COP26: How just days before vital summit the SNP and Tories let us down badly on climate change – Christine Jardine MP

It is here. At last, the wait for the delayed COP26 is over and our governments can finally focus on seizing the opportunity to be world leaders on climate action.

At least that is what I expected.

The reality is turning out to be a little different. On the very eve of the most important ever political gathering for the future of the planet, you would think our politicians would be falling over themselves to prove their climate credentials.

Instead there seems more chance of them tripping over giant rats, or failing to negotiate protesters, on the streets of Glasgow.

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Both governments – SNP and Tory – this week sent out at best confusing, at worst negative signals to the world on where they stand on climate action.

First there was the mic drop moment when the SNP at Holyrood teamed up with the Tories at Westminster to back a third runway at Heathrow Airport. A move which will increase carbon dioxide emissions over that part of the country by a mind-boggling 183 billion kilograms by 2050, once you take into account not just the flights but the construction.

I am no expert but that’s a lot of CO2.

It is also not helpful to Edinburgh Airport, owned by the same company as Gatwick, which could now find itself at a commercial disadvantage.

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A British Airways plane takes off from Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5 (Picture: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

And while that is not a concern for climate activists, it is for so many of my constituents and for the economy in this part of Scotland.

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What was particularly curious was that while my own party – the Scottish Liberal Democrats – introduced an amendment to scrap support for the runway, the Scottish Greens are content to continue in government with the party which backs that Heathrow expansion.

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Not quite the climate conscious influence we were promised by the ministerial double act of Harvey and Slater.

One hesitates to suggest that the Scottish government thought that their environmental faux pas might slip under the media radar, unnoticed while journalists immersed themselves in analysis of Rishi Sunak’s budget.

But if that was the plan the Chancellor was the very one who scuppered it by coming up with climate clanger of his own which simply pulled the SNP into the spotlight with him.

That new runway at Heathrow on which the SNP and Tories are so keen will be supported by the Chancellor’s decision to drop air passenger duty on domestic flights from England.

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It will also, the Chancellor stressed, encourage more flights to Scottish airports from England.

But while the initial automatic reaction for all of us might be “at least it’s not long haul”, the irony is that domestic travel is actually more damaging in relative terms.

It is accepted that aircraft on routes of 700 kilometres or less emit more carbon dioxide per person for every kilometre travelled than long-haul flights do. The actual figures are 251 grams per km for short haul compared to 195g per km for long haul.

The reason is that take-off and landing use the most fuel, while level flight over longer distance is cleaner in comparison.

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So encouraging an increase in domestic flights will simply increase pollution around our airports. Again not what I wanted to hear for my own constituents.

And while we all might have hoped that there would at least be some measures in the Budget to offset the potential massive increase in our carbon footprint, we got nothing.

Indeed the most significant reflection of the Conservative government’s priorities on climate change in the Budget was that it didn’t figure at all.

There were 7,846 words in the Chancellor’s budget speech. “Climate” was not one of them.

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Neither was there any investment in our railways, support for alternative vehicle fuels or game-changing thinking on shifting to a green economy.

One of the silver linings many of us had been hoping for from the crisis of the past two years, is that the government would harness the challenge to drive change. That they would encourage employment creation by investing in sustainable industries.

But even the welcome investment in research and development to encourage our science industries does not seem to include any incentive to focus on climate-friendly projects.

Fortunately I think we can depend on our young scientists to take that initiative for themselves, given their remarkable awareness and commitment on issues.

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But we shouldn’t have to. Surely we should be able to depend on our political leaders to drive ever faster transition to a cleaner, greener economy?

We should have more to rely on than a handful of programmes making it marginally easier for some to afford an electric car or sustainable heating.

What happened to the exciting years of the coalition when the Liberal Democrats introduced the Green Deal, Green Investment Bank and wanted to invest in carbon capture.

After 2015 the Conservatives went back on all of it. Last night, I attended the world premiere of Sir David Attenborough’s new film, the Green Planet, and next week I shall be attending Transport Day at COP26.

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I had hoped to hop off the train in my original home city buoyed up with the knowledge that our governments were leading the way to a greener future.

I know my party colleagues share both my enthusiasm and determination to ensure that this conference is the last at which there has to be a case made for radical change.

That by the time COP27 takes place next year, Glasgow will have become synonymous with a paradigm change in thinking.

That we will be holding world leaders to promises to tackle the wild fires and flooding which emphasis the urgency and underline the need for success.

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Looking at those in charge at home and their recent actions, I fear that we may have a long way to go.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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