After SNP's 17 years of failure on climate change, things are about to get worse – Martyn McLaughlin

The optimism that I sensed at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow seems like a distant memory as Kate Forbes rejoins the Scottish Cabinet

It is less than two-and-a-half years since the COP26 climate summit descended on Glasgow, bringing with it a communal sense of optimism, caution, and above all, hope. How quickly things have taken a turn for the worse.

Scotland’s role in facilitating that event was inspiring. I vividly remember chatting with delegates from small Pacific islands who expressed gratitude for the chance to highlight the ruinous impact of the climate emergency on their communities. Even though the final agreement struck in Glasgow was not as robust as some would have liked, it still felt like progress.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Now, the nation that welcomed the world has taken its own backwards step, and I have little faith that First Minister John Swinney’s new administration will right that wrong. Since time immemorial, targets have stood as a convenient way of expressing a government’s vision.

‘No longer credible’

Sometimes, they are achievable short-term goals that make for easy wins. Often, they look further into the future, which is convenient on two fronts: firstly, it allows administrations to claim that they are focused on long-term solutions instead of quick fixes; secondly, many of those tasked with setting them know there is a very good chance they will no longer be in public office when the time for reckoning arrives.

On occasion, the entire charade comes tumbling down long before then. So it has proved with the Scottish Government’s contribution to global efforts to tackle the climate emergency. The decision to scrap the flagship target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 put paid to the increasingly strained Bute House Agreement, and with it, Humza Yousaf’s short-lived premiership.

A mural painted in Glasgow near where the COP26 climate summit was held spoke of the urgency for real action (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)A mural painted in Glasgow near where the COP26 climate summit was held spoke of the urgency for real action (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
A mural painted in Glasgow near where the COP26 climate summit was held spoke of the urgency for real action (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

It had been clear for some time beforehand that the target was largely rhetoric. Previous annual goals were missed in eight out of 12 years, and one report after another from the Climate Change Committee warned of a gulf between the government’s ambition, and how it intended to realise it. When, in March, the committee dispensed with any remaining diplomatic language to declare, simply, that the 2030 target was “no longer credible”, the game was up.

One step forward, two steps back

This grim failure is entirely of the SNP’s own making. A party that has occupied the seat of power for 17 years had the opportunity to embed a framework detailing the regulation and funding required to make meaningful progress. For every step forward, such as an increase in active travel funding, there were two steps back; it was politically convenient to blame Westminster for the deposit return scheme failures when in fact, the entire initiative floundered as a result of deeper flaws.

There has been no real sense of the urgency or creativity necessary in order to put things back on track. Longstanding problems, such as a failure to decarbonise transport, agriculture, and built estate, remain scourges. The Net Zero Secretary, Mairi McAllan, has since spoken of charting a course at a pace and scale that is “feasible, fair and just” in order to ensure that Scotland achieves net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045. But given the senior Cabinet role given to Kate Forbes, whose support of climate issues has proved to be expendable when economic concerns take primacy, the optimism of COP26 seems like a distant memory.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.