Sunday, November 14, 2010

Green Climate Spin - Unravelled

When it comes to 'Green' politics, I'm pretty much like the Burd, just as I am when it comes to the Scottish Greens themselves. Those feelings came to the fore again yesterday, when a Google alert popped into my inbox highlighting a Green press release. 'SNP CLIMATE SPIN REVEALED', screamed the headline. Thinking it had to be at least worth a read, I followed the link.

The gist of their argument is that the Scottish Government claims to have reduced CO2 emissions by 21.2%. Yet, with their magnifying glasses and floppy-eared deerstalkers on, the Greens have noticed that this excludes 'unallocated' emissions from offshore North Sea oil and gas platforms, which if included, would allegedly reduce that figure to 16.7%. Quite outrageous, I'm certain you won't agree, although to be fair, they do make one reasonable point: namely, that some offshore emissions, for all that they are 'unallocated', do take place in Scotland.

To arrive at this figure, they allocate 90% of offshore emissions to Scotland, on the basis that this is the 'SNP's own figures' for allocating the revenues. Now, this may be a minor point, but it's not the SNP's figure.

This figure came originally from Professor Alex Kemp of Aberdeen University, and it varies in line with the price of oil and gas. His last estimate was that 84% was the correct estimate for revenues. However, that's just nitpicking, since the main flaw with this attempt at allocation is that revenues are not the same as emissions. The fact is that no real attempt has been made to allocate emissions based on location. While that data may not be readily available, although emissions are likely to be significant, there's no way of telling whether 90% is a fair estimate or not. For the record, I'd suspect it's not.

Another blooper comes in the claim that 'Even these [unallocated] emissions do not count the climate consequences of burning the oil and gas extracted, merely those associated with extraction and production.' That's probably because they're included in the 'allocated' emissions in the report being referenced.

However, the real howler is a constitutional one. While emissions do take place in Scotland's waters and would indeed be the responsibility of an independent Scotland, unless I've been asleep since the passing of the Scotland Act, oil and gas remains reserved to Westminster. There is therefore next to nothing that the Scottish Government can do within its powers – even it it was a government comprised entirely of Greens – which would have any effect whatsoever on offshore emissions. As such, it is just plain wrong to try and allocate these emissions when assessing the effectiveness of Scottish Government measures to reduce greenhouse gases.

Think about it. If you're being appraised at work, in order for the process to be fair, you can only be assessed on those aspects of your performance which are within your control. To do otherwise, like the Greens are trying to do here, is like assessing whether Mark McGhee is making a good job as Aberdeen manager based on the league position of Aston Villa.

Of course, the doubtful methodology and conceptual errors are incidental to the wider point that the Greens want to try and make, which is that the SNP is somehow 'addicted' to oil – as daft a charge as you're ever likely to hear made on the stump. Presently, oil and gas meet 75% of the UK's energy needs, and provide nearly half a million jobs. Even if all our electricity were to come from renewable sources starting tomorrow, there would still be a huge reliance on oil and gas for heating, transport and industry. If there's an addiction to oil, it's one which we all share, unless we wish to see the industry shut down overnight.

The irony is, if we are to meet our renewable energy targets, it's going to need the manufacturing base, the engineering expertise and the infrastructure which is only found right now in the oil and gas industry. If Scotland stands ready to lead in the emerging renewables sector, it's because of this indigenous advantage as much as it is to geographical location.

Anyway, I'm delighted to have the Greens set this out as a dividing line. Whatever constitutional status eventually becomes Scotland, or however close we really are to that most nebulous concept of 'peak oil', the North Sea is going to be a major source of employment and energy needs for the forseeable future. It would be fascinating to learn how the Greens would like to see us reduce our oil dependency within a timescale that wouldn't render them hypocrites on the issue of how successful the Scottish Government has been on reducing emissions.


commentor said...

'Even these [unallocated] emissions do not count the climate consequences of burning the oil and gas extracted, merely those associated with extraction and production.'

This seems like a totally dumb comment, doesn't it.

Are they advocating that we count the emissions from burning oil once when it's extracted, and then again when it's actually burned. Brainless!

Richard Thomson said...

I'm glad it's not just me who thinks that! I can't believe they meant to say something as stupid as that, but that's exactly what they've done.