THE SNP’s Net Zero Secretary has called on the UK Government to use Wednesday's Budget to reverse its “illogical and disappointing decision” to snub Scotland’s carbon capture and storage project.

Less than a week before the UK Government hosts the COP26 global climate conference in Glasgow, Michael Matheson has accused Tory ministers of "a clear lack of ambition and leadership on climate change". 

Carbon capture technology is crucial to the Scottish Government meeting its legal target of becoming net zero by 2045 and cutting 1990 levels of carbon emissions by 75 per cent in just nine year’s time.

But the business case for a Scottish cluster in the north east missed out on being granted track one status by the UK Government and is instead a reserve cluster behind a project in Teeside.

A furious Mr Matheson has warned the UK Government’s decision will “materially affect the businesses and communities in the north east of Scotland” and put legal climate targets at risk.

Carbon capture and storage involves separating and capturing carbon dioxide from other gases before it enters the atmosphere – converting CO2 into liquid to be transported. The CO2 is pumped or injected deep underground for permanent storage.

The vast majority of carbon captured, globally, has so far been used to extract more oil via the process of Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) - rather than for power generation and other uses. Fossil fuel-based carbon capture and storage is not yet capable of operating with zero emissions.

It is estimated that if progressed, the Scottish cluster, centred around the Acorn project, could support an average of 15,000 jobs between 2022 and 2050, peaking at 20,600 jobs in 2031.

In a statement to MSPs, Mr Matheson said the decision was “illogical and disappointing”, adding that Tory ministers in Westminster have failed to support “one of the most significant parts of Scotland’s journey to net zero”, which he labelled a “UK Government failure”.

He stressed that the technology, yet to scaled up, will play a “vital role” in hitting Scotland’s statutory climate change targets.

Mr Matheson said: “The UK Government decision last week on the Scottish cluster is out of step with their own net zero strategy, which raised the ambition for the amount of carbon captured to be stored in the UK.

“Scotland has vast potential for CO2 storage in the North Sea, in depleted oil and gas reservoirs. As seen with the Acorn project, repurposing onshore and offshore legacy oil and gas infrastructure offers us rare and cost-effective access to these storage sites.

“The Acorn project is expected to store over 6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2030 – approximately 10% of Scotland’s current emissions - and up to 20 million tonnes by 2040.

“On this basis alone, the decision by the UK Government not to award the Scottish cluster track one status is wholly illogical. It shows a clear lack of ambition and leadership on climate change by the UK Government.”

The Net Zero Secretary told MSPs that carbon capture and storage “offers an important transition opportunity for Scotland’s mature oil and gas industry”.

He added: “This UK Government decision will materially affect the businesses and communities in the north east of Scotland that possess existing skills and expertise required to transition to a low carbon economy, delaying the opportunity to create many good, green jobs.”

Research by the Tyndall Centre published earlier this year warned that “significnt deployment” of carbon capture and storage for power, heat and transport systems is “now not expected until 2030”.

The climate experts have also pointed to a “lack of incentives, policies and regulation for CCS implementation compared to what is expected to be delivered by CCS infrastructure”.

Mr Matheson acknowledged the worries, stressing that the Scottish Government’s support for the technology “is contingent on its performance and consistency with our climate targets”.

He added: “It is astonishing that the UK Government has taken this decision, which significantly compromises our ability to take crucial near-term action to reduce emissions – not just in Scotland, but across the UK.

“The Chancellor is expected to deliver his budget on Wednesday; he has a chance to fix this in the budget announcement and I would urge him to do so.”

Mr Matheson said that the UK Government “has made a serious mistake which it needs to correct”, calling on Tory ministers to award the Scottish cluster track one status.

He said: “This inexplicable decision shows the Tories are guilty of empty words and broken promises on ensuring a just transition for Scotland's communities.

“Remember the UK Government pulled the plug on £1billion of carbon capture investment for Peterhead in 2015 and now they've repeated the trick again. The north east of Scotland is the home of the offshore industry and the obvious location for a carbon capture project.

“Therefore I am today calling upon the UK Government to reverse this decision, and accelerate the Scottish Cluster to full track one status without delay.”

Scottish Conservative net zero spokesperson, Liam Kerr, admitted that “we are all disappointed by this decision”.

He added: “Let’s be clear, far from being illogical or inexplicable, this was an objective process based on objective criteria – which the Scottish Government didn’t raise any issues about.

“This is not the end of Acorn but the beginning of an ambition to have four clusters running by 2030. (Business Secretary) Kwasi Kwarteng says Acorn will almost certainly be built in the next few years as part of the second phase.“