COP26 climate change summit: Scotland’s new monsoon season is a reminder that there is no Planet B – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

As COP26 kicks off in earnest, signs and banners have been appearing everywhere, carrying the words: “No Planet B.”

That phrase always gets me and in recent days I’ve been thinking about it a lot. With the global climate summit under way, this really is the last chance saloon for the one planet we’ve got.

Since I was little, I’ve been obsessed by outer space. At the age of 10, I was given a telescope for Christmas along with a book about astronomy and I was hooked.

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I really wanted to be an astronaut, but never got the hang of maths or physics, so it was always a non-starter. Nevertheless, the passion never left me and I was fascinated to read over the weekend that stargazers have identified what they think to be the first sign of a planet transiting its star in another galaxy. Another galaxy!

If you think about that for a moment, the fact that we’ve started to observe planets in the neighbouring Whirlpool Galaxy, M51, a cool 28 million light-years away, is just mind blowing.

Sadly, while there are an estimated 40 billion Earth-like worlds in the Milky Way, the nearest of which, Proxima B, is only four light-years away, it would still take 54,000 years to reach in our fastest spaceship. Earth is all there is for us, so we’ve got to pull our finger out.

Within my lifetime, we have woken up to things like the hole in the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect. Now, there are signs of the climate emergency absolutely everywhere.

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Flood defences are deployed along the River Teviot after a major flood incident was declared in Hawick (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)Flood defences are deployed along the River Teviot after a major flood incident was declared in Hawick (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
Flood defences are deployed along the River Teviot after a major flood incident was declared in Hawick (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

In 2016, the first year I was elected, Edinburgh witnessed a rainstorm of epic proportions. Several residents in the communities I represent were forced to evacuate their homes by flooding.

I sought an early meeting with Scottish Water on their behalf and was told categorically that what had occurred was, in their words, “a one-in-1000-year storm”. Well, five years on and that one-in-1000-year storm has returned no less than four times.

The floods of this weekend, particularly in the Borders, are a reminder that Scotland seems to be getting a yearly monsoon season and, as far as global extreme weather events go, we’re getting off lightly.

Nevertheless the Scottish government needs to get to grips with the flooding problem. In January this year, research by the Scottish Liberal Democrats revealed that in the last parliamentary term, just seven of the 42 flood protection schemes identified by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency for delivery had been completed.

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That's a huge failure on the part of the Scottish government and even now there is no guarantees that fresh help will arrive. There was no mention of help for communities being routinely flooded as a result of the climate emergency in the SNP/Green coalition’s programme for government, either.

Some 284,000 homes are at risk of flooding in Scotland right now, and that number is only going to rise. It’s why I’ve called for the introduction of a ‘Climate Emergency Communities Fund’ to upgrade Scottish homes, businesses and infrastructure to cope with the new monsoon season and rising sea levels.

COP26 could be the last opportunity we have to embrace solutions like this, because there really isn’t a planet B.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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