Press Story

  • Cut North Sea production and stop exporting surplus oil and gas as we reduce our own emissions
  • Opportunity for hundreds of thousands of new, well-paid jobs in green economy but urgent retraining drive needed for workers
  • New ‘Net Zero Deal’ must be the shared responsibility of Scottish and UK governments, with major investment from Westminster

The UK and Scottish governments must together develop a new ‘net zero deal’ to keep North Sea oil and gas in the ground and invest in low-carbon industries to replace them, says an IPPR report today.

As the oil and gas industry reels from the impact of Covid-19 on oil prices, with thousands of jobs furloughed or already lost, the think tank calls for the UK to move quickly to an economy less dependent on extracting and burning fossil fuels. Such a move is essential, argue the authors, if the UK is to lead by the ‘power of our example’ as host of the COP26 climate summit next year, and leverage greater action by other countries around the world.

The report, which follows the publication of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a ‘green industrial revolution’, argues that this is not about managing decline, but a managed transition – from reliance on fossil fuels to creating and expanding the industries and jobs of the future. As previous IPPR analysis has shown, a well-managed transition with investment in the low-carbon economy could create 1.6 million jobs, shared across the country, including 134,000 jobs in Scotland.

Some 260,000 jobs are linked to the oil and gas industries across the UK, including 230,000 in the on-shore supply chain, the report says. Many workers will need new skills for the industries that could replace them, and local communities – notably in north-east Scotland, but also elsewhere in the UK – will need support to prevent the risk of economic and social decline.

New analysis by IPPR reveals the full extent of the jobs directly dependent on oil and gas industries in the Aberdeen area – more than 10 per cent of all jobs in the city itself, and 5 per cent in surrounding Aberdeenshire. The vast majority of people directly employed in the industry are in this area of Scotland. (See charts in Notes below).

However, the report also notes that three fifths of all the jobs directly and indirectly related to the industry are outside Scotland, with London and the South-East accounting for one job in five.

The report calls for the two governments to commit to a “co-design process” for an agreed “Net Zero Deal for Oil and Gas” aimed at hitting their respective net-zero emissions targets – 2050 for the UK as a whole, and 2045 for Scotland - and that also aligns with the 1.5C target of the Paris Agreement.

Any net zero deal should not be imposed on Scotland or local communities, but achieved with consent, the report says. All the costs of this transition should be fairly shared between the two governments and business, with significant investment required from the UK government.

Co-creation should also involve industry, trade unions and - most importantly - workers and communities.

Among the report’s 27 recommendations are that the two governments should jointly:

  • Set clear five-year targets to reduce oil and gas production, consumption and export, in line with overall net-zero targets and the Paris agreement. At present 80 per cent of UK oil and 20 per cent of gas is exported.
  • Remove or amend the law requiring companies to extract the most oil and gas they can from the North Sea - known as “maximum economic recovery” - and instead cap how much they can extract. This should be used to prevent the UK from exporting surplus oil and gas that would generate carbon emissions abroad.
  • Reform CEOs’ duties to include environmental obligations, with fully transparent reporting and pay and bonuses linked to long-term environmentally sustainable activity.
  • The UK government should close the investment gap of around £30 billion a year in this parliament in zero-carbon and climate-compatible industries, to meet its net-zero commitment, secure a just transition and restore nature. Further investment is needed in decommissioning, offshore wind, energy efficiency retrofitting, sustainable transport, hydrogen fuel and carbon capture and storage (CCS) plants.
  • Work with local councils in oil and gas regions to invest in new infrastructure projects like the pilot Acorn hydrogen and CCS project in north-east Scotland, expanded ports to service offshore activity and better broadband and transport links. Investment should also aim to develop low-carbon clusters of industry, such as in Grangemouth and Teesside, and to expanding academia and technical colleges to support them.
  • Set up skills academies for existing workers at an annual cost of £40m in Scotland and £63m in England, to develop the new skills needed for some of the developing industries.
  • Create a Low Carbon Wealth Fund for Aberdeen and wider Aberdeenshire, as part of the Aberdeen City Deal, to support low-carbon projects tailored to local needs and opportunities.

