Got your attention?
Good because this is pretty much the reaction of a lot of politicians and quangos to the recently published Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.
The study makes it very clear that we have at best 12 years before climate change becomes unstoppable and its consequences disastrous for large parts of the planet.
It states that cuts to carbon emissions of 45% are needed by 2030 to keep temperatures to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
In short, if we don’t stop burning hydrocarbons the planet is going to be in real trouble very, very quickly.
It’s pointless to question that conclusion because we’ve all seen the troubling extreme weather events from around the world and we’ve seen the data splashed across our television screens and other media.
That’s unless you’re US President Donald Trump, whose reaction to the report was to say: “It was given to me. And I want to look at who drew it. You know, which group drew it. I can give you reports that are fabulous and I can give you reports that aren’t so good.”
No, I’ve no idea what he’s talking about either.
The IPCC report really should make us consider why we’re actually continuing not just to produce oil and gas but why we keep on looking for more.
We get excited when another find is announced.
And we go utterly bananas when someone as distinguished as my colleague on the Scottish Government’s Oil and Gas Commission, Professor Alex Kemp comes out with a report that says there’s probably an additional 4 billion barrels of oil equivalent to be produced from the UK Continental Shelf, even if this may in part be dependent on the development of as yet undefined new technologies.
Even though Scotland’s oil and gas production may be in slow decline we can’t ignore the fact that what’s produced off our coasts is going to have a highly detrimental effect on the climate.
We really do need to act responsibly about this and, like it or not, enact some radical changes.
We surely owe it to the next generation and beyond to make sure the IPCC’s predictions don’t come true.
We must put our thinking caps on to come up with ways of balancing the still-important oil and gas economic activity with our increasingly urgent need to reduce the release of greenhouse gases.
In fact the answer is not that complicated but as always requires both public and private investment, neither of which is readily forthcoming in the UK, especially now.
For example we could decide to convert most or all of the gas that comes ashore in Scotland to
hydrogen, removing the carbon content and reutilising it by turning it into usable products.
It would be a good way of providing a buffer as Scotland builds a renewables-powered hydrogen electrolysis based production industry.
Hydrogen is being increasingly seen as a transport “fuel” and for domestic uses such as heat and cooking. Work on the latter is already in progress.
The Institution of Gas Engineers & Managers (IGEM) is in the process of developing hydrogen standards for the government’s £25 million research and innovation Hy4Heat programme and there is a study under way looking at the feasibility of converting a small village or estate to replace natural gas with hydrogen for cooking and heating.
We also know that hydrogen can be used industrially instead of methane gas and there’s a major project taking place to use it for steel production.
Producing hydrogen from natural gas can be a “clean” process if the carbon is reused.
Although work on this is going on outside Scotland and the UK our strong credentials in chemistry-related research should and could be used to develop the process properly.
In the same vein we need to find new uses for oil that can fill the gap left by not using it as a feedstock for fuel.
This will take a major research effort and frankly should – following the IPCC report – now be the primary focus of the Oil and Gas Technology Centre.
There are plenty of opportunities to do this, which, if I were a chemist I would probably understand a lot better than I do, but new degradable plastics come immediately to mind.
However, as one research chemist put it to me: “In order to reach this point, proper support of science and relevant companies is absolutely crucial.”
I agree and we should start by arranging a major workshop involving researchers, government and industry to plot a way forward.
We should all want to maintain our oil and gas industry for as long as possible and “repurposing” it in this way, not decommissioning it, seems to me to be the best way to do that.
Regular columnist Dick Winchester is a member of the Scottish Government’s Independent Expert Commission on Oil and Gas