Michael Matheson: Scotland may not be the biggest country but it can lead the world by example

With nothing less than the future of the planet up for discussion, COP26 was one of the most important events to have ever come to Glasgow.

Picture: Michael Gillen
Picture: Michael Gillen

I’m proud of the role Scotland played in making the event a success. The resulting Glasgow Climate Pact does not go as far as we would have wanted, but there can be no doubt that the summit delivered progress on some important issues.

Not least the acknowledgement –even if it was not as clear or strong as it should have been – that we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. This is a journey Scotland has already embarked on, and needs to accelerate, in a way that is fair and just.

Before COP26 started, the First Minister made clear that unlimited recovery of hydrocarbons is not consistent with meeting the aims of the Paris Agreement. But we have to end that reliance in a way that maximises economic, social and environmental opportunities and that leaves nobody behind.

It is essential that we support the transformation of industries, help businesses to adapt and innovate, and support communities to ensure that they are cleaner, safer and more accessible. That is not an easy task, but it is crucial and will have rewards for us in the future.

That’s why we are investing £500 million in a Just Transition Fund to support the north-east as one of Scotland’s centres of excellence for the transition to a net-zero economy, alongside a £100 million Green Jobs Fund and a skills guarantee to help workers in carbon-intense sectors to reskill.

We are also taking action to make it easier for people to make the journey to net-zero. One of the key areas is how we heat our homes.

Heat demand accounts for about 20 per cent of our emissions, so at least one million Scottish homes will need to move to a net-zero heating system by 2030. We will allocate at least £1.8 billion during this parliament to support the deployment of heat and energy efficiency measures in buildings across Scotland. In doing so, we have an opportunity to not just reduce emissions but also to make our homes easier to heat.

Alongside how we heat our buildings, how we get from A to Bremains a major challenge. We have set a target of reducing the number of miles travelled by car in Scotland by 20 per cent by 2032. That requires a big modal shift in how people travel, with a greater role for public transport.

Recent research commissioned by Transport Scotland shows that almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of young Scots agree that access to public transport will play a central role in the fight against climate change, and 70 per cent indicated that they would use public transport more frequently if it was free. That’s why, in order to provide further impetus to our net-zero mission, all under-22s resident in Scotland will have access to free bus travel from31 January, 2022.

Scotland might not be the biggest on the global stage but we can lead by example. We have not only doubled the fund for climate justice to £24m but also added another £12m, thereby trebling Scotland’s contribution to climate justice since the fund opened in 2012.

We are the first developed country to commit £2m for loss and damage, further galvanising $3m of philanthropic funds and €1m from Wallonia.

COP26 might have been the most important event to come to Scotland this century, but that doesn’t mean the work is over now that everyone has left town. By prioritising a just and fair transition – here and abroad – Scotland can play a vital role in finishing the work that was started in Glasgow.

Michael Matheson is the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport