland.

'We'll have to sit down and agree it, but we have to have a hard edged timetable,' the Labour leader said. 

But his comments were attacked by Mr Ross, who said: 'People across the North East will be appalled to hear that Keir Starmer is happy to throw away their livelihoods by agreeing a hard edged timetable to shut down the North Sea sector.

'Labour's plans would risk the 100,000 jobs that depend on our vital oil and gas industry.

'This position is potentially even more extreme than an SNP-Green coalition would hold. It's beyond reckless, especially when jobs and Scotland's economic recovery from Covid must be our top priority.'

Sir Keir has called for 'rapid green investment' across the UK as new figures reveal more than 75,000 green jobs have been lost over the past five years.

The Labour leader said the UK had to 'lead by example' on the climate crisis and invest more in jobs in renewable energy and technology via a 'Green New Deal', as he toured Scotland on a two-day visit.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics cited by Labour show a loss of 33,800 'direct' jobs and a further 41,400 jobs in the supply chain for low-carbon and renewable sectors between 2014 and 2019.

This includes thousands of fewer jobs in solar power, onshore wind, renewable electricity and bioenergy.

Sir Keir said: 'Tackling the climate crisis must be at the heart of everything we do. We are at a critical moment. In less than 100 days, Cop26 will be over and our chance to keep the planet's warming below 1.5 degrees will have either been grasped or abandoned.

'The UK must rise to this moment and lead by example. That means rapid action to create good, green jobs across the country. And it means a proper strategy to buy, make and sell more in Britain, to create good, unionised jobs in clean energy and through supply chains.

He added: 'Nobody here in the UK can afford for this issue to be yet another example of Boris Johnson bluster. We need real action, now. It is time for a Green New Deal.'

The Labour leader also criticised the Scottish Government's record on green jobs, claiming the SNP 'broke its pledge to create 130,000 green jobs by 2020'.

Sir Keir has called for 'rapid green investment' across the UK as new figures reveal more than 75,000 green jobs have been lost over the past five years.

In 2010, the Scottish Government predicted that jobs in the low-carbon sector would reach 130,000 by 2020 according to a now-archived official web page, but the latest ONS figures show 21,400 direct green jobs in Scotland, compared to 23,200 in 2014. 

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesperson said: 'As we build back better and greener from the pandemic, this Government is firmly committed to seizing the economic opportunities presented by the transition to a green economy.

'The data from 2019 and 2014 cannot be compared as there was a change in how the survey was conducted. In fact, ONS has concluded that the low-carbon and renewable energy economy has remained stable.'

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