Rishi Sunak confirms carbon capture plans in Scotland

The prime minister has announced millions of pounds of funding for a carbon capture project ahead of a visit to the north east of Scotland.

Rishi Sunak emphasised the role the region will play in the UK’s wider energy security plans as he confirmed 100 new North Sea oil and gas licences.

The UK government said Scottish schemes would help it grow the economy and meet its 2050 net zero commitment.

But opponents say the Conservatives are “doubling down” on fossil fuels.

It comes as the party faces internal divisions over its green policies – such as the review over low-traffic neighbourhoods in England – with some MPs calling for a rethink.

Mr Sunak confirmed funding for the Acorn Project in St Fergus, Aberdeenshire, on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme.

And he said the announcement meant the UK now had four clusters across that would help it transition to net zero in a new industry and strengthen energy security.

Mr Sunak told the programme it would support thousands of jobs across the UK and defended the new oil and gas licences as “the right thing to do”.

He added: “Even when we reach net zero in 2050, a quarter of our energy needs will still come from oil and gas and domestic gas production has about a quarter or a third of the carbon footprint of imported gas.”

The prime minister also said it made “absolutely no sense” to import energy supplies with “two to three times the carbon footprint of what we have got at home”.

The Acorn Project will be located at St Fergus gas terminal in Aberdeenshire
The prime minister also told the programme international events continued to have a bearing in the UK as a result of energy supplies being “weaponised by dictators”.

He added increasing home-grown sources of energy would improve the UK’s resilience, create jobs and generate tax revenue to fund public services.

Mr Sunak said the government was determined to transition to net zero in a “proportionate and pragmatic” way.

And he also defended his plans to fly to Scotland as “an efficient use of time for the person running the country” and highlighted investment in new technologies, such as sustainable aviation fuel.

The prime minister said: “If your approach to climate change is to say that no one should go on holiday, no one should go on a plane, I think you are completely and utterly wrong.”

The Acorn project in St Fergus in Aberdeenshire missed out, quite controversially, on track one of funding for this back in 2021.

Instead it went to two projects in the north of England.

That was highly controversial because there had been heavy hints placed that the Scottish project would form part of that.

It was one of the most advanced projects in the UK, if not the most advanced, and then suddenly it was dropped.

The accusation was that the Conservative government at Westminster was favouring Red Wall constituencies following its success at the last general election.

But it was always the case that this would be a sequencing of events.

Between the projects announced in 2021 and today 10 mega tonnes of carbon dioxide will be captured and stored by 2030, the UK government says.

That includes emissions from Mosmorran, from Grangemouth, from a new power station to be built at Peterhead and, potentially, from direct air capture.

It effectively sucks carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and also stores it.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn welcomed the announcement but described the time it had taken to get over the line as “18 years of dither and delay”.

Mr Flynn, who is the MP for Aberdeen South, said new licences should be granted on “an evidence-based approach which takes into account the climate situation and wider energy security.”

He also emphasised the importance of a “just transition” to protect North Sea jobs and employment.

The St Fergus project, a joint venture between Shell UK and other companies, could see up to 21,000 jobs created.

If given the go ahead, it would become Scotland’s first carbon capture and storage facility, which would see harmful greenhouse gas emissions piped under the North Sea.

This would prevent the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, by capturing it at the point where the fossil fuel is being burnt.

The UK government said its “decisive action” would provide highly-skilled jobs for young people in the region.

It added this package would “defend the public” against the disruption of global energy supplies by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However climate campaigners said carbon capture was a greenwashing tactic designed to keep the fossil fuel industry in business.

March Church, of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “Funding for the Acorn project would be yet another massive public subsidy to oil companies who have been making billions in profits, while ordinary people are struggling to pay the bills.

“Instead of handing more money to polluters, it is time to redirect that investment to climate solutions that we know can deliver emissions cuts and improve people’s lives today – such as improving public transport and insulating people’s homes to help with energy bills.”

What is carbon capture?
Burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal to generate electricity emits carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the main driver of climate change.

The carbon capture process stops most of the CO2 produced from being released, and either re-uses it or stores it underground.

Carbon capture technology is seen by policy makers as a vital tool in reaching the net zero target by the middle of the century.

Some environmentalists, however, are against it because they consider it a distraction from the urgent need to cut emissions.

How does carbon capture fight climate change?
The Acorn Project has been under development in various forms for more than a decade.

It had hoped to be one of the first projects of its kind to receive government backing in 2021, but lost out to two projects in the north of England around the Humber and the Mersey.

SNP Westminster leader and MP for Aberdeen South, Stephen Flynn, said “broken promises” had left Scotland’s green energy future in jeopardy.

Welcoming the investment, he added: “There can be no more broken promises or delays. Now is the time to strike on Scotland’s green energy potential.”

There have been questions raised about the government’s ability to meet its 2050 net zero target, with its climate advisers having warned the UK risks falling behind without much faster action.

On Friday, Mr Sunak said he was committed to meeting the target in a “pragmatic and proportionate way” but without “unnecessarily adding costs and burdens to families”.

Net zero means no longer adding to the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Mr Sunak has faced calls from some Tories to change the deadline for the 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesels cars, but told the Sunday Telegraph he was not planning to do so.

There has also been debate over the expansion of London’s ultra-low emission zone (Ulez), which was widely seen as helping Conservatives seal a narrow victory in the Uxbridge by-election.

Both Mr Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer have urged London mayor Sadiq Khan to reflect on the rollout as people struggle with cost-of-living pressures.

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