Kezia Dugdale on the tension between climate change and oil extraction

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 3 March 2016

Can you claim to oppose climate change while aiming to extract every last drop of oil from the North Sea? With evidence from the International Energy Agency showing that at least two thirds of the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to avoid the worst effects of climate change, the SNP has faced criticism in the past for holding two seemingly contradictory opinions.

When I asked climate change minister Dr Aileen McLeod about it, she said: "In Scotland we need a diverse and balanced energy portfolio to provide us with secure and affordable heat and electricity for decades to come. Oil and gas will remain an important part of our energy mix whilst we transition towards a future that is based upon renewable energy. But we are committed, we are absolutely committed, to the transition towards a low-carbon economy.” (I pressed her a bit more at the time, you can read the full piece here)

Well, last week I interviewed Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, and took the chance to put the question to her.

One of Dugdale’s first moves was to mix up her shadow team’s briefs, creating the ‘environmental justice’ portfolio in the process.

In fact in one of her first speeches as leader she said: “I believe in environmental justice, that the struggles for sustainability and socialism cannot be separated.

“The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat are shared by all of us. They require collective action to protect both people and the environment. Both are at risk from unregulated capitalism which wastes both human and natural resource.”

So I asked her, can you be opposed to climate change whilst arguing for maximum oil extraction?

She said: “I guess that is another binary issue – whether you can both be for environmental justice and for drilling in the North Sea. I am going to Aberdeen tomorrow [last week] to talk about North Sea oil and gas and what government should do to support the sector. I also heard Sir Ian Wood talking on the radio about how there has been a massive fall in research and exploration, so that sense of draining every last drop out of the sea I think is some degree into the distance.

“I don’t view it as a debate about fossil fuels and the environment, my primary concern right now is about jobs and the economy, so I am trying to do everything I can do to protect what could be a very fragile north east economy if oil and gas continues to decline in the way that it is. I think there are very practical things we can do now to support jobs and the north east economy, though I do take the point about having a cohesive and integrated approach to talking about climate justice, and you will see that in our manifesto. That is actually the beauty of having the environmental justice post, it flows across all the briefs so you don’t have that conflict.”

Liam Kirkaldy

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