NICOLA Sturgeon has used a major speech ahead of COP26 to demand Boris Johnson reverses his decision to fund clean energy schemes in England over a more advanced one in Scotland.

The First Minister blasted the Conservatives for favouring two carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects in the north of England over the groundbreaking Acorn plant near Aberdeen.

Last week the UK Government was accused of a “complete betrayal of the north east” after the Acorn Project at St Fergus missed out on funding from a £1 billion pot.

"I want to reflect on the UK Government’s decision last week not to give priority support to an important part of Scotland’s planned journey to net zero," she said in a keynote speech to an audience of young people and students in Glasgow this morning.

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The processes involved in carbon capture tech

"The Scottish Government is a strong supporter of the Scottish Cluster of proposed projects for carbon capture and storage – or CCS. The cluster includes the Acorn project in Aberdeenshire, which recently bid for support and funding.  

"However, despite the fact that Acorn was considered the most advanced of the projects bidding to be taken forward, it was passed over. I find that decision inexplicable on any objective grounds.

"Acorn is the lowest cost, and most deliverable, planned CCS project in the UK. And the Scottish cluster would support approximately 15,000 jobs over the next three decades or so – many of them in the North East and around Grangemouth, which are currently dependent on high-carbon industries.

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Nicola Sturgeon pictured in the dynamic power systems laboratory at the Strathclyde University Technology and Innovation Centre in Glasgow.

"It could also have stored up to 5-6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2030 –approximately 10% of Scotland’s current emissions - and up to 20 million tonnes by about 2040."

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She added: "I know there is a fear - and I understand it - that carbon capture and storage will simply be used to justify the unsustainable extraction of more and more fossil fuels.  That must not be the case.

"But it is a vital part of meeting our climate targets. That is why the Scottish Government made clear that we would support the project. And why last week’s decision simply must be revisited."

The First Minister was forced to urged the UK Government to rethink its decision on carbon capture in 2015 after it previously axed the £1 billion competition to develop CCS technology.

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Nicola Sturgeon delivering her speech at Strathclyde University today. Photo Colin Mearns

She said at the time the move was unfair to businesses and would damage efforts to tackle climate change.

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Peterhead power station in Aberdeenshire was one of two bidders seeking to secure funding to develop the technology, the other being the White Rose scheme in Yorkshire.

The First Minister went on to say that while CCS will help Scotland reduce emissions and capture carbon where "it does not mean that fossil fuel extraction in Scotland can continue without limit" as she restated her ambition for a transition away from oil and gas.

The SNP said last week the decision to favour the projects in the north of England had more to do with holding on to their so-called "red wall" seats at the next election.

The Acorn project at St Fergus gas terminal close to Peterhead will instead be used as a “reserve” or “backup” in case another site is needed. However, the funding snub means it’s unlikely to be developed until the second phase in the 2030s at the earliest.

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Firms involved in CCS project believed it had the potential to be up and running in the next five years, able to capture around 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year and transport it, using existing pipelines, for storage in one of three depleted North Sea gas fields.

During her speech the Sturgeon announced the Scottish Government will publish a "catch-up" plan later this week after Scotland missed its last three annual climate targets. 

She admitted the country had "fallen short" of the milestones, but insisted there is "much to be proud of". 

Sturgeon said Scotland is "determined to play our full part" but "our ability to do that depends on our own climate credibility".

She added: "Scotland cannot urge other countries to set and meet ambitious targets, if we fail to do so ourselves.

"We must lead, not by the strength of our rhetoric, but by the power of our example."

The First Minister said Scotland ranks well in most comparisons of international climate targets and aims to end its contribution to climate change by 2045.

However, she said the country had "fallen short on our last three annual milestones".

She added: "Two years ago, our emissions were 51.5% lower than in 1990. 

"But to meet that year’s annual target, they needed to be 55% lower.

"The law in Scotland stipulates that if we miss any annual targets, we must outperform in future years to make up for it.

"So this week we will publish a catch-up plan.

"It will highlight some of the actions already announced this year.

"And also set out a range of additional measures - for example, to decarbonise public sector buildings; promote home upgrades; and make bus travel cleaner and more accessible."

Sturgeon also said the Scottish Government will publish a new energy strategy next year, focused on achieving "the fastest possible just transition for the oil and gas sector".

She repeated her position that the proposed Cambo oil field to the west of Shetland "must be reassessed in light of the climate emergency", but did not go further.

First Minister also called on world leaders to take "credible actions" to achieve net zero emissions and acknowledgement for the first time that fossil fuel extraction cannot continue indefinitely.

She said that keeping the prospect of limiting global warning to less than 1.5C alive cannot simply be a "face-saving slogan" but must be real.

More than 120 world leaders will attend the COP26 summit, which takes place at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12.

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The First Minister said that Scotland is in a unique position to make the event a success and will act as a "bridge", creating spaces and dialogues and promoting understanding.

She told the audience at Strathclyde University: "We will take seriously the responsibility of all governments, at all levels, to show ambition, and to galvanise action.

"If we do that, we can all contribute towards a successful summit.

"I have said that small countries can lead the way in this, and they can, but in the coming days, it is the countries which emit the most, who most need to step up.

"They need to make ambitious pledges to achieve net zero.

"And those pledges must be backed by credible actions.

"The idea of 'keeping 1.5 alive', cannot simply be a face-saving slogan.

"It must be real. And there must be progress in Glasgow which makes that outcome more likely."

The talks in Glasgow have been billed as the last best chance to limit global warming to 1.5C in the long term.

Scottish Greens welcomed the First Minister speech on the COP26 summit, describing it as a shift away from the policy goal of maximum fossil fuel extraction.

Previously, the Scottish Greens were the only political party opposing new exploration for fossil fuels and calling for undeveloped licenses to be revoked.

Responding, Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “The First Minister is right, global inaction on the climate emergency must not be allowed to continue.

"With Greens in government, Scotland is finally facing up to the reality that continual fossil fuel extraction, so-called ‘maximum economic recovery’, is incompatible with climate action. Until very recently this destructive ideology was almost a consensus, but now only a stubborn few continue to pretend that it can continue.

“Scotland, and the world, can have a sustainable future and a fairer more equal basis for shared prosperity, but only if we leave the extractive and exploitative economy of the past behind us, and build a greener economy.”