Roseanna Cunningham: Some states hate eco-activists, but not Scotland

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham is urging people to respond to the new Environmental Strategy discussion paper
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham is urging people to respond to the new Environmental Strategy discussion paper
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Environmental campaigners are holding the Scottish Government to account and helping to make its policies better, but in some countries they face threats, intimidation and violence, writes Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham as she urges people to comment on the new Environment Strategy discussion paper.

In the last month alone, Scotland has introduced proposals for a deposit-return scheme for drinks containers, hosted its first marine litter summit, banned microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics and published annual statistics showing we have nearly halved our greenhouse gas emissions since 1990.

For a country our size, this is a tremendous feat and one that I’m immensely proud of. But my ambition now is to see us build on this progress so we can establish Scotland as a country that is leading global action to address environmental challenges. This progress could not have been achieved without the hard work of organisations working day in and out to campaign for our environment – and, importantly, the individuals who give up their weekends, holidays, nights and days for beach cleans, tree plantings, volunteering in third-world countries and even canvassing for petition signatures for the issues that are important to them.

These community champions hold the Scottish Government to account and have been an important part of our work cutting carbon emissions, taking action on single-use plastics and empowering communities to take on land ownership. However I am aware that the value we see in citizens championing environmental rights is not evident everywhere and, in some parts of the world, people are persecuted for claiming rights that we take for granted.

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That is why I want to go one step further than saying thank you by pledging my support for the UN Environmental Rights Initiative. Launched earlier this year, it is taking a stand against the on-going threats, intimidation, harassment and murder of environmental defenders and is working with people and governments to ensure effective protection of people’s environmental rights.

A staggering 197 people were murdered around the world defending their environment and land last year. Between 1993 and 2006, 48 countries introduced laws that restricted funding for environmental organisations. The Scottish Government steadfastly supports the ethos of the UN’s initiative and joins its calls on other governments to tackle apparent human rights abuse. Over the summer, we will do what we can to raise awareness of these issues. This summer is also a time for us to draw up plans to build on our environmental leadership. We have a moral obligation to cut greenhouse gas emissions, so that the poorest countries are not detrimentally affected by our actions, to tackle air pollution, protect and enhance biodiversity, restore ecosystems and work to reduce our international ecological footprint.

In Scotland, we have a fantastic network of environmental charities, organisations and volunteers that are helping us make Scotland cleaner and greener. I would encourage them and all those with an interest in shaping our future environmental policies, to contribute to our newly launched Environment Strategy discussion paper. This will help us come up with a strategy that will be a statement of ambition for all those working to protect our environment and set the contribution we will make to global issues.

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We already have some great policies in place in areas like climate change and the circular economy. This new Environment Strategy will bring together our existing strategies and plans, helping to coordinate and prioritise our action and resources so we can be even more effective in delivering Scotland’s world-leading environment and climate change goals.

No-one can be certain on how future technologies, trends or even Brexit will affect our environment, but we should be confident and ambitious about what we can achieve over the short to medium-term, while maintaining our focus on the long-term vision and global ambitions for the environment.