SNP to review gas boiler ban after PM rows back on net zero target

Mairi McAllan said new plan will have 'serious implications' for the Scottish Government’s climate change agenda
Mairi McAllan said new plan will have 'serious implications' for the Scottish Government’s climate change agenda - PA/Jane Barlow

Humza Yousaf’s government has been forced to examine its proposed ban on gas boilers in Scotland’s homes after Rishi Sunak rowed back on his net zero targets.

Mairi McAllan, the SNP’s Net Zero Secretary, said the Prime Minister’s announcement would have “serious implications” for the Scottish Government’s climate change agenda.

She said ministers would “urgently assess” the impact of Mr Sunak’s “astonishing policy reversals” on the target dates for phasing out gas boilers in homes and the sale of petrol and diesel cars.

The SNP confirmed control over vehicle licensing was reserved to the UK Government and Mr Sunak’s decision to delay the car ban from 2030 to 2035 would apply in Scotland.

But the programme to force householders to replace their gas boilers with heat pumps is devolved to Holyrood, with all buildings in Scotland to be converted to “zero emissions” by 2045.

Ms McAllan said the Prime Minister’s announcement, which included giving householders south of the Border “far more time” to install heat pumps, was an “unforgivable betrayal” of the climate change agenda.

Scottish Labour backed her stance, with Sarah Boyack, the party’s net zero spokesman, accusing the Prime Minister of a “complete abdication of leadership”.

Ian Murray, Labour’s Shadow Scottish Secretary, said a Keir Starmer government would revert to the 2030 target for banning the sale of petrol and diesel cars.

But the Tories challenged Ms McAllan to spell out how householders were supposed to find the estimated £33 billion cost of converting buildings to zero emissions heating systems during a cost of living crisis.

The Scottish Government provided an initial tranche of support of only £1.8 billion over the current parliament, with SNP ministers urged to “start being honest with people” about the financial shock they face.

The SNP’s claim that Mr Sunak had abandoned net zero was also undermined after the director of an offshore wind farm company said “there is reason to be optimistic that we are still on the right track”.

Writing in the Telegraph, Dan Jackson, founder-director of Cerulean Winds, said: “Far from undermining this mission, the Prime Minister provided a significant boost to our ambitions with his pledge to revolutionise the UK’s energy grid infrastructure.”

Mr Yousaf’s government has plans to introduce legislation requiring the “installation of zero or very near zero emissions heating systems”, with the new standard to be phased in for off-gas grid areas from 2025 and on-gas grid areas from 2030.

But the Scottish Government’s heat in buildings strategy admitted that the average cost of installing a heat pump is around £10,000. This is around four times the £2,500 cost of replacing a fossil fuel boiler.

In his Downing Street address on Wednesday, Mr Sunak said politicians had not been “honest” with the public about the cost of net zero as he warned that they risked losing the “consent” of the British people and provoking a backlash.

Answering an urgent question at Holyrood from Ms Boyack on the ramifications for Scotland, Ms McAllan said the Scottish Government “remained firmly committed” to its net zero targets.

‘Serious implications’

But she added: “We have always been clear that the delivery of Scotland’s climate ambition is contingent on action by the UK Government in reserved and shared areas, and yesterday’s announcements will undoubtedly have serious implications for the delivery of climate ambition in Scotland.”

She said her officials were working on a draft climate change plan setting out how the Scottish Government’s targets would be met, but it would have to be reviewed to take account of the Prime Minister’s announcement.

In December 2020 the SNP-Green government at Holyrood announced a plan to “phase out the need to buy new petrol and diesel cars” by 2030.

Transport Scotland confirmed this target was “aspirational” as control over vehicle licensing is reserved to the UK Government.

SNP ministers will instead try to get drivers to switch to electric vehicles with “incentivisation and infrastructure” but there are only around 2,500 charging points across Scotland.

‘Problems with the reliability’

Pressed that this was far too few, Dave Doogan, the SNP’s net zero spokesman at Westminster, said: “Of course, and there’s problems with the reliability of these charging points as well.”

