Boris Johnson’s decision to shun a TV leaders’ debate on climate change – described as “shameful” by naturalist David Attenborough – shows this vital issue is not a high enough priority for the UK Government, writes Angus Robertson.
How many more warnings on the environment do we need to hear before acting? UN Secretary General António Guterres says that “the point of no return is no longer over the horizon”.
His warning comes as thousands of political leaders, diplomats and climate experts from around the world meet in Madrid to chart the way forward.
As if we needed any more reminding, climate change is having a devastating impact already, with 33 million people in Africa at risk of emergency food insecurity caused by cyclones and droughts. Extreme weather events around the world have included severe wildfires in Australia in recent weeks.
The meetings in Madrid this week are the beginning of vital negotiations at this year’s UN Climate Change Conference, known as Cop 25, ahead of next year’s event which will take place in Glasgow next November. Up to 200 leaders and 30,000 delegates will attend that key meeting, which will determine whether we as a world are doing enough to avert the point of no-return.
In Scotland we can be rightly proud about our response to the climate crisis. Our First Minister was one the first global leaders to declare a “climate emergency”, the Scottish Government has introduced the toughest climate targets in the UK and the Scottish Parliament has passed world-leading legislation setting a target date for net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gasses by 2045.
Twenty million trees were planted across Scotland last year as part of measures to tackle climate change. More than 11,200 hectares of Scottish countryside were planted with trees, well beyond the annual target of 10,000 hectares.
The new trees planted in Scotland amount to 84 per cent of the UK total. We should be pleased that the Scottish Government is leading on the environment, and hopefully encouraging the other governments in the UK to follow their lead. Scotland is also taking a lead when it comes to renewable energy with nearly 75 per cent of energy coming from renewable sources, and the doubling of exports of renewable energy to the rest of the UK.
Boris’s ‘shameful’ absence
Sadly, the climate hasn’t been a high enough priority for the UK Government. Boris Johnson couldn’t even be bothered to turn up for the televised leaders debate on the climate last week. Instead, Channel Four left a melting block of ice in his place to remind viewers of his absence and and importance of the subject.
Nature broadcaster David Attenborough was right to brand Boris Johnson “shameful” for dodging the debate: “I don’t know what else he had to do, but it would have to be very, very important to dodge this one.” Unfortunately US President Donald Trump is dodging this week’s climate discussions in Madrid and has already walked away from America’s commitments in the Paris Climate Agreement.
UN Secretary General Guterres is correct to warn that the climate crisis is imminent and political leaders need to respond. It is time for all countries, including global leaders like Scotland, to do more. All of us need to do more. We are reaching the point of no return, where regardless of what we try and do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is too late. With the clock ticking, hopefully all countries will play their part.