With all the ongoing Brexit chaos and uncertainty, you’d be forgiven for thinking politicians have forgotten there are other issues that demand our attention.
On my part, that couldn’t be further from the truth. There is no more urgent issue, in my mind, than climate change.
The threat has never been more real or immediate. The recent devastating flooding in Malawi and the carnage caused by Cyclone Idai are painful examples of what is at stake for communities around the world. All too often, it is those who have done the least to contribute to climate change who are hit hardest by it.
We have provided £225,000 to support emergency flood relief in Malawi as well as £100,000 to the Disasters Emergency Committee to provide help to Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in the wake of Cyclone Idai.
Meanwhile, thousands of young climate change campaigners – their voices coming from more than 100 countries now – are expressing, very eloquently and passionately, their heartfelt concern for what the next generation will inherit.
The First Minister met with five of those young people last week and heard their concerns about the future of the planet and what further action they think could be taken to address climate change.
Yesterday I welcomed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to Edinburgh, where they are holding a major scientific meeting this week. We must all act on the clear, global, scientific consensus that they have provided. The warning contained in their Special Report, published last October, was stark: the world needs to be carbon neutral by 2050 to prevent warming of more than 1.5 degrees.
The Scottish Government is proud of our achievements to tackle climate change so far – Scotland’s emissions have almost halved since 1990 and we continue to outperform the rest of the UK in delivering reductions. But we are not resting on our laurels. We recognise the urgency of the call to action.
In May last year, we introduced our ambitious new Climate Change Bill as a direct response to the Paris Agreement. Our Bill sets the most ambitious statutory targets of any country in the world for 2020, 2030 and 2040 – plus every year in between – and will mean Scotland achieves a 90 per cent net reduction of all greenhouse gases, regarded as carbon neutrality, by 2050.
This week, the Bill is taking the next step to becoming law. Yesterday, I provided my initial response to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee’s report on the Bill. I was pleased that the cross-party committee agrees with the Scottish Government that greater action across the public and private sector is now needed, and that the Bill maintains Scotland’s place “among those at the forefront of global ambition on climate change”.
Today, the Bill will be debated in parliament. The ambition of the targets will undoubtedly, and quite rightly, be the centre of the debate. It is based on expert advice from the UK Committee on Climate Change, an independent statutory body tasked with advising us on targets. The CCC is comprised of experts in climate science, economics, behavioural science and business. In their last set of advice, they stated that the targets we have proposed are at “the very limit of feasibility”.
We have asked the CCC to look at this again, in light of the IPCC’s Special Report. The advice will be presented to us in exactly one month’s time – on 2 May. If the Committee advises that it is now credible for Scotland to set a date for us to become net-zero – a 100 per cent reduction – then that is exactly what we will do.
It is worth noting that the reach and pace of Scotland’s ambition is dependent on a number of the policy levers which remain reserved to Westminster. Decarbonisation of heat, for example, depends on UK Government decisions on the future of the gas network.
But regardless of whether the UK Government choose to act, I am firmly of the view that maintaining the evidence-based approach established by the Scottish Parliament’s 2009 Act is vital.
This will allow future parliaments, as well as future governments, to continue to balance their climate change, economic and social responsibilities.
I want to be crystal clear on one more point: no-one can be left behind in our journey towards carbon neutrality. We know that Scotland can reap economic benefit from the new markets and investment opportunities that it creates. Our low-carbon and renewable-energy sector already supports around 46,000 jobs and generates an annual turnover of over £11 billion.
We have a long history of innovation which supports our efforts to build a healthy energy system and carbon-neutral economy and Scotland is now home to the world’s leading wave and tidal test centre, the world’s largest planned tidal stream array and the world’s most powerful tidal turbine.
Last year, we were able to meet the equivalent of 74.6 per cent of our electricity demand from renewable sources, and we saw the growing importance of offshore wind with capacity and generation both more than doubling compared to 2017.
But decarbonising Scotland means that all parts of society need to work together – the public sector, industry, businesses, and individuals. Behaviour change is critical and the Scottish Government is working hard to ensure that everyone is informed about how they can continue to do their bit to tackle climate change.
That is why we established the Just Transition Commission to advise on how we continue the transition in a way that promotes inclusive growth, cohesion and equality. Of course, Scotland cannot tackle the global issue of climate change alone. But we can play, and are playing, a leading role in the international call for action, using an open exchange of information and sharing of best practice to mobilise global action and increased ambition.
We are taking the action our scientists, young people and our own observations tell us that the world desperately needs if we are to create a sustainable future for the generations to come.