Luke Murphy, IPPR Associate Director who leads its work on the environment and climate change, said:

“It’s time for the UK to move on from oil and gas to a net zero North Sea and a greener and brighter future.

“As host of COP26, the UK has the opportunity to lead by the ‘power of our example’ by committing to keep fossil fuels in the ground and offering a blueprint for affected workers and communities to make the most of the huge opportunities offered by the zero-carbon economy.

“This plan provides a roadmap for how we can make the most of what the UK government says is an ‘unrivalled asset’.”

Josh Emden, IPPR Research Fellow, said:

“The Covid pandemic has hit oil and gas workers and communities particularly hard, but is just the latest crisis for a volatile industry with a long boom and bust history.

“To ensure stable and secure jobs, the government must now invest in low-carbon projects of the future, provide a skills bridge for workers to move out of oil and gas, and bring their voices to the table so that job quality is firmly at the top of the agenda in the industries of the future.”

Russell Gunson, Director of IPPR Scotland, said:

“Phasing out oil and gas will pose huge challenges for communities around Aberdeen and across Scotland. That’s why the UK and Scottish governments must work together to manage the transition, and create a plan for a Net Zero oil and gas sector, alongside local communities and workers in the industry.

“It is important, however, that the costs of transition are not devolved to Holyrood, after the proceeds of oil and gas have been reserved in Westminster. The UK government must commit to significant investment and ensure that cuts in oil and gas production are not imposed on Scotland.”

“Together, we can help people and communities through the Covid-19 crisis and deliver a net-zero oil and gas sector that secures a stronger long-term future for workers, communities and the Scotland economy.”


Luke Murphy, Josh Emden and Russell Gunson are available for interview


David Wastell, Head of News and Communications: 07921 403651

Robin Harvey, Digital and Media Officer: 07779 204798


  1. The IPPR paper, Net Zero North Sea: A managed transition for oil and gas in Scotland and the UK after Covid-19, by Josh Emden, Luke Murphy and Russell Gunson, will be published at 0001 on Thursday 3 December. It will be available for download at:
  2. Advance copies of the report are available under embargo on request
  3. The UK’s international climate obligations derive from the Paris Agreement and legally binding net zero targets set by both the UK and Scottish parliaments as 2050 and 2045 respectively. While this does not mean eliminating oil and gas production and consumption altogether, according to the Committee on Climate Change, oil and gas consumption will need to decrease by 82 per cent and 32 per cent respectively at the least and by 2050 at the very latest.
  4. Direct employment in oil and gas makes up the highest percentage of the local economy in NE Scotland
  5. Indirect jobs are spread across the whole of the UK
  6. The report is published as a submission to IPPR’s cross-party Environmental Justice Commission. The Commission was set up in 2019 to present an ambitious, positive vision shaped around people’s experiences and needs, and develop a plan of action that integrates policy to address the climate and environmental emergencies while also delivering economic and social justice. The report is one of a series of input papers that will help inform the Commission’s thinking ahead of its final report next year. It is chaired by Laura Sandys, Caroline Lucas MP and Hilary Benn MP. They are joined on the commission by leading figures from business, academia, civil society, trade unions, and youth and climate activism. Find out more about the commission here:
  7. Recent IPPR publications on climate and the environment include:
    1. The Road to COP26: A clean and fair recovery at home and a leader on climate and nature abroad available here:
    2. Transforming the Economy after Covid-19 available here:
    3. All hands to the pump: A home improvement plan for England, available here:
    4. Faster, further, fairer: Putting people at the heart of tackling the climate and nature emergency, interim report of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission. publications/faster-further-fairer

8. IPPR is the UK’s pre-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in offices in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.