After the shock of hearing the US election results, my thoughts soon turned to people whose voices were never heard on the campaign trail: the climate activists I met recently from India, the Caribbean and Zambia, and the communities they represented. I thought of the Jamaican who, while here in Scotland, tracked Hurricane Matthew’s progress towards her own country on a weather map before calmly and quietly explaining the devastation this storm might bring to her compatriots.
Many of these campaigners were already angry at the USA, and richer countries in general, for what they see as reluctance to take rightful responsibility for the climate change having such devastating effects on their communities. What would this new political hurricane mean for them?
It is too early to decipher the implications of Trump’s victory on long-term global efforts to tackle climate change, encapsulated in the UN Paris Agreement signed last year. Reading the tea leaves from the latest annual UN Climate Summit in Marrakech –which culminates at the end of this week – should give us an initial sense of optimism or otherwise.
But if one major player’s commitment to this crucial global process is now questionable, it is surely incumbent on all others to step their ambition up even further; to demonstrate with even more urgency and determination the practical, moral and economic imperatives to shift away from fossil fuels. We must keep up the hard-won momentum and demonstrate the multiple benefits of leading this low-carbon transition.
Scotland is well-placed to provide other countries with positive encouragement. In 2009 our parliament gave its unanimous backing to what was then the most ambitious climate change legislation anywhere. The headline target was to cut emissions by 42 per cent (from a 1990 baseline) by 2020. This target was met in 2014, six years early. In particular, Scotland has a great story to tell on renewable electricity. In 2010 Scotland produced the equivalent of less than a quarter of its electricity consumption from renewables. By 2015 that figure had grown to 58 per cent.
While Donald Trump – famously – is not the biggest fan of Scotland’s windfarms, the jobs associated with the renewables industries (21,000 at the last count) resonate with all sides of the political spectrum. Our experience of the growth of green jobs can help to persuade those in other countries, including the USA, who might be swayed by the business opportunities presented by the global transition to a zero-carbon economy.
The Scottish Government and Parliament are also unusual in their willingness to accept climate change is, first and foremost, an issue of justice. Scotland’s Climate Justice Fund was the first in the world, and provides welcome recognition of the need to address fundamental imbalances of power, resources and responsibility across the world when considering our response to climate change.
That is why Stop Climate Chaos Scotland warmly welcomes the participation of Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish Government’s cabinet secretary for environment, climate change and land reform, who spent the last few days in Marrakech sharing these, and other, positive Scottish examples with delegates from around the world.
2017 brings extraordinary opportunity for climate action in Scotland. Scotland’s long-term targets will be reviewed in light of the Paris Agreement, through the introduction of a new Climate Change Bill. Meanwhile a new Climate Change Plan and energy strategy from the Scottish Government will set out the detail of how medium and long-term progress should be achieved.
And while governments and international summits can lead and support the shift away from fossil fuels, this is not something that is “done” to us as citizens. We are all involved; we all have a role to play, for example as consumers, or voters, or pension fund holders, or potential campaigners. We may be helpless to influence a US election, but its result should strengthen the resolve of all of us in Scotland, especially our politicians, to continue to provide much-needed leadership in international efforts to tackle climate change.
Chris Hegarty, Christian Aid and Chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland’s International Group.