SOMETHING remarkable happened last month. New Zealand became one of the first country’s to draw a clear line in the sand: not only were they not issuing any new permits for oil and gas extraction, but they were withdrawing existing government subsidies.

Is this really remarkable? After all the science is clear: we must stop extracting oil and gas now if the planet has a chance of halting temperature rises at 1.5 degrees. Not tomorrow, and certainly not when the ‘black gold’ runs out. We need to halt the oil drills now. Given that stark reality, surely taking away subsidies and refusing to issue new permits is the least any government can do?

Why is the New Zealand government’s actions so unusual? Why aren’t all countries making this decision? The problem can be understood in three ways: money, jobs and inertia.

Money: The oil industry is enormously financially powerful, and therefore can lobby for its interests in a way that you and I can’t. Also, the oil industry continues to make a significant contribution to public finances through tax revenues, although in the case of North Sea Oil that contribution is much less than it used to be.

Jobs: Around 170,000 people are directly employed in North Sea oil, with many more jobs reliant on the continued existence of the sector.

Inertia: Politicians are usually short-term thinkers and risk-averse. Transitioning Scotland’s energy production, distribution and consumption away from fossil fuels to renewables takes action over a sustained period of time, and it means making tough choices about what you prioritise. It takes politicians willing to confront vested interests and shake-up the status quo to break the inertia.

Money, jobs and inertia – the example of New Zealand shows that these powerful political forces can be overcome by those willing to prioritise climate action. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has based her argument for ending oil industry support within her wider vision for a “wellbeing economy”, where creating happy citizens is prioritised over growing GDP.

The good news is that Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is a supporter of this wellbeing agenda. She has signed the Scottish Government up to the Wellbeing Economy Governments group with New Zealand and Iceland. So can we expect her to join Ardern in ending support for the oil industry? Not so fast.

North Sea oil is a reserved power, controlled not by Holyrood but by Westminster. The First Minister was previously an ardent backer of UK Government subsidy for North Sea oil, but recently her emphasis has changed, stating that support for the sector is now “conditional” on its efforts to transition away from fossil fuels.

“I speak to young people, in particular, all the time who ask, ‘Why not stop and leave it in the ground?’ I have sympathy with the sentiment behind that question,” she said earlier this month when announcing her Programme for Government which was focused on tackling the Climate Emergency.

However, the First Minister utilised a new argument against stopping oil extraction now, claiming that to do so now would actually increase Scotland’s carbon emissions contribution. North Sea oil, she said, would have to be replaced by importing more oil from elsewhere, which has a “higher carbon intensity than UK production”. The next day, Oil and Gas UK published a report backing up Sturgeon’s view. In its ‘Roadmap to 2035’, the oil lobbyist conveniently found that the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the UK was to continue oil production at maximum levels. The 1.1 million barrels currently extracted per day means the need to import fossil fuels would reduce over time, Oil and Gas UK found.

THIS view is at best misleading, and at worst dishonest. A report published in May by environmental experts Sea Change found that if the whole world pursued the same policy as the UK Government currently does – which is to phase out coal but maximise oil and gas extraction – global warming would significantly exceed the 2 degrees limit of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The UK is a developed country which has one of the highest historic carbon emissions per person in the world, so it should be ending fossil fuel extraction faster than most.

The simple fact is that from the perspective of the global climate emergency, there is no way to justify continued oil and gas extraction in the north sea.

From a Scottish perspective, it is extremely short-sighted to see North Sea oil as necessary to meet Scotland’s energy needs. In the first quarter of 2019, Scotland’s renewables electricity generation reached a record level of 8877 GWh, enough to power 88 per cent of Scotland’s homes. More than half of that electricity generation is currently exported. Scotland is on target to meet 100 per cent of its energy consumption needs through renewables sources by 2020.

And that is before we take into account the enormous possibilities to reduce the country’s energy needs by insulating homes and reducing our reliance on cars through better public transport.

READ MORE: Oil and Gas UK commit to net-zero ambitions by 2035

So climate activists need to make a convincing case to Sturgeon, the UK Government and the population at large to keep the oil in the ground. In doing so, it can be extremely helpful to have a plan for those who currently work in the North Sea oil industry so that they all secure well-paid, secure work utilising their skills as analysts and engineers in the new low-carbon economy.

The National: Oil is no longer am optionOil is no longer am option

Such a plan has been called Just Transition. Almost every politician is signed up to Just Transition in theory, but North Sea oil workers have good reason to be sceptical about government’s commitment to making it happen in practice. The Scottish Trade Union Centre (STUC) produced a report called Broken Promises in May, which showed how previous promises of green jobs in Scotland have not come to fruition.

The reason for this failure is because just as so-called free market capitalism will pursue profit in the oil and gas industry at all and any cost to the environment, free market capitalism in the renewables sector has little interest in Just Transition – it wants to make as much profit out of green energy as possible. So rather than hiring workers in the North Sea oil industry to engineer the renewables revolution, companies would rather import cheaper parts from around the world, utilising the cheaper costs of labour in those countries.

READ MORE: Ovo to become UK's second biggest energy supplier in SSE deal

One example of this is the new Neart naGoaithe (NnG) offshore wind farm development, located just ten miles off the Fife coast. The £2 billion development, which the Scottish Government has licensed to French energy giant EDF Renewables, is set to be one of the largest offshore wind farms in Scotland.

The NnG wind farm has outsourced the manufacturing of sleeves for the blades, and had a choice between giving the contract to a local manufacturing company in Fife called Bifab, which is on the verge of closure and desperately needs the contract, or hiring workers in Indonesia, and importing the sleeves from the other side of the world. It won’t surprise you that EDF Renewables have primarily chosen the Indonesian workers.

So if the transition from oil to renewables is to be just, we need to organise the economy differently. Industrial planning must be organised on a new economic principle summed up by economist Kate Raworth.

Raworth’s “doughnut economics” seeks to avoid both a shortfall where we do not produce enough for the social needs of everyone, and over-shoot where we break our ecological ceiling, exploiting the natural world in a way which is not sustainable in the long-term.

That’s how we can ensure a just future for people and planet ... without oil.

Ben Wray is the editor of CommonSpace