Scots majority believe Union is bad for the environment — in Tory poll

SCOTS believe that the union is holding back progress on ending the country’s contribution to the climate crisis, new research has revealed.

But more people north of the border think that transitioning the North Sea oil and gas sector away from fossil fuels will be easier backed by the financial power of the United Kingdom.

The study was carried out by Opinium on behalf of the Conservative Environment Network ahead of the Tory conference which begins today.

Opinium Research surveyed 3,003 adults from September 17 to September 22 with nationally representative weighting.

The poll found that 39 per cent of Scots think an independent Scotland would reach net zero emissions more quickly compared to 27% who disagreed. But those who believe independence would help Scotland cut harmful emissions at a faster pace believed this would harm the progress of the UK overall in eliminating carbon.

37% of Scots agree that it will be harder for the UK to tackle climate change if Scotland becomes independent from the UK, compared to 33% who disagree.

Scotland has set a target of becoming carbon net zero by 2045, while the overall UK ambition is 2050.

READ MORE: SNP’s energy targets at risk by Scottish grid ‘premium’ charges

But Chris Stark, the chief executive of statutory adviser, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), has told MSPs that these differing timescales were recommended by the CCC back in 2019 and are “the same target”.

He added: “The UK achieving net zero by 2050 rests on Scotland getting there five years earlier, at least. That is not because we think that Scotland is in a different political position and willing to make ambitious statements.

“It is because, importantly, Scotland has greater capacity to do some of the things that will need to happen across the UK in order to get to net zero. In particular, Scotland will be in a better position to store carbon in the natural world. It also has some industrial advantages that allow us to get to net zero earlier.”

The SNP said the poll “vindicates” the party’s belief that “Scotland could do so much more and reach its full potential in tackling the climate crisis an independent country”.

But the study also found that on balance, Scots believe that the North Sea oil and gas sector would receive more financial assistance to transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy as part of the UK than if Scotland separated from the union – with 37% agreeing and 22% disagreeing.

HeraldScotland: Scots believe transition oil and gas would be easier with the UK Government's financial powersScots believe transition oil and gas would be easier with the UK Government’s financial powers

The Opinium polling shows that a majority of Scots and the wider UK public see the UK as a strong leader on climate change than the four nations individually – a boost for Boris Johnson ahead of his government hosting the COP26 global climate conference in Glasgow next month.

David Duguid, Scottish Conservative MP for Banff and Buchan said: “This polling shows that the public recognise the need for us to work together across the United Kingdom to make the energy transition to net zero and hand on a better world to future generations.

“Here in the North East, the oil and gas industry possess much of the technology and expertise required and are fully engaged in the development of renewable and low carbon energy solutions and mitigations.

HeraldScotland: David DuguidDavid Duguid

“The SNP have announced funding for the North East, but with no actual plan of action, while the UK Government has already led the way with the energy white paper, a 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution and a North Sea transition deal — all of which bring with them the prospect of tens of billions in investment and thousands of jobs.”

He added: “Scotland has two governments that need to pull together in these efforts – but the SNP are more interested in pulling the country apart.

“It’s crystal clear that without this pooling and sharing of financial resources, an independent Scotland would not be able to support comunities like mine in the North East to diversify away from fossil fuels.

“As with so many other issues, on the climate, we can achieve much more together than we ever could apart.”

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Colin Malaney, head of UK programmes at the Conservative Environment Network said that the study suggests “Scottish unionists should emphasis UK action on climate change at home and abroad to strengthen their case” for Scotland remaining part of the UK.

He added: “The UK Government has supported the development of clean technologies in Scotland, including the booming offshore wind sector and recent carbon capture investments.

“The challenge as we approach this November’s crucial COP26 summit in Glasgow is to demonstrate in a concrete fashion that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland achieve better environmental outcomes by working together.”

But SNP MP Alan Brown MP, the party’s energy and climate change spokesperson at Westminster, stressed that an independent Scotland would still work with its neighbours to propel forward efforts to tackle climate change.

The SNP has previously blamed the UK Government for its policy around grid charges and stalling the growth of renewable sectors such as tidal power and green hydrogen as curbing progress towards net zero.

Mr Brown said the study shows that the public believe Scotland could accelerate its progress towards net zero as an independent country.

HeraldScotland: SNP MP Alan BrownSNP MP Alan Brown

He said: “This poll vindicates what we have been saying – Scotland could do so much more and reach its full potential in tackling the climate crisis as an independent country.

“With Scotland already a world leader on fighting climate change with the most ambitious net zero targets in the UK, and the Westminster government holding us back on renewable energy with sky-high grid charges, the lack of action on carbon capture and their nuclear obsession, it is not surprising more people think we would achieve net-zero with the full powers of independence.

“And as an independent country, we would work with the rest of the UK and countries across the world – just as we do now – to ensure we are all playing a role in reversing climate change to save our planet.”

The Scottish Greens have used the start of the Conservative conference today to warn that the Prime Minister’s policies risk exacerbating the climate crisis as global efforts reach a crucial period.

READ MORE: Ramping up nuclear power would be a ‘backward step’ for Scotland

The Greens’ environment and climate spokesperson, Mark Ruskell, stressed that plans to permit a new Heathrow runway, approve new oil extraction off Shetland and proposals to open a coal mine in the north of England showed that the Prime Minister and his party were failing to lead on the climate crisis – despite the UK Government being handed a key leadership role in global efforts at COP26.

Mr Ruskell said: “All eyes will be on Glasgow in November when world leaders arrive for the COP26 climate summit.

“Government’s from around the globe will arrive in Scotland’s biggest city looking for leadership from the host government, yet they’ll be faced with a UK Government that is actively exacerbating the climate crisis by pursuing policies of the past instead of looking to the future. Boris Johnson’s government are climate extremists.

HeraldScotland: Greens MSP Mark RuskellGreens MSP Mark Ruskell

“The policies pursued by the Westminster government– more oil and gas extraction, aviation growth, huge road expansion projects and even the prospect of opening a new coal mine, are akin to climate change denial.”

He added: “Scotland alone has the potential to deliver 25% of Europe’s offshore renewable energy, yet the policies of a government the people of Scotland never voted for make it harder to utilise that potential. Instead, they pay fossil fuel giants to extract planet busting hydrocarbons from beneath our seas. And for what? Sky high energy prices, a fuel shortage and a cost-of-living crisis.

“The UK Government still has time to change course, accept the climate science and set out a positive vision for the future built on renewables. If it does so it might just be able to bring others along with it at COP26. If the Prime Minister and his government stick to their current path, then success in Glasgow looks less likely, and that would be a major setback in the urgent fight to mitigate the climate emergency.”

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