Coal extraction: preferred policy position

Statement setting out our preferred policy position of no support for coal extraction in Scotland.

We are transitioning to a net zero emissions Scotland for the benefit of our environment, our people, and our prosperity, with Scotland’s ambitious climate change legislation setting a target date for net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045. This means that our contribution to climate change will end, definitively, within one generation. 

In line with this commitment, our Programme for Government 2021 to 2022  stated that: "unlimited extraction of fossil fuels is incompatible with our climate obligations and meeting the aims of the Paris Agreement"; in a post-COP26 world, it is more important than ever that we move towards this goal at pace, and continue to put words into actions.

This can be clearly demonstrated in the Bute House Agreement, formalised in September 2021, which states that: "given the urgency of the climate emergency, we accept that countries around the world, including the UK, cannot continue with unlimited recovery of hydrocarbons if the aims of the Paris Agreement are to be met - we cannot ignore the concern that unlimited extraction of fossil fuels is simply incompatible with protecting the planet."

Coal exploitation is a matter reserved to the UK Government, and the Coal Authority is responsible for licensing coal mining activity in Scotland. However, planning policy and determinations are devolved to the Scottish Government.

Planning policy

Our National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) will signal a turning point for planning and we have been clear that responding to both the global climate emergency and the nature crisis will be central to that. We laid our draft NPF4 in the Scottish Parliament on 10 November 2021 which set out proposed planning policies including of no support for the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels, other than in exceptional circumstances aligned with national policy on energy and climate. Alongside Parliamentary scrutiny of the draft, we ran a public consultation, supported by an extensive engagement programme. We are carefully considering the wealth of information and views expressed during our NPF4 consultation before we take a final version to the Scottish Parliament for approval this autumn.

We recognise that coal licences and related planning permission may be needed in wholly exceptional circumstances where, for example, the extraction of coal is legally required as part of building works or where a seam needs to be removed in the course of preparing foundations. Any holder of a licence issued by the Coal Authority may submit an application for planning permission for coal mining-related activities. As a matter of law, all planning applications must be determined in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. As a statement of national policy, the finalised policy position on coal extraction would be a material consideration. Once approved and adopted, NPF4 will form part of the statutory development plan meaning its policies will inform day-to-day planning decision making. 

Position on coal extraction in Scotland

We are undertaking a full policy development process in order to reach a finalised position on coal extraction in Scotland, in line with statutory requirements. The first step in this process was the launch of a call for evidence on coal extraction which ran from 21 June to 2 August 2022, which invited stakeholders’ views and expanded our evidence base in this policy area. 

The call for evidence set coal extraction in its wider context of our statutory emissions targets and just transition, and highlighted our work to date in relevant policy areas, including energy security, heat regulation and air quality. 

The responses to the call for evidence, and the independent analysis report, are both publicly available. Having considered stakeholders’ views and the evidence received alongside wider Scottish Government energy and climate change policies, our preferred policy position is no support for coal extraction in Scotland. 

Next steps

This preferred policy position is subject to statutory and other assessments before the policy-making process can be completed. The preferred policy position on coal extraction will be included in the impact assessments, including Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the wider Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, the draft of which is due to be published by the end of 2022. The finalised policy position will be confirmed on conclusion of this process. 

The public consultation on the draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan and related impact assessments will be a further opportunity for stakeholders to engage with us on the preferred policy position of no support for coal extraction in Scotland.

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