THE UK’s independent climate adviser has said that setting a date for ending the need for oil and gas would be “useful and helpful” to the energy sector and help reduce decommissioning and transition costs.

Both Nicola Sturgeon’s and Boris Johnson’s governments have failed to set out a timetable for ending the use of oil and gas – while a row has erupted over allowing a new oil field in the North Sea to be opened up amid the climate crisis.

The First Minister has pointed to a “just transition” away from oil and gas to ensure workers are not left behind in the shift of focus – and last month gave her biggest hint that the Scottish Government’s stance on fossil fuels was shifting after setting out her intent for “achieving the fastest possible just transition for the oil and gas sector”, adding that continuing with unlimited oil and gas extraction was “wrong”.

At COP26, Sturgeon said she was "considering" joining the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) - set up by Denmark and Costa Rica - a global effort to phase out the use of oil and gas.

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But the UK Government’s North Sea transition deal, published in March, does not set out a timetable for ending oil and gas – while the industry has stressed that fossil fuels will continue to be extracted up until the middle of the century.

In its fossil fuels production gap report, the United Nations Environment Programme has criticised the North Sea Transition Deal.

The UN report tracks the discrepancy between governments’ planned fossil fuel production and global production levels consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C or 2°C.

The document warns that the strategy “will not stop national fossil fuel exploration or production” and allows “continued oil and gas production and with no plans for a wind-down in production”.

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Now, the CEO of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the independent body that advises all UK governments on their move to net zero, has suggested it would make sense to set out when demand for exploration of fossil fuels will end – in a similar fashion to end dates being announced for net petrol cars and gas central heating.

Speaking exclusively to the Herald at COP26, Chris Stark said the CCC is intending to carry out updated analysis on the oil and gas supply after the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned against new fossil fuel developments.

Stark said: “They’ve done a piece of work in the 1.5 degrees scenario that says quite clearly, there isn’t much room at all, if any, for new oil and gas licences.

“That’s new information that we haven’t had before so we do want to look at it.”

He added: “The information we have worked hard at is on the demand side. On that front, it’s clearly useful and helpful to actually name a date and then build the public support for that date behind it and crucially get commercial response that’s in line with it.

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“You can see that in a lot of what the UK Government has done in the last few weeks – which is to build that single idea that you phase out the sale of internal combustion engines by 2030 and then you have a mandate to increase it.

"You can do the same on gas boilers by 2035. The big one is the electricity supply by 2035 that will be fully decarbonised.

“Naming a date, so that everyone is clear on what needs to happen is a really, really useful way of actually clearing up the path and bringing the costs down. On the demand side at least, that’s certainly the case.”

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland has called on the Scottish Government to "be prepared to set a date by which we will see if phased out".

He added: "It gives certainty to the industry and the workforce. If you don't give a date, the worst that can happen is you get to cliff-edge.

"My worry is that climate science keeps getting revised and things are getting worse – which means you almost have to pull the emergency brake on North Sea oil as opposed to a phased transition and suddenly it's even worse.

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"Set a date and plan properly for it, otherwise you are in real danger in leaving those communities out to dry."

But the industry has warned that naming a date could put jobs at risk.

Oil and Gas UK sustainability director, Mike Tholen, said: “Under all projections and scenarios, demand for oil and gas will continue, albeit in a declining manner and in an increasingly low carbon way.

“The UK still relies on gas for many of its needs – some 80% of homes here still rely on gas boilers. This depicts the scale of change needed. It’s clear the transition to low carbon energy cannot happen overnight.”

He added: “A demand-focused approach could be a good way to wean the country off fossil fuels, but as we know, this transformation must be managed carefully and sensibly, with no cliff-edge.

“Putting an arbitrary end-date on our sector would only serve to damage hundreds of livelihoods across the UK, while increasing our reliance on imports from countries whose emissions and regulations we have no control over.”

In the North Sea transition deal, the UK Government insists that the demand for oil and gas “though much reduced in the future, is expected by the Climate Change Committee to continue for decades to come”.

The blueprint adds that currently, “around 75 per cent of the UK’s primary energy needs are currently supplied by oil and gas”, stressing that production from the UK Continental Shelf “will continue to be a central element of the nation’s energy supply as the UK transitions to net zero”.

The UK Government has consistently pointed to the CCC as justifying the need for future oil and gas demand – specifically stating that the independent advisers have given their approval for the controversial Cambo oil field near Shetland going ahead.

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But Stark warned “we’ve got to get away from this idea that the CCC said it, therefore you should do it”.

Asked if future demand for oil and gas alone was justification for opening up a new oil field at Cambo, Stark bluntly said: “It’s not.”

He added: “If you think we’re going to stop looking for ways to reduce that demand, you’re going to be sorely mistaken – that’s been the record since 2008 of us looking at this.

“We have found better and better strategies for moving away from fossil fuels quicker and quicker – I don’t think that’s going to stop.”

Stark insisted the CCC “don’t recommend that we should have a certain demand for fossil fuels”.

He said: “It’s an unhappy condition of all the work we’ve done to show how quickly we can go in moving away from it.

“Every year we look at this, we find more and more ways to stop using fossil fuels. The oil and gas industry’s desire to keep using our numbers will come back to haunt them, I suspect.

“Eventually we will find ways to move away entirely form fossil fuels and I think we will be able to do it quicker than even the plan we have at the moment.”

Stark told The Herald on Sunday that “it doesn’t make me feel happy in any way that we have lingering demand for fossil fuels into the future”, but warns “it is a transition”.

He said: “One of the main reasons why we have to think of it as a transition is because there’s people employed in that sector with good jobs – they need to look forward to having good jobs in a decarbonised sector in the future.

“Yes, we should move quickly, as fast as possible, away from fossil fuels. But we’ll need to do that in a way that takes people with us on that journey and make sure that we don’t get the left-behind communities we had in the 80s in the last big transitions we made.

“I’m confident we’ll do all that but I am tired of reading that the CCC says this, so we’re fine to do it.”

Scottish Government minister Patrick Harvie said that the SNP and his Scottish Greens do not yet share a position on future oil and gas developments – suggesting Nicola Sturgeon’s party are “on a journey” with its stance.

Speaking at COP26, Harvie stressed that energy policy will form a key part of any future independence debate or campaign – with oil revenues playing a key role in the economic case for separation during the 2014 referendum.

He said: “Whether we vote for independence, as I hope and expect or if we don’t, energy issues are critical to Scotland’s economic future.

“But the vast renewable potential is what we need to harness and to invest in the skills that will create prosperity for the communities that, at the moment, are over-reliant on the fossil fuels industry.

“That transition is coming – it’s a question of whether we have the power and the ability and the political will to invest in making sure that it works for everybody.”

He added: “People working in the oil and gas industry know that that’s not going to be there for the kids – that’s not a choice that the Scottish Greens or the Scottish Government or anybody else is making. That is hard reality.

“The reality is that we need to avoid the effects of the de-industrialistion of the 1980s when whole communities were left on the scrapheap. That must be avoided at all costs and that means investing in a sustainable industries of the future.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “While the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels continues to fall, there will continue to be ongoing but diminishing need for oil and gas over the coming years while we ramp up renewable energy capacity, as recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee.

“What we cannot have is a cliff-edge where oil and gas are abandoned overnight. If we stopped producing gas, this would put energy security, British jobs and industries at risk, and we would be even more dependent on foreign imports.

“Our new climate compatibility checkpoint will ensure that our aim of eliminating our contribution to climate change by 2050 is at the forefront of any decision made around granting oil and gas licences in the future.”