The SNP’s Energy Secretary has been branded "irresponsible" after he admitted he has no plan B if a “critical” carbon capture project does not materialise in time – as he warned any further delays could put thousands of jobs at risk.

Michael Matheson was speaking after launching his delayed draft energy strategy – that sets out potentially accelerating the decline of the North Sea oil and gas sector.

In the document, the Scottish Government has touted bringing forward ending the reliance on oil and gas ahead of 2050 – the date new analysis has revealed fossil fuel stocks will run out.

Also included in the strategy is a number of asks of the UK Government who hold the authority to wind down the North Sea oil and gas industry.

READ MORE: SNP to consider speeding up decline of North Sea oil and gas sector

Tory ministers have been urged to “provide urgent clarity on the timescales” for the Acorn carbon capture and storge project which was snubbed for prioritisation by the UK Government.

The project is seen as key to delivering decarbonisation of the North East industries, ramping up hydrogen production and to help clean up heavy industries at Grangemouth.

But cliamte campaigners have accused the Scottish Government of pandering to an "oil industry greenwashing tactic".

Carbon capture technology allows fossil fuels to be burnt but not released into the atmosphere and instead injected into the seabed.

But concerns have been raised about the effectiveness of the technology which climate campaigners have warned allows energy giants to continue burning harmful fossil fuels.

Speaking to The Herald, Mr Matheson insisted the project is “not only mission critical to Scotland” but “crucial to the UK” in reaching legal climate targets.

READ MORE: Scottish Government's delayed energy strategy to tackle demand for oil and gas

He said: “Without the Acorn project, I believe it will be very difficult for Scotland and the UK to achieve their net zero targets.

“There is no point in delaying the Acorn project any further.”

Mr Matheson pointed to a “critical element to the Acorn project”, adding that there are a “significant number of jobs and industry that require this form of decarbonisation”, stressing that “Grangemouth is one example”.

He added: “The danger is if the Acorn project does not go ahead in the coming months, it will put those potential jobs at risk.”

The Cabinet Secretary has warned that without the project being pushed ahead, the UK Government risks “economic and employment uncertainties”.

Statutory advisers, the Climate Change Committee, has called for the Scottish Government to bring forward an alternative strategy in the event the carbon capture project does not materialise on time – with the technology crucial to Scotland hitting its 20340 target to cut emissions by 75 per cent.

READ MORE: The challenge of cleaning up Grangemouth without causing economic ruin

Asked by The Herald if the Scottish Government has made alternative plans, Mr Matheson confirmed no plan B has been drawn up.

He said: “There is no direct alternative route around not deploying negative emissions technologies here in Scotland an in the UK.”

But climate campaigners have criticised the reliance on carbon capture in the plans.

Alex Lee, Friends of the Earth Scotland climate campaigner, said:  “It is irresponsible for the minister to refuse to develop a contingency plan for when carbon capture inevitably fails to deliver at the scale required.

"The Scottish Government has been told by MSPs, leading scientists and advisors to address their over-reliance on these technologies in their plans to cut climate pollution within the next decade."

They added: “It’s time the Scottish Government stopped clinging onto the empty and dangerous promises of CCS and instead focused its resources on phasing out oil and gas and boosting climate solutions such as improving energy efficiency and electrification of heating and public transport.

“Carbon capture is little more than an oil industry greenwashing tactic that aims to delay the transition away from fossil fuels.”

The Scottish Government’s strategy points to ramping up renewables at scale to mitigate the decline in the North Sea oil and gas sector.

But SNP ministers remain opposed to nuclear technology and will continue to veto any nuclear plants being constructed north of the border over costs and timescales.

Under the plans, Mr Matheson said that the number of green jobs will be increased from the 17,000 in 2019 to 77,000 by 2059.

Mr Matheson said there would be a “ramping up of jobs” before 2030 and expects a “further acceleration” after 2030.

A UK Government source said: “The UK Government is committed to making this country world-leader in carbon capture.

"The Acorn project has already been allocated over £40m in development funding by the UK Government in recent years, and we want to make sure the cluster can get maximum value from this support going forward.

 “The strong potential of the Acorn project has been confirmed by the bidding process - which is just the start.

"This is good news for the future competitiveness of Scotland’s industry, and we will continue to work with the Scottish Government to help the Scottish Cluster continue its development.”