In 2009, Scotland committed to a world-leading ambition in fighting climate change. We pledged to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent from 1990 emissions by 2020 and, so far, progress has been good. But for Scotland this is not just a technology tick box, or the delivery of new green jobs, or the need to keep industry competitive. It’s also about exporting climate justice and providing leadership by example.

This fits well with the Paris Agreement signed last month by 177 nations, an ambitious deal to limit global warming to well below 2C and, if possible, 1.5C. The SNP has now pledged a target of 50 per cent by 2020 and, in March, the UK’s advisory Committee on Climate Change recommended at least 80 per cent by 2050 for Scotland.

Renewable, and therefore low-carbon, energy in Scotland successfully supplies much electricity but this is just one quarter of our energy needs. There are also carbon emissions resulting from heating for homes and businesses, and the carbon footprint of industries and transport (by road, rail, air and shipping). How do we meet these multiple climate targets?

The answer could lie in the findings of a crucial study for the UK Government, published last week by Aberdeen-based consultants Pale Blue Dot. Shared with stakeholders in April but kept under wraps until after the Scottish election, the study shows how the UK’s offshore assets can set us on the right trajectory.

Part of the findings from the highly technical report boil down to this: carbon dioxide (CO2) may be Scotland’s biggest unplayed natural resource card. The North Sea’s vast wealth in oil and gas production must, in future, be balanced by an equal or greater amount of CO2 being put back in the ground. Offshore depleted oil and gas fields and, especially, the larger CO2 storage volume offered by rocks containing unusable salty water (aquifers) offer a vast and useful asset. Crucially, the Pale Blue Dot report shows this asset can be unlocked to deliver climate action without breaking the bank.

Thanks to devolution, management of these geological resources will be transferred to the Crown Estate Scotland and operated by the Scottish Government. This resource equates to 35 per cent of Europe’s CO2 storage potential, which can permanently store more than 100 years of emissions from the UK’s industry, power generation, heating and transport sectors.

What matters is safety, cost, engineering ability and the speed with which value can be gained by Scotland. CO2 capture and injection for storage deep underground has been operating safety and reliably at the Sleipner oilfield offshore Norway since 1996 and at Snovhit oilfield since 2004. The carbon capture and storage (CCS) chain is quietly and efficiently operating offshore for less than £35 per tonne of CO2.

And there are cheaper ways to do this. Pale Blue Dot’s report, which used detailed oil and gas offshore engineering to study a massive UK-wide CO2 storage resource, shows the transport and storage of one tonne of CO2 deep beneath the North Sea could be achieved for just £10-18. It’s worth pausing here to consider the wider value that brings to climate action; clean-up is cheap compared to £300 for a tonne of oil.

The first storage can be achieved by 2020 using existing infrastructure in north-east Scotland and offshore expertise as the foundation of a sunrise CCS industry in Scotland. Our location is one of the top three in Europe that can offer a CO2 storage “hub”, fed by shipping from around the UK and the EU.

Another area of research already under way may help bring the CCS debate even closer to home. And that is the linkage of hydrogen – a carbon-free fuel that can replace natural gas in our homes and businesses for heating and transport – with CO2 capture and offshore storage. Rather than having to treble the generation of clean electricity after 2030, we could reduce a proportion of our carbon emissions by using hydrogen to carry energy. That hydrogen can be produced at low cost by converting methane gas to hydrogen and CO2 then taking that CO2 to storage as part of full-chain CCS – and crucially, using the vast North Sea CO2 storage asset identified by this week’s report.

CCS is certainly not intended to replace or slow the move to renewables, but faster emissions reduction is needed now to reduce runaway climate change. To meet the challenges of 2030 and 2050, Scotland can pursue both renewables and CCS – providing canny commercial leadership in climate justice.

Stuart Haszeldine is Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage at the University of Edinburgh and Director of SCCS (an alliance of Scottish Universities and research institutes).