from Sunday Herald, 24 October 2010
Scottish ministers have come under attack from one of Britain’s top green gurus for their “addiction” to the oil and coal industries that threaten to tip the world into catastrophic climate chaos.
Jonathon Porritt, a former high-level government adviser and one of the rock stars of the environment world, has condemned the Scottish government for backing new oil and coal developments which will generate huge amounts of climate pollution.
Prolonging the future of last century’s dirty old industries at the same time as promising to combat climate change was “cognitive dissonance on a massive scale”, he told the Sunday Herald.
Expert calculations showed that to avoid “disastrous” climate change the world could only afford to emit another 890 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. That meant, Porritt argued, that 75% of the oil and coal reserves around the world to which money had already been committed ought to stay in the ground.
Exploring and drilling for new oil reserves in deep waters off Shetland “doesn’t make any sense at all,” he said. Yet such drilling has been backed by the nationalist government, as well as Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative politicians.
The historical consequences of Scotland’s dependence on fossil fuels had created a mismatch between what was happening and what needed to happen, he argued. “We all have to share the pain in an economy that is dependent on future revenues from unsustainable energy sources."
He also criticised Scottish ministers for backing a new coal-fired power station at Hunterston in North Ayrshire as part of the National Planning Framework. The proposal was “completely and utterly crazy” and “ludicrous”, he said.
Porritt was chairman of the government’s Sustainable Development Commission for nine years until he stood down last year. He provided advice on all environmental issues to successive UK prime ministers and Scottish first ministers.
He is also the co-founder of the Forum for the Future, which advises businesses and public agencies on sustainable development. He was interviewed by the Sunday Herald in London last week after addressing a seminar of leading businesses organised by the sustainability consultants, Logica.
Porritt’s message was not all negative, however. “I believe that the Scottish economy could transition out of dependence on hydrocarbons by strategic investment in renewables,” he said.
He compared Scotland’s efforts to expand renewable energy sources like wind, wave and tidal power to that of China. “It is the only bit of the UK that has demonstrated anything like the same long-term strategic commitment,” he said.
“Scotland is using its democratic systems to drive a more coherent programme of investment in low carbon technology than any other part of the UK. I take my hat off to them for what they are doing.”
The Scottish government didn’t directly respond to Porritt’s accusations about oil addiction. Instead it argued that control of North Sea taxation would allow Scotland to maximise the competitive advantage of the oil and gas industry and create an oil fund which would provide “a source of wealth effectively for ever”.
The application for a new coal station at Hunterson was with ministers “and a final decision will only be taken once all representations are considered,” said a government spokesman.
“We welcome further recognition that Scotland is the leading destination for the development and deployment of green energy. Our clear advantage is in renewables and clean fossil fuels and we are working across government to transform our energy supply.”
But the Green MSP, Patrick Harvie, congratulated Porritt for hitting the nail on the head. “All the other political parties say they want to tackle climate change, but aren't willing to ditch the fossil fuels which are driving it,” he said.
“The SNP have long been hooked on oil, but in government they're pursuing all forms of fossil fuels. They are joined by Labour, LibDems and Tories who also support new deepwater drilling despite knowing that we already have enough fossil fuels to make the climate targets impossible to reach.”