THE UK Government is undermining net zero ambitions by decisions such as allowing new exploration in the North Sea and coal mining, campaigners say.

Energy policy has long been one of the most contentious issues between the UK and Scottish governments, with disagreements around the future of oil and gas and potential new nuclear stations raging in recent years.

Most energy issues come under the control of Westminster, with some exceptions such as the licensing of onshore oil and gas extraction, for example.

Recent actions by the Tory government have revealed a growing gulf between approaches to tackling climate change north and south of the Border.

After the war in Ukraine shone a spotlight on energy security issues, it has promised to invest heavily in domestic-based energy sources, including nuclear power.

Andrew Bowie, Tory MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, has now been appointed the UK’s first ever nuclear energy minister.

Following his appointment last month the SNP, who are opposed to nuclear power stations, warned him keep new nuclear power out of Scotland.

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The party’s Westminster energy spokesman Alan Brown said: “Andrew Bowie must be taking up one of the most pointless ministerial positions in the UK government.

“If the Tories think they will bring down energy bills by building nuclear power stations that won’t be ready for years to come then they are more delusional than we thought.

“Scotland is awash with renewable energy potential and Andrew Bowie should be focusing his efforts there, as it will create jobs for his constituents for decades to come and will ensure we are using Scotland’s energy potential to the fullest.”

The National: SNP MP Alan Brown SNP MP Alan Brown (Image: David Woolfall)

Questions over nuclear claims

The UK Government says its plans for a significant acceleration of nuclear will aspire to having up to 24GW by 2050 coming from this “safe, clean, and reliable source of power”.

But Lynn Jamieson, chair of Scottish CND, disputes claims of the benefits of nuclear power.

“The obvious immediate thing is that nuclear power is extremely expensive now in comparison to renewables – wind in particular, but also solar and wave and even perhaps hydro,” she said.

“We’re in a climate emergency and it takes a very long time to create a create a power station.

“And the idea it is green and carbon neutral is only because parts of the process are cut off and ignored – so uranium mining is certainly not carbon neutral.

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“There are huge quantities of concrete that have to go into the building of the nuclear power station – concrete is very environmentally damaging in itself and it is a very high carbon product.

“Then there is the waste – which is generations having to look after something and stored in repositories which have to be built.”

She also raised concerns about safety, saying: “Even if the risk is very small, why ever take the risk of the kind of catastrophe that both Fukushima and Chernobyl have been?”

Concerns over new licences

Another area of tension between the UK Government and climate campaigners has been the awarding of new licences to allow oil and gas companies to explore for fossil fuels in the North Sea.

A process to hand out more than 100 licences to companies got under way last year, with almost 900 locations offered up for exploration. It is the first time it had been run since 2019-20.

Meanwhile during Liz Truss’s short-lived premiership she lifted a ban on fracking – which was subsequently reinstated by Rishi Sunak, while the Scottish Government maintained its policy of not allowing the controversial process would continue.

However the UK Government has given the go-ahead for the UK's first new deep coal mine for 30 years in Cumbria, which will provide fuel for steel-making. Charity Friends of the Earth has issued a legal challenge to the decision to approve the mine over concerns about the climate impacts.

Jamie Peters, energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth (England, Wales and Northern Ireland), said: “It’s our reliance on fossils fuels that’s fuelling both the cost-of-living and climate crises, so action to decarbonise the nation is good news for both our environment and economy.

“The Prime Minister may want to show global leadership in the race to net zero, but this is undermined by the UK Government’s decisions to award new gas and oil licences in the North Sea and to allow a new coal mine in Cumbria.

“We have to build an energy system fit for the challenges of the 21st century – and that means saying no to new fossil fuel developments and championing energy efficiency and renewables instead.”

The relationship with Europe

Mark Ruskell MSP, the Scottish Greens spokesperson on climate and energy, said after leaving the UK an independent Scotland could develop a relationship with Europe on energy.

He said: “It's interesting looking at what the European Union is proposing in terms of strengthening their energy markets and supporting each other, not just through the current energy crisis with Ukraine, but going forward, and I think we need to integrate more with that.

“I don't think it would ever be a case of Scotland going it alone, but Scotland contributing towards Europe's energy needs.

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“If we can look at energy policy at that level, then there's lots of advantages that Scotland has.

“We have abundant renewable energy so we could be producing green hydrogen, some of that could go towards our own needs, to decarbonize plants like Mossmorran, or Grangemouth or some could be exported to Germany.

“We could be building more interconnection in terms of electricity so that we can iron out the variability between renewables in different parts of Europe through high voltage cables.

“We could be storing electricity to be deployed at different times in the UK market and elsewhere as well.

“I think seeing Scotland as a really important cog in that energy system because of our abundant energy resources is really important.”