I could not be more proud to be Scotland’s first ever Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. From our land, air, seas, climate, flora and fauna, I think there are very few out there who will disagree with me when I say that Scotland’s stunning natural environment is one of our most precious assets.
I want to explore ways in which we can use our country’s natural capital wisely and productively and how we can continue to strive for and achieve our world leading ambitions on climate change, among many other priorities.
On 5 June, World Environment Day, there is no better time to highlight just how crucial our environment is: put simply, it forms the backbone upon which a fairer Scotland, and a strong, sustainable, low carbon economy can, and should, be built. The environment is a public good that we need to protect and grow – an idea I was keen to develop when I worked on this portfolio as a minister between 2009 and 2011.
Last winter saw some of the worst flooding we have witnessed in years. We are all painfully aware of the terrible impact flooding has, devastating communities and individuals affected, and causing widespread disruption. We remain committed to working with local authorities, SEPA and others to reduce flood risk.
We need to focus on tackling this and making Scotland more resilient to that challenge – something that I’m sure will be aided by the recently opened National Centre for Resilience in Dumfries. Of course, managing flood risk is not just about hard infrastructure – we need to invest in natural flood management too, for example through peatland restoration and tree planting. This enables us to achieve benefits both for communities prone to flooding and for biodiversity.
Perhaps the biggest threat to our social and economic ambitions comes from climate change. That’s why we, as a government, have worked hard to make Scotland a world leader on climate change and we have a record of which we can be proud.
But we are also ambitious to achieve more – I intend to work closely with my colleagues to drive forward activity to meet our targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We are on track to exceed our 2020 target for a 42 per cent reduction from baseline levels, and I look forward to presenting the next set of figures, covering emissions in 2014, after their release later this month.
And as the First Minister announced last week, we will establish a new and more testing target for 2020 – of reducing actual Scottish emissions by at least 50 per cent – and we will look for support from across the country for the actions we will need to take to meet that target.
I also recognise the need to empower communities to adapt to meet future climate challenges, which is why I will continue to support communities across Scotland to reduce their carbon emissions through our Climate Challenge Fund, targeting projects which deliver the greatest reduction in carbon emissions.
Many of the projects supported by the Climate Challenge Fund encourage the reuse of everyday items, extending their life through repair and maintenance. This is at the heart of our approach to creating a more circular economy, where we aim to keep valuable materials and products in circulation for as long as possible, preventing waste and reducing emissions while also creating business and career opportunities in various sectors. I also intend to lead activity to meet our new target to reduce food waste by one third by 2025 – the first such target in Europe.
In doing this I promise to listen to all voices, ideas and views and to seek consensus where it can be found. Where we absolutely share a common interest is in our desire, our passion, our determination and drive to create a cleaner and greener country, and world, to live in.
Roseanna Cunningham is Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform