Climate change focus of Scottish Programme for Government

Out-Law Analysis | 06 Sep 2019 | 10:37 am | 5 min. read

The Scottish government has placed climate change front and centre of its Programme for Government for 2019-20.

After 12 years in government, and with the 2021 election firmly in sight, the SNP has published a legislative programme to project itself as a competent government delivering for the Scottish people at a time of immense change in UK politics. Its Programme for Government could be described as safe and containing relatively little that could be construed as controversial; however, first minister Nicola Sturgeon is well aware that the announcements will be overshadowed in the headlines by events unfolding at Westminster.

Introducing the programme, Sturgeon told the Scottish parliament that the legislative agenda continues the Scottish government's efforts to "combat the global climate emergency, while also taking steps to strengthen our economy and help build a fairer country".

The programme includes 14 new bills to complement the 12 announced last year, many of which are still progressing through parliament. The proposed legislation would impact on many sectors of the Scottish economy.

Energy

The Scottish government has said that its continued support for oil and gas exploration and production in the North Sea will now be conditional upon a sustainable, secure and inclusive energy transition.

The Programme for Government could be described as safe and containing relatively little that could be construed as controversial

To drive the reduction of emissions from the extraction of offshore oil and gas, the Scottish government will "support in principle" the Oil and Gas Technology Centre's plans to establish a new Net Zero Solution Centre, with the intention of enabling the North Sea to become the first 'net zero' hydrocarbon basin in the world. This centre will support the development and deployment of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), hydrogen and renewables technologies that can be integrated with existing offshore oil and gas infrastructure.

CCUS has the potential to make a big impact on the Scottish government's emissions targets according to the programme, which also argues that Scotland has the potential to store "huge quantities" of carbon dioxide in the North Sea. The Scottish government intends to take forward a number of actions to support and promote CCUS, including support for the Acorn project at St Fergus and the emerging Scottish industry-led CCUS alliance.

The government believes that Scotland's existing oil and gas infrastructure makes Scotland the most cost-effective place to begin CCUS in the UK. It intends to explore proposals on CCUS with its partners, which will inform the Scottish public sector response to the UK consultation on CCUS business models. It is also committed to working with the Scottish National Investment Bank to explore how to support the full scale commercial deployment of CCUS in Scotland.

Offshore wind is expected to make a significant contribution to Scotland's energy and climate change ambitions, while supporting economic development and creating jobs. The Scottish government has committed to making Scotland an attractive place to invest in offshore wind energy, and will develop an Offshore Wind Policy Statement making clear its ambitions for the technology.

The government will produce offshore renewable energy decommissioning policy guidance by the end of this year and consult on its draft Sectoral Marine Plan in the autumn, with the aim of publishing a final version in 2020.

The Programme for Government makes a number of commitments on skills. The Scottish government plans to invest up to £2 million in innovation and skills to drive down costs and make sure Scotland has the necessary skills in place to take advantage of the opportunities offshore wind has to offer. This will include funds to launch a competition with the Carbon Trust inviting bids to address floating offshore wind technology challenges in order to help to de-risk technological solutions, support the Scottish supply chain and help to make floating offshore wind energy generation cost-effective.

Working with Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council, the Scottish government will publish a Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan. As part of this, it will set out a framework for maximising the opportunities for people to upskill and re-skill within the energy system, moving into areas such as oil and gas decommissioning, offshore wind energy and energy systems management.

Infrastructure

The Scottish government has committed to steadily increasing annual investment so that its £5.2 billion investment this year will reach £6.7bn by the end of the next parliament. It intends to make low carbon the theme of the next Infrastructure Investment Plan following advice from the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland.

Standalone commitments in the Programme for Government include:

  • forming a new strategic partnership with electricity network companies to improve electric vehicle charging infrastructure and electricity networks across Scotland;
  • beginning engagement on the fourth National Planning Framework in autumn this year, with a view to publishing a draft National Planning Framework by summer next year;
  • making £130m available this year to set up the Scottish National Investment Bank;
  • establishing the  Scotland 5G Centre, to lead on strategy and create a Scotland-wide approach to 5G Rural First;
  • investing over £500m in improved bus priority infrastructure, to tackle the impacts of congestion on bus services and raise bus usage.

Real estate

From 2024, all new homes built in Scotland will be required to use renewable or low carbon heat. This will be achieved through a fundamental overhaul in building regulations that will increase energy efficiency and the efficiency of construction from 2021, and will be accompanied by a £30m investment in renewable heat projects.

The government will publish a 'Housing to 2040' strategy document and route map in spring next year. In the meantime, it has committed to continuing its support of the growth of the Build to Rent sector in Scotland to boost the supply of good quality homes for private rent.

Continued support for oil and gas exploration and production in the North Sea will now be conditional upon a sustainable, secure and inclusive energy transition.

On skills, the government will increase investment in workforce development and explore flexible incentives for all relevant stakeholders, including colleges, universities and training providers, to develop new approaches to upskilling and lifelong learning.

Reforms to residential Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT) mean that more than 80% of taxpayers have paid less tax compared to stamp duty land tax or no tax at all, while LBTT first-time buyer relief has helped over 10,000 buyers in the past year, according to the Scottish government.

Life sciences

The Scottish government will continue to develop and encourage close links between industry, academia and the health sector in order to support improved wellbeing and inclusive economic growth.

The new £56m Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre, to be delivered in partnership with the UK government and industry, will offer pharmaceutical companies, from start-ups through to multinationals, the opportunity to collaboratively develop and adopt novel manufacturing techniques into their own manufacturing processes and supply chains.

The Scottish government will continue its support for the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre, with further funding of up to £11.1m agreed up to 2023, and is working with the centre and industry to deliver a National Plan for Industrial Biotechnology. The plan aims to increase the number of companies working in the industrial biotechnology sector in Scotland to over 200, and achieve turnover of £900m.

Mark Ferguson is a public policy expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.