This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

Humza Yousaf has pledged to ensure Scotland is no longer the oil and gas epicentre of Europe – but questions remain over whether his warm words will be backed up with real action.

In his strongest intervention yet on phasing out polluting fossil fuels, Mr Yousaf used his keynote speech at New York Climate Week to insist that Scotland will no longer be the “oil and gas capital of Europe”.

The First Minister has come under criticism from climate activists since taking the reins on from his predecessor.

Nicola Sturgeon talked up her commitments to the climate crisis, even going so far as stating at Holyrood that the controversial Cambo project should not be given the green light by the UK Government.

But a key part of Mr Yousaf’s strategy as First Minister has been to re-set the frosty relationship between the Scottish Government and the business community – and that includes the North Sea oil and gas companies.

Speaking at the All Energy Conference in Glasgow in May, Mr Yousaf was careful with his language, issuing a warning about potentially shutting down the oil and gas sector too quickly.

He insisted that his government “will not abandon those in the oil and gas industry”, adding that there was “nothing progressive about throwing workers on the scrapheap, plunging them and their families potentially into poverty”.

The FM made clear that a “just transition” was required, but claimed that the North Sea oil and gas sector “welcomed the approach that I was taking”.

But a long way from home, having jetting across the Atlantic to give his speech, Mr Yousaf made clear his intentions to properly tackle the climate crisis.

He accused leaders of Western nations of being “collectively guilty of catastrophic negligence”, adding that “our children have every right to be angry and they have every right frankly not to forgive us if we do not step up”.

He said: “Not a single community on earth will be left untouched by the effects of climate change, but that suffering is not divided equally.

“It is for this reason that our acts of global solidarity as a community are more important now than ever before.”

The First Minister insisted that Scotland can “play a significant role in calling for greater international action” and called on politicians to “rededicate ourselves to the cause of climate justice”.

He boldly added that Scotland “will transition from being the oil and gas capital of Europe to unleashing our renewable potential and becoming the net zero capital of the world”.

The Herald:
Now this has unsurprisingly led to the usual criticism of the Scottish Government when it talks up action to move away from oil and gas.

Leader of the fossil fuels fanatics, the Scottish Tories, Douglas Ross has branded the rhetoric a “brutal and senseless betrayal of the North East” by the FM, adding that “like Labour, he wants to abandon North Sea oil and gas now, decimating communities and Scotland’s energy security”.

But Mr Yousaf’s tougher words on the climate crisis will be hung out for all to see when the Scottish Government publishes both its new climate change plan and its final energy strategy by the end of the year.

The energy strategy, despite oil and gas licensing being reserved to the UK Government, could include the draft position to have a presumption against new fossil fuels developments being approved as well as accelerating the decline of the industry in light of the climate emergency.

The updated climate change plan will focus on some of the toughest parts of the economy to clean up – the hugely expensive and intrusive plans to place gas boilers with renewable heating systems such as heat pumps, as well as transport.

Bold action, which will likely be unpopular with the public, will be needed if Scotland is to get its climate goals back on track.

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The Scottish Government has finally got what it wanted after the key carbon capture project in the North East was finally awarded funding by UK ministers – but original plans to cut emissions assumed the Acorn facility would be up and running from the middle of the decade.

Scotland’s 2030 legal target is to cut 1990 levels of emissions by 75%. Roughly 50% of emissions were cut between 1990 and 2020 – meaning that same level of progress is now needed this decade.

Questions still remain over whether the 2030 target can be achieved, with or without all the will in the world.

Funding is a big issue. The Scottish Government has been upfront that the private sector will need to provide the vast majority of net zero funds, but there is no guarantee this will emerge and whether enough cash will be invested.

Ministers are investigating methods of levering in funding, but once again, time is ticking.

If the First Minister wants Scotland to truly be a world leader in tackling the climate crisis, he is going to have to be unpopular.

Given the polls pointing to the decline in support for his party, Mr Yousaf will have to weigh up the political risk for his party against the risk of failing to act to protect the climate.

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