1. The Scottish Government issued a call for evidence on the future of coal extraction in Scotland. Responses to the call for evidence were intended to inform the development of a preferred policy position on the future of coal extraction in Scotland, which will be included in the Scottish Government's forthcoming Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan (ESJTP).
2. The call for evidence invited views and evidence that would allow the Scottish Government to deliver 'a robust and fully-evidenced policy position in line with our energy needs, statutory requirements and climate change ambitions'. Respondents were asked to address a single question:
- Considering the information presented in this call for evidence paper, and your own knowledge and experience, what are your views on the extraction of coal in Scotland?
3. The call for evidence received 21 responses, from 9 individuals and 12 organisations. The main types of organisational respondents were public sector bodies, academic and research bodies and groups, heritage organisations and environmental organisations. The remaining organisations comprised an independent grant giving body, an organisation focused on energy efficiency and clean energy solutions, and a campaign group focused on a move away from the use of coal and a 'just transition' for coal mining communities.
4. The responses ranged from very short statements of views to lengthier submissions presenting technical information and statistics. Eight respondents included references to third-party sources, and two respondents provided copies of reports they had prepared.
5. Respondents were divided in their overall views on the future of coal extraction in Scotland. Seven respondents (five individuals and two organisations) favoured future coal extraction, and thought coal had a place in Scotland's energy mix, at least on a transitional basis. Eleven respondents (four individuals and seven organisations) were opposed to coal extraction, with climate change being the main reason cited by this group.
6. The remaining three respondents commented on issues relevant to the call for evidence without stating an overall position on the future of coal extraction.
Support for future coal extraction
7. There were two key linked themes in the responses from those who supported future coal extraction in Scotland: (i) energy security and (ii) the continuing need for coal in different economic sectors.
8. On energy security, respondents thought that restarting domestic coal extraction:
- Would reduce reliance on expensive imported coal – respondents said this offered economic benefits, and avoided supply chain volatility caused by world events
- Offered a reliable and proven source of energy for use alongside renewables and / or until alternative renewable sources could fully meet energy demands.
9. Respondents also said this would (i) help preserve Scotland's oil and gas reserves for other purposes, and (ii) help keep fuel prices at an affordable level.
10. In terms of the continuing need for coal, respondents highlighted its use in a number of industrial functions – e.g. in relation to steel, aluminium, cement, carbon fibre and silicon metal production – and said that, without a domestic supply, Scotland would have to rely on imported coal for many years to come. The continuing need for a small supply of coal in the heritage sector (e.g. for steam railway attractions) was highlighted.
11. Respondents in this group often acknowledged the issue of climate change but argued that using domestic rather than imported coal could help cut overall global carbon emissions, largely because of the shorter transportation distances involved.
Opposition to future coal extraction
12. The prime concern for respondents opposed to coal extraction was tackling climate change. These respondents emphasised the global challenge of climate change and the need for immediate action to reduce carbon emissions. They cited Scotland's international obligations and evidence on this issue, and they argued that any future coal extraction would be incompatible with Scotland's efforts to move towards becoming a low carbon economy. It would also make it harder to meet the Scottish Government's net zero targets.
13. These respondents thought that energy security was best addressed though a transition to clean energy sources, the development of renewables, and improvements in energy efficiency. They also said that the continuing need for coal, particularly in relation to the steel industry, had to be tackled if emissions targets were to be met.
Other issues raised
14. Other themes identified in the responses to the call for evidence related to:
- Scotland's heritage: Respondents highlighted the importance of (i) celebrating Scotland's history of involvement in the coal industry, and the cultural and economic role of heritage sites and industrial museums in this context, and (ii) ensuring that the development of renewables was sensitive to Scotland's historic environment.
- The legacy of the coal mining industry: Respondents highlighted the need to ensure the safety of old mining sites, the possibility of exploiting old mines as a future source of geothermal energy, and the importance of restoring sites for community benefit.
- The transition to a low carbon economy: Respondents supported a just transition for all communities, including those previously involved in the coal industry.
- Information and research: One academic body highlighted the availability of geological information that could be used to inform decision making in this area.
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