How are we going to get to net zero here in the UK? Will it happen overnight, through economic degrowth or turning off the taps on the North Sea? Of course not – it will require innovation and new industries led by a skilled workforce.
There are around 200,000 skilled workers in the UK’s oil and gas industry and supply chain, many of whom are based in the North East of Scotland, including in my own constituency of Banff and Buchan.
The SNP and Green Scottish Government and their ‘presumption against new oil and gas’ doesn’t only risk losing these skilled workers, but also the energy transition to net zero itself.
If the oil and gas industry is shut down too soon, before we have increased our domestic, low carbon technologies capacity, there is a real risk of many of these workers going overseas before jobs have been created here for them to transition into. Indeed, ninety per cent of these workers have transferable skills needed to successfully transition to net zero – we cannot afford to lose them.
That is why it’s important to remember the recently consented Rosebank field, other fields already consented like Jackdaw and yes, also those fields awaiting consent such as Cambo, do not represent an increase in North Sea oil and gas production. Rather, it is part of managing the steady decline in domestic production we have seen since the 1990s.
Oil and gas will be phased down as a function of demand as more renewable and low carbon energy ramps up. But, we now need the national and devolved governments to work together, and be open to all kinds of energy investment to ensure skills and supply chains are kept here to help deliver the energy transition.
The UK government has created the frameworks to unlock renewable and low carbon technologies via the Energy Act, where it has taken legal powers to introduce funding models for energy projects such as hydrogen and carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS). I’m lobbying ministers to use these powers to back our CCUS industry and start allocating funding to clusters like Acorn in my constituency of Banff and Buchan. I wish the SNP would also get behind this project too, rather than continually and cynically talking the project down.
The energy transition however is not just about changes in where we get our energy from. Skills need to be developed across every area of the economy. For example, only 30% of garages in Scotland offer repairs and maintenance for electric vehicles (EVs), with a lack of qualification as the main barrier to more garages offering this.
Similarly with home heating, there are currently under 400 heat pump engineers in Scotland, far short of the 4,000 required to meet Scottish Government heat pump targets. Every sector is likely to have an element of change as different technology emerges. But it’s not just about heat pumps and EVs, we also need to make sure we have the skills, technology, expertise and supply chains to produce the energy on which these products depend. We must ensure this aspect of the skills transition is not ignored.
The private sector should be incentivised to feed into qualifications and technical education courses for skills which are needed today and will be needed in the future. Like defence, energy is one of those sectors of the economy, reserved to the UK Parliament but which is highly dependent on education, skills development and apprenticeships – which are devolved. This is a perfect example of the need for the UK Government and devolved administrations to work together. From primary school energy-related projects to energy-related college courses, there is a huge opportunity to embed the opportunities of the energy transition in curricula across the whole United Kingdom.
Our young people learn about how the climate is changing, and how it is impacting us both here in the UK and across the globe, so we must also show them that they can be part of the solution. We must continue to do more to attract young people, especially young women, into learning STEM subjects. We must also show that a career that starts in oil and gas helping decarbonise that industry, could easily transition into other parts of the energy sector, just as the sources of our energy transition do.
Only if we have a skilled and inspired workforce to drive our energy transition forward will we have any chance of reaching our net zero targets. What we need, instead of virtue-signalling policy promises that don’t appear, is a pragmatic jobs-first approach to getting to net zero.
Whether it’s the SNP’s ‘presumption against oil and gas’ or Labour’s ‘Just Stop Oil’ approach, it is clear that only the Conservatives have a pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach to delivering our energy security and net zero objectives.
First published by Politics.co.uk. David Duguid MP (Banff and Buchan) is a member of the Conservative Environment Network.