Working out how Scotland transitions away from its mainstay oil and gas industry is “the most difficult issue” currently facing the devolved UK nation, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said at COP26 on Monday.
Speaking at an event organised by environmental group WWF on the sidelines of the UN climate conference, Sturgeon said that all countries with oil and gas industries “have really difficult issues to confront” in the face of growing concern about rising global temperatures caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
“For a country like Scotland, oil and gas is the most difficult,” she added.
Tens of thousands of Scottish jobs are dependent on the decades-old sector, mostly in an around the country's oil and gas capital Aberdeen, on the north-east coast.
“But that can't be an excuse for saying 'let's just keep going and drilling for oil and gas indefinitely', because that's catastrophic for the planet,” Sturgeon said.
“Facing up to that and working out how we move away from it as quickly as possible is our biggest challenge.”
Sturgeon said her Scottish National Party-led administration is working hard to orchestrate a so-called “just transition” that both protects employment by creating alternative jobs and meets climate obligations so “we're not leaving people on the scrapheap”.
“If we only face up to the easy, relatively easy things, we won't get anywhere,” she said.
As well as attending the formal opening ceremony of the crucial summit with 120 world leaders on Monday, Sturgeon met with climate activist Greta Thunberg and spoke with broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough.
As part of the UK, Scotland does not, however, have its own seat at the COP26 negotiating table.
Last month, Sturgeon said the Scottish government will no longer support the "unlimited recovery" of oil and gas in a speech that marked the SNP’s biggest move yet away from a sector that since the 1970s has underpinned the party’s economic rationale for wanting to secede from the UK.
It follows an historic power sharing deal agreed between the SNP and the Scottish Green Party in August that raised questions over the future of the oil and gas sector.
The SNP has promised to publish a new energy strategy next year to map out the transition away from hydrocarbons.
At the same time, the Scottish government will also publish a so-called “catch-up plan” after admitting it missed emissions reductions for three consecutive years.
The SNP’s emphasis on optimistic-looking future oil revenues was seen by many as a key weakness in its failed campaign to break-away from the UK in a referendum in 2014.
The Scottish government has a goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2045, five years ahead of the UK's legally binding 2050 target.
The WWF event focused on the role sub-national countries such as Scotland, cities and regions can have in tackling climate change.
Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland, said: “In the run up to COP26 there has quite rightly been a focus on the role of the big nations and world leaders. However, put simply, the world cannot solve the climate crisis without action by states, cities, and regions globally.
“Scotland has a really compelling story to tell on climate ambition and action which can help inspire others.