Monday, 16 January 2012

Environmental implications of Scottish independence

I have given my views on Scottish independence elsewhere, but in general I am opposed. Not because I think Scotland is weak or anything like that, but simply because I think we are better off united. However right now I want to have a think about what some of the environmental implications of separation might be.

Clearly in many areas it would make no difference. Biodiversity, fisheries and rural management are all devolved anyway, and short of leaving the EU there is little that can be done about the Common Agricultural or Fisheries Policies. In England and Wales the more zoophobic elements of the Tories might be emboldened, but other than that there would be little impact. More intangible might be the loss of affinity with wildlife and landscapes in other parts of the country if they become separate, but that is hard to quantify.

Where the big differences could take place would be in energy policy. Scotland is busy trying to turn itself into a renewable energy powerhouse. Right now it can do this as part of much larger energy market, and the ROCs that help to subsidise its renewable energy development are paid for on a UK wide basis through a levy on energy bills. In an independent Scotland, these bills would need to be paid for by a much smaller population. Certainly the electricity could be exported, but the rUK would be unwilling to pay the ROCs, any more that it would be willing to pay for the feed in tariffs of Germany, France or Ireland. At the same time the rUK would continue to account for the largest share of the offshore wind market (of the more than 40GW of offshore wind in planning, more than 30 GW are in England), and would likely pursue closer links with Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands in the Southern North Sea. This would encourage offshore wind developers and manufacturers to base themselves in the rUK to avoid regulatory or currency risk by attaching themselves to the smaller Scottish market.

At the same time, oil will account for a significant percentage of the Scottish economy, so much so that it is hard to see the government taking any environmental or economic decisions against its will. An independent Scotland will be even more in hoc to the oil and gas industry than the UK as a whole is to financial services.

On the opposite side, an oil starved rUK would be forced to look elsewhere. This could go several ways. In the worst scenario it would involve widespread search for and extraction of unconventional oil, coal and shale gas to cover the gas. Next could be massive investment in nuclear power. The best case would be that the loss of the bulk of North Sea fossil fuels gives the rUK a kick up the ass and forces it to invest heavily in renewables and energy efficiency, but I would not hold my breath.

To be continued...