The co-leader of the Scottish Greens has predicted a toughening in the political stance towards the oil and gas industry in Scotland ahead of November’s COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow amid what he described as wider-spread recognition that the fossil fuel industry is “not going to be there for the future”.
Patrick Harvie also said that Scotland should focus on rebuilding its tourism industry with a “much reduced aviation footprint”. Domestic tourism, he added, represents a “massive area of growth”.
Mr Harvie, who will be the keynote speaker at next month’s “COP26: A Catalyst for Change” event, said the global climate change summit will help energise Scotland’s green movement. This will build on the growing realisation among the public – even in “parts of the country like the north-east” where many livelihoods depend on it – that North Sea oil and gas will not be there for the long-term and will require new industries to replace it.
“But most political parties are still committed astonishingly to a principle called maximum extraction – essentially getting every drop of oil and gas out of the North Sea that can be done profitably,” he said. “If we do that, and if every country around the world has a similar approach, we are fried.
“There’s just no way out of the hard reality that we’ve got far more fossil fuel in existing reserves than we can afford to burn. I think most people get that, and get the pace of change that is required, but that is not what we are hearing from most political parties yet.
“I think they will catch up before too long though. I will be surprised if, even by the time of the COP itself, we haven’t seen political parties in Scotland start to change their attitude to the oil and gas industry.”
The Scottish Green Party is in the final stages of striking a co-operation deal with the SNP that will reportedly see one of the Greens’ eight MSPs take on a ministerial office at Holyrood. The arrangement will require the backing of Scottish Green members, who have been told they will see the final wording of the agreement by August 20, with a vote to follow on August 28.
Mr Harvie said the context of the climate debate is “not just the incredible urgency because of the decades of delay”. It is also about how, having come through 18 months of a global pandemic, governments choose to rebuild their economies.
“So for a country like Scotland…our tourism industry is hugely important, but it doesn’t have to be dependent on people flying around the world,” he said. “Domestic tourism can be a massive area of growth, whether that’s about making sure tourism businesses have a prospect for a future, or that people have more places that they can think of going on holiday that they’ve maybe not considered for years when aviation was cheap and abundant.
“There is a real opportunity to reshape our tourism industry so that it is still a successful part of our economy, but with a much-reduced aviation footprint. There’s a whole host of areas in our society where Covid recovery gives us the chance to think again about what’ we’re trying to build, rather than just trying to prop up the economy that caused us to be taken to the brink of crisis in the first place.”
The virtual Catalyst for Change event will focus on how government, policymakers, businesses and activists are tackling the challenges and opportunities in Scotland’s climate response. It is being hosted by The Herald in association with international law firm CMS.
“We know that Patrick Harvie will bring many thought-provoking viewpoints to the Catalyst for Change event on September 16, which is why we’re delighted that he has agreed to join us as our keynote speaker,” said Alan Nelson, managing partner of the Glasgow office of CMS.
“As the severe disruptions caused by the pandemic during the past 18 months have forced individuals, organisations and governments to re-assess our priorities, we all urgently need to address how to build a sustainable future that meets the needs of people, the planet and the economy.”
Anyone interested can register for the event at https://newsquestscotlandevents.com/events/catalyst-for-change or contact events manager Linsey Hunter at Linsey.Hunter@localiq.co.uk.