He insisted that this would be resolved “as the market settles down” and more electric cars are purchased.

But Douglas Lumsden, net zero spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said the Prime Minister was being “honest” with people, telling BBC Radio Scotland: “It’s about delivering net zero in a sensible way, pragmatic way that doesn’t place all of the cost and burdens on ordinary working people.”

He added: “We’re not falling asleep at the wheel. If you look at changes to the cars for example, that’s just bringing us in line with the rest of the EU.”

Focus on major energy transformation and we will remain on the right track to net zero

After the Prime Minister’s big reset on net zero, many have been quick to express concern about whether Sunak’s new approach jeopardises the UK’s net zero target, writes Dan Jackson.

But strip out the politics of the speech, and there is reason to be optimistic that we are still on the right track,

A significant shift in how we produce and consume energy has always been at the heart of net zero. The Government has long been committed to a “green industrial revolution”, and nothing in the Prime Minister’s speech suggests that is no longer the case.

We need to keep our foot on the accelerator in driving forward investment in renewables. The production of green energy will help us reach our climate goals, but it will also provide a massive economic boost.

We are already seeing evidence of the jobs bonanza that comes with investment in mature technologies like offshore wind. It is a revolution that can and should be ‘made in Britain’.

Far from undermining this mission, the Prime Minister provided a significant boost to our ambitions with his pledge to revolutionise the UK’s energy grid infrastructure. At present, a considerable obstacle to investment is the lengthy wait to connect renewable energy projects to the grid.

New offshore wind to be developed for use in decarbonising oil and gas production
New offshore wind to be developed for use in decarbonising oil and gas production - imaginima/E+

There are enough projects currently waiting to be connected to generate over half of our future electricity needs. Radical reform of grid infrastructure which accelerates this process is a positive step.

But in the current circumstances, it is right that the Government is also seeking to extract every last drop of value from domestic oil and gas production. It is a recognition that in the short to medium term, North Sea oil and gas is vital for our energy security and easing pressure on household bills. Oil and gas or net zero doesn’t have to be a binary choice – we can and must have both.

What matters in keeping us on track to reach net zero by 2050 is that we ensure our energy sector continues to make progress in decarbonisation. Historically, it is the energy sector that has accounted for the highest greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. But we should be proud of the progress made. Since 1990, emissions from the energy sector have reduced by 69 per cent.

It is the biggest cut in emissions of any industrial sector in the UK.

All the tools we need to cut emissions

We now have all the tools we need to cut emissions from energy production even further. Oil and gas – often maligned as dirty and polluting – can be at the forefront of energy decarbonisation. That is not just a lofty ambition, it is a reality that is happening now.

The first carbon capture storage projects have been announced and are in the process of being funded. And earlier this year, the Scottish Government approved 5GW of new offshore wind to be developed for use in decarbonising oil and gas production.

New offshore wind will lead to the creation of a North Sea Renewables Grid. It will enable us to connect green power to oil and gas installations and reduce the carbon emissions associated with production.

By 2028, it can slash emissions from oil and gas production in half. Any new oil and gas exploration approved under the current licensing round can be electrified and largely decarbonised from day one.

This is made possible by investment from industry. The North Sea Renewables Grid alone will require more than £18 billion of investment in development and construction. Much of that investment will be spent here in the UK, benefitting local supply chains and creating well-paid jobs.

Transformational projects like this need to happen as quickly as possible if we are to meet our net zero targets. This is where the Government has a role to play and can make the biggest impact in driving us forward to net zero.

We should not underestimate the scale of the challenge in reaching net zero. Government must remain disciplined and focused on enabling the delivery of the major transformations that will propel our progress.

If the effect of Rishi Sunak’s net zero reset is to refocus the Government on these priorities, then there is reason to be optimistic that we are on the right track to reach net zero.

Dan Jackson is the founder-director of Cerulean Winds

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