Almost a year to the day when Nicola Sturgeon declared a climate emergency, the Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham said that the government was “re-purposing” its work on reducing emissions as a result of Covid-19.
Speaking to Holyrood’s environment committee via a virtual link, she told MSPs that a six-month update to the government's climate change plan had been postponed as meeting the deadline “was no longer feasible”, and that any policies and propsals would now need to “reflect the new economic and social realities post-pandemic.”
She said: “It doesn’t mean work will stop. The pause allows for work to continue but recognises we’re operating in a very changed landscape. None of us can be blind to the diruption to our economy, so our assumptions about attitudes and individual behaviours may have to shift as well.
“It’s too soon to say what the long term impacts or unintended consequences might be but we cannot proceed as if there won’t be any. All the work done until now is banked and we will repurpose it to think of a green recovery.”
She said the government would have advice from the UK Committee on Climate Change in early May which would also impact on how environmental policy would be developed.
“We have to take some time to analyse the scale of economic and societal change and how policy will need to be updated,” she said. “We will have to align the climate change plan to the economic recovery strategy.”
The Climate Change Bill which was passed by the Scottish Parliament last year was described as “landmark legislation” which committed Scotland to becoming a carbon net zero society by 2045, including an ambitious target to reduce emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 – the toughest statutory target of any country in the world.
Ms Cunningham said the revamped climate plan would need “sufficient parliamentary scrutiny” and would likely be laid before committee by the end of the year.
She also told MSPs that the postponed COP26 international conference – which was due to take place in Glasgow in November – was still due to be held in the city, but no date had yet been confirmed by the UK government’s business and energy minister Alok Sharma.
“COP26 was obviously postponed which in the circumstance was inevitable,” she said. “I have received assurances from Alok Sharma that the UK government is committed to hosting COP26 in Glasgow but there’s no date yet as to when that might be. There’s a logistics issue in that so many big international events have been rolled forward into 2021.”
Ms Cunningham added: “This is not where any of us expected to be, we could hardly have envisaged this scenario and the speed at which things are changing. But I hope it will inspire us to reimagine the challenges. Our net zero ambitions have been set out and initial work on the green recovery has started. Recovery must be resilient and to be able protect Scotland from future crisis and it will have to have net zero at its heart.”
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