Don’t be fooled by Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘climate emergency’ talk – shadow Scottish Secretary

This week’s events in the House of Commons remind us of two things: some things are more important than Brexit, and, unlike Brexit, some things we can all agree on – we are undoubtedly facing a climate emergency, writes shadow Scottish Secretary Lesley Laird.

Nicola Sturgeon may have declared a 'climate emergency' but do the Scottish Government's policies reflect that? (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)
Nicola Sturgeon may have declared a 'climate emergency' but do the Scottish Government's policies reflect that? (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

Labour’s 2017 manifesto was alive to the magnitude of the challenge facing us. We committed to ensuring 60 per cent of the UK’s energy demand in electricity and heating comes from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030. And, in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, we committed to the UK achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.

The international community supported that approach and it was vindicated this week when the Committee on Climate Change recommended the UK should seek to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and by 2045 in Scotland.

There has been much optimism about the fact that a climate emergency was declared following Labour’s motion in the Commons this week. Yes, Nicola Sturgeon made a similar declaration at SNP conference the previous weekend, but look below the surface and there’s clearly a difference of opinion between us on what actually constitutes a climate emergency.

Labour believes it presents opportunities to transform our economy for the benefit of everyone. That is why we are committed to a green industrial revolution and to a just transition from fossil fuels to renewables.

When Nicola Sturgeon announced her climate emergency, she could have made real commitments now to ban fracking, for example, or reverse reckless plans to scrap Air Passenger Duty. But she didn’t.

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She could have ordered her MPs to oppose the Transferable Tax History scheme which means taxpayers are subsidising fossil fuel exploration. She didn’t.

The Labour party is not alone in opposition. Organisations such as Global Witness, Friends of the Earth, Stop Climate Chaos Scotland and the Aviation Environment Federation have aired concerns about these policies. They’ve fallen on deaf ears so far but the SNP might yet see sense and change tack.

There is a reason that the Committee on Climate Change has said Scotland can achieve net carbon emissions five years before the rest of the UK – because our natural resources provide us with the capacity to do so.

Labour’s green industrial revolution plans are widely recognised by the industry and climate change campaigners as hugely ambitious.

They’re certainly bold. Our programme of investment and transformation to achieve a 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 could create over 400,000 high-skilled, well-paid, unionised jobs in the UK, 50,000 of them in Scotland.

Onshore wind could mean 20,000 new jobs; offshore wind another 15,000 jobs. In addition, our UK-wide home retro-fitting programme could result 15,000 more jobs. Our plan is ambitious but it is achievable – and essential.

As the Committee on Climate Change highlighted, if we are going to fulfil our duty and be world leaders in reducing carbon emissions then changes to the way we all live our lives will be necessary.

In very stark terms, we are probably the last generation able to prevent run-away climate change. That is a huge responsibility. It will not be easy. It will require determination. And, it will require very strong political will.

I believe we can - and must - succeed in tackling climate change. But we must also seize the opportunity to transform our society and our economy through a green industrial revolution.