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Following the declaration of a climate emergency on the 1st May 2019, the UK Government has been ambitious in its efforts to combat climate change and deliver deep decarbonisation. For instance, in 2019 the UK Government amended the 2008 Climate Change Act to enshrine a target of net zero emissions by 2050 in law, and is on track to outperform its third carbon budget, which runs from 2018-22. However, a large disruption to the UK’s decarbonisation agenda exists in the form of Scottish separation.

A separated Scotland would mean the end of a streamlined green industrial strategy; a Scotland lacking a relationship with the rest of the UK that delivers on the more costly aspects of decarbonisation; and a diminished voice for both Holyrood and Westminster on climate-related issues, no longer being able to act as a Union on the global stage.

The nature of the green industrial strategy in the UK is very much integrated across Scotland and the rest of the UK, and streamlined to maximise speed, output and profit. Scotland’s resources for generating renewable electricity are some of the highest in Europe, with renewables producing 97.4% of Scotland’s electricity in 2020, in part due to a majority of the UK’s wind capacity being located in Scottish waters

Should Scottish separation occur, it would cause a complete overhaul of this streamlined strategy. Scotland, dependent on UK support in the development of its renewables, would be unable to maintain the innovation it has achieved in the field of renewable energy, with complex Anglo-Scottish Corporations, such as the public Crown Estate Scotland, and the private SSE, controlling much of the future development of Scottish renewable energy.

The close relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK in its green energy strategy would mean that, if the possibility of separation is achieved, the development of renewable energy resources on the British isles may not be fully realised. Although Scottish separation would allow for full Scottish control over these resources, the development of these resources would progress at a substantially slower rate than if there was continued unionism. This would hinder Scotland’s ability to tackle the climate crisis. 

Separation would also result in Scotland being bore with the expensive brunt of decarbonisation. North Sea oil, once a major pillar of the Scottish economy, is now planned to be phased out of use by 2040. An economic report by Oil and Gas UK projected the current decommissioning costs of oil rigs in the UK waters in the North Sea would reach £19 billion by 2040. Furthermore, operators of oil fields leased before 1993 would be able to claim a rebate of up to 75% of the decommissioning cost from their past payments of petroleum revenue tax. 

Put simply, a newly formed, economically isolated Scotland would be left alone to pay significant amounts of money if it were to continue to follow its own goals to combat climate change. Most likely, the goal of phasing out oil completely would not be achieved by 2040, as a result of several factors. A 10 year wait for EU membership would prevent access to the EU’s financial support for renewable energy projects. And access to UK Government funding would also restrict Scotland’s financial capacity to deliver more costly elements of decarbonisation.

Finally, an separate Scotland would lack the major global presence it currently has as part of the Union, with the UK being a key member in intergovernmental organisations, such as the G7 and a permanent member of the UN security council. This gives the UK significant influence to create incremental changes in response to the climate crisis, with the G7 announcing last week the doubling of funding to countries in the Global South to help deliver deep decarbonisation. A Scotland which remains part of the union would have greater clout in influencing international climate policy.

Scotland’s present day national policies in response to the climate crisis are worthy of their universal renown, but significant change can only be delivered through continued cooperation. By maintaining the Union, the interdependent system of renewable energy development will be maintained, and Scotland’s presence on the global stage vis-a-vis climate change will be preserved.

Luke is currently undertaking work experience at Bright Blue. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Raphael Hofmann]