In June of 2009, in a relatively rare outbreak of consensus, the Scottish Parliament did something remarkable. MSPs agreed, unanimously, to some of the most ambitious climate change targets anywhere in the world.
The most eye-catching commitment was one to reduce Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent by 2020 (from a 1990 baseline). This was deemed groundbreaking, ambitious and was warmly welcomed by climate campaigners.
Since then, Scotland has witnessed remarkably positive progress on climate change. Recently announced figures confirmed that by 2014, Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions had fallen by 46 per cent compared to those of 1990, beating the 42 per cent target six years ahead of schedule.
Meanwhile, the lights have stayed on, the sky is still blue and the burgeoning low-carbon sector in Scotland supports tens of thousands of jobs.The lesson is clear: aim high.
Detractors sometimes talk of Scotland accounting for only a small proportion of global emissions. But Scotland’s impact can be multiplied by inspiring others to follow suit. As Lord Deben, chair of the UK Committee on Climate Change said last week, “I unashamedly use Scotland as an exemplar.”
We are about to embark on a crucial period in which Scotland’s climate ambitions will be re-calibrated. The Scottish Parliament is about to set its course for the years to come, with a long term climate plan being agreed, as well as a new Climate Change Bill which will see revised medium and long-term targets being set. Although recent progress is welcome, the pace of change now needs to accelerate significantly. Looking into the 2020s and beyond, it is widely accepted that sectors such as transport, housing and agriculture will need to see much greater advancement if Scotland is to remain a leader on climate change.
In 2009 Christian Aid Scotland campaigned for ambitious targets. As Scotland’s climate targets are being re-set, it is timely to revisit our assessment of the need for action, and why we – as an organisation whose vision is a world without poverty – are so concerned about climate change.
More than ever before, it is clear that the influence of climate change on efforts to tackle poverty is profound. For example, Christian Aid’s long-term work alongside communities in Malawi is facing enormous challenges from a drought that has seen 6.5 million people facing terrible food shortages.In many cases this extreme weather has led to the last two harvests being lost – in an area in which many people rely on small-scale farming for food and income.
While we cannot attribute any single, specific weather event to climate change we see clear patterns of frequent, severe, unpredictable events affecting the work of our partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
As a result, more and more of Christian Aid’s efforts have to go to tackling poverty in a “climate resilient” way. In other words, we are working with communities not only to address existing challenges, but to pre-empt and protect people from climate-related challenges of the future.
While we will continue to help communities adapt to the changes in the climate we are already seeing, it is clear to us that we urgently need to limit the extent of the challenge in the first place.
As Holyrood looks once more at Scotland’s approach to climate change, the reasons for taking urgent action are more compelling than ever. We hope that our politicians aim high once again.
Chris Hegarty Senior Policy and Advocacy Adviser, Christian Aid Scotland, www.christianaid.org.uk/scotland