Why Boris Johnson’s wrong to exclude Scottish Government from Glasgow climate summit – Dr Richard Dixon

Boris Johnson. Picture: Getty
Boris Johnson. Picture: Getty
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Scottish ministers should be allowed an official place at the Glasgow climate summit next year as they are aiming higher than most countries, writes Dr Richard Dixon.

A year ago today saw the publication of the seminal 1.5C report from the IPCC, the official group of world climate scientists. The report painted a stark picture about how awful the world would be at 2C warmer than pre-industrial times. It also talked about how little time there is left to head off that future.

It’s been a remarkable year since then, with the global climate strikes, a last-minute boost for Scotland’s targets in the new climate bill, a final(ish) decision not to allow fracking in Scotland, and the announcement that the 26th annual climate conference will be held in Glasgow in November 2020.

Getting a climate conference is prestigious. If you’re lucky, you end up with some important international accord named after one of your cities. Some 30,000 delegates, 200 world leaders and perhaps 300,000 demonstrators will converge on Glasgow.

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It would be nice to think our politicians could work together on something so vitally important. Sadly not.

When the UK climate minister Claire Perry came to Glasgow to announce the conference was coming, she deliberately didn’t tell the Scottish Government. There were outraged reactions to Boris Johnson using a fringe event at the Tory conference to talk about how he would exclude Nicola Sturgeon from the event. There is a long history of the devolved countries being excluded or marginalised at the climate conferences.

Tartan, whisky – and tougher emissions targets

Civil servants from Scotland have been attending the conferences for 20 years but, at first, devolved ministers were refused an official place and since then have been barely tolerated rather than embraced. At one of these meetings some years ago, the Scottish delegation admitted to me that the UK delegation staff would not even share the conference phone directory because they did not want the Scottish minister arranging meetings with other countries.

Every year the Scottish team has made a programme of engagements for ministers, sometimes the First Minister – everything from meeting other countries (shocking behaviour) and speaking at major events to participating in religious events and spending time with charities. When the G8 came to Gleneagles in 2005, there was a tense behind-the-scenes argument about whether our First Minister Jack McConnell would be allowed a role, and that was when the governments in Scotland and the UK were of the same party.

Of course it is the UK which is the host (jointly with Italy) but Scotland can usefully contribute. Last year in Katowice, the Polish government hosted but the region of Silesia got to have a stand inside to butter up the official delegates. It was made of coal, mind you.

No doubt delegates in Glasgow will see tartan, whisky and shortbread but Boris Johnson was never going to allow Nicola Sturgeon a major platform to point out that Scotland’s climate targets are tougher than the UK’s and how much more ambitious we are on renewable energy, phasing out fossil fuel cars or restoring peat bogs.

Perhaps the UK Government will go against form and properly include Scottish and Welsh First Ministers. More likely the Scottish Government will find its own ways to participate inside and outside the official halls. We don’t think the Scottish Government is going far enough but it’s aiming higher and doing a lot more than most countries. The world desperately needs to hear about good examples.

Dr Richard Dixon is director of Friends of the Earth Scotland