Holyrood holds first ever climate justice debate

MSPs have held what was said to be the world’s first parliamentary debate on climate justice.

The concept of climate justice highlights the unequal impact that rising carbon emissions and associated climate change has on poorer countries.

During the debate today, Environment and Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson announced the launch of a “climate justice fund” this spring in response to the impact of climate change on the world’s poorest communities.

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Mr Stevenson said that according to Professor Alan Miller, of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, and Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Holyrood today held the “first ever parliamentary debate on the climate justice concept worldwide”.

He said: “The Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice aims to secure global justice for the many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten - the poor, disempowered and marginalised across the world.

“The foundation gives the following definition which I think captures the essence of the agenda: Climate justice links human rights and development to achieve a human-centred approach, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its resolution equitably and fairly.”

He added: “In our manifesto last year we committed to establishing an international climate adaptation fund.

“Given the clear link between the need for adaptation in developing countries and climate justice, I can announce today that we are renaming the commitment as Scotland’s ‘Climate Justice Fund’ and that we will launch this fund in the next few months.”

Mr Stevenson said it is important to “capitalise on Scotland’s enhanced international profile” on climate change, citing former US vice-president and campaigner Al Gore’s praise of “Scotland’s leadership on climate change”, and First Minister Alex Salmond’s recent South Australia International climate leadership award.

However, Labour environment and climate change spokeswoman Claudia Beamish quoted WWF Scotland, who said the Scottish Government’s report on climate saving policies and proposals “falls well short of providing the confidence that targets will actually be hit and fails to commit to the step change on policy action described as necessary by the UN Committee on Climate Change”.

She said: “We were disappointed with the Government’s decision to cut the active travel budget by almost 40%, although after cross-party work it must be acknowledged that it has improved but it has still been cut by 20%.

“Demand reduction is also an imperative. Eradication of fuel poverty by 2016 is jeopardised by Scottish Government budget cuts.”

She said the climate justice fund is “welcome”, and suggested working with the UK Government to find “leverage where we can put greater pressure on financial institutions globally to contribute funds”.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie called for more details of the Climate Justice Fund to be brought forward, saying it “must be additional to what the UK and Scottish governments are currently doing on international development”.

He warned the fund must be informed by an equalities and human rights analysis, and that if it is added to by the private sector, this must not be seen as “an offset”, or an excuse for companies “to take less action on mitigation”.

He said: “The three aspects of our responsibility on climate change are the emissions that we produce here in Scotland, also the consumption - the off-shored emissions, and finally the extraction.

“If we dig up the fossil carbon it will end up in the atmosphere.

“We’re going to have to address all of these. The Bill achieves the first, consumption targets achieve the second, and the third will be for later debate.”

Turning to the issue of funding, Mr Harvie added: “I again urge the minister to give the Scottish Government’s support to a measure like the Robin Hood tax which will allow all countries around the world to make their contribution fairly both from private and public sources.”

Conservative MSP Jamie McGrigor, welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement, stating urgent action was required both in the UK and abroad to cut emissions and de-carbonise the economy.

He said: “There are many examples of countries which need international support to tackle the impact of climate change on their people’s lives.

“These include Bangladesh, Nepal, Mozambique and large parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

He continued: “The UK Government is to be commended to its commitment to climate justice, demonstrated by the funding it has announced of £2.9 billion of international climate finance specifically to help developing countries to pursue low carbon growth and adapt to the impact of climate change.”

Patrick Grady, advocacy manager of Scottish international aid and development agency SCIAF, said: “Urgent and substantial action is needed to support vulnerable communities in developing countries where lives and livelihoods are already being lost due to climate change.

“Countries like Scotland secured huge economic benefits from the historical use of fossil fuels.

“It is only fair that we should stand in solidarity with those now affected and pay our fair share to help the most vulnerable adapt to the climate challenges they face.

“SCIAF warmly welcomes today’s announcement that the Scottish Government will create a new Climate Justice Fund in the near future.

“We look forward to hearing more about the size and operation of the fund in due course.

“Thousands of SCIAF supporters have contacted their MSPs and the Scottish Government over the last year, calling for additional funding to tackle climate change in developing countries.

“Today’s debate in the Scottish Parliament demonstrated cross-party support for the concept of climate justice, and a clear recognition of widespread public concern about the impact of climate change around the world.”