Climate Change

Part of Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [Lords] (Programme) – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 24th June 2019.

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Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development) 6:30 pm, 24th June 2019

Like everyone in the Chamber, I found the results from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change according to which we need to limit the increase in temperature to 1.5° very sobering. Its findings should if anything spur us all into very determined action. The results of such a rise would be an increased likelihood of food scarcity, disease and poverty, which we cannot just stand by and watch. I am pleased to say that the findings have refocused minds, and I am glad to have this debate today—it is only a pity it is so short. Just last Friday, we saw another UK-wide school strike outside Parliament and across schools. That is particularly important given that we had a visit from the world’s most powerful leader, who is a climate change denier, just a few weeks previously.

By contrast, last week, Glasgow Caledonian University hosted the world forum on climate justice, at which Nicola Sturgeon spoke about the big climate conversation —a nationwide conversation to discuss action to tackle the global climate emergency. We rightly realise that climate change is the challenge of a generation. Whether we are academics, activists or politicians, we have not only a duty to raise awareness of climate change, but an urgent obligation to take action and seek solutions.

I therefore welcome the UK Government’s decision to legislate for a net zero target by 2050. Since the publication of the Committee on Climate Change’s report last month, the Scottish Government have been calling for this, given that the Committee was explicit in its advice that Scotland could not achieve net zero emissions by 2045 unless the UK Government did so by 2050. Will the UK Government respond to the Scottish Government’s request for an urgent meeting to discuss how reserved levers can be applied to help achieve net zero emissions in Scotland and the rest of the UK?

This is an important moment to take stock of what has been achieved so far, to examine our future plans and to set out what needs to be done imminently now that these new targets have been set. I am proud to say that Scotland is already world leading in its approach to climate change. We are committed to setting and meeting the most ambitious targets possible. We have already halved emissions since 1990 while growing the economy and increasing employment and productivity. Scotland continues to outperform the UK in delivering long-term emissions reductions, with statutory annual targets for 2014, 2015 and 2016 all met, and progress remains consistent with meeting the current interim target for 2020. The only country in the EU15 to do better is Sweden.

The Scottish Government declared a climate emergency last month and acted immediately on the Committee on Climate Change advice by lodging amendments to our Climate Change Bill to set a net zero target for 2045 and increase the target for 2030 to 70% and for 2040 to 90%. These are the most ambitious statutory targets in the world for these years and this immediate response has been welcomed by the committee, which said:

“Scotland has been a leader within the UK with many of its policies to tackle climate change. By setting a strong net-zero target for 2045 it can continue that leadership on the world stage.”

That said, simply discussing climate change, setting targets and reflecting on achievements will not solve climate change. Progress to date has been achieved with little impact on most people, and few of us have had to make any real radical lifestyle changes. As the committee pointed out, to achieve these new targets we will require

“extensive changes across the economy”.

The next phase will require much more noticeable changes and tougher decisions, with people having to embrace significant lifestyle change in order to achieve our collective ambition. The sooner we start, the easier it will be to achieve.

Scotland has already made progress with efforts to ensure a just transition—I was pleased to hear the Minister mention that in his speech in relation to the UK Government’s own ambitions—and has set up a Just Transition Commission specifically to provide advice on how to transition to a low-carbon economy that is fair for everyone. I hope he will pay close attention to its progress. It will advise Scottish Ministers on how to apply the International Labour Organisation’s just transition principles to Scotland—for example, by examining the economic and social opportunities that the move to a carbon-neutral economy will bring; the impact on a sustainable and inclusive labour market; and lastly, issues that could arise in relation to cohesion, equalities and poverty.

Furthermore, climate change will be at the heart of the next SNP programme for government and spending review. Last year, the Scottish Government published their climate change plan 2018-32, which set out how we would continue to drive down emissions over the period. This is due to be updated within six months of the Climate Change Bill receiving Royal Assent to reflect these new targets. We are announcing new and ambitious action on deposit return, on the way we farm and on renewables. For example, a new part of the Scottish strategy for achieving 100% reduction in emissions is through establishing a publicly owned, not-for-profit energy company to deliver renewable energy to Scottish customers

“as close to cost price as possible”.

The UK Government should pay close attention to that.

Looking ahead, for the UK Government to be serious about meeting their new target, they must heed the advice of the Committee on Climate Change, which set out five scenarios for the UK to reach net zero emissions by 2050, based on known technologies. These included resource and energy efficiency, and societal choices that cut demand for carbon intensive activities; extensive electrification supported by a major expansion of renewable and other low-carbon power generation; the development of a hydrogen economy to service demands for some industrial processes; and changes in how we farm and use our land.

None the less, the recommended scenario that sticks out for me is carbon capture, usage and storage. The committee’s report states that it is a “necessity not an option”. The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee report on carbon capture, usage and storage concludes that the UK will not be able to meet its Paris agreement climate change targets without deploying carbon capture. In spite of all this, the Conservative UK Government shamefully reneged on their promised £1 billion of investment in carbon capture and storage technology, which was expected to create 600 jobs in Peterhead, in a deal signed by David Cameron in the months leading up to the 2014 independence referendum.

Earlier this month, my hon. Friend Drew Hendry pointed out to the Secretary of State that St Fergus near Aberdeen could at a minimum capture 5.7 gigatonnes—equivalent to 150 years of all Scotland’s 2016 gas emissions. With the right investment and commitment, this could be operational by 2023. I remind the Minister of the huge potential of carbon capture, usage and storage and encourage him to do all he can to support its development in Scotland. Will he please announce what further plans he has?

Finally, the Committee on Climate Change outlined the obstacles that needed to be overcome to achieve net zero emissions as well as a number of priorities for the Government, such as ensuring that businesses respond, engaging the public to act, developing the infrastructure, providing the skills and ensuring a just transition. Crucially, the report recommended that the net zero challenge be embedded and integrated across all Departments, at all levels of government and in all major decisions that impact on emissions. This would be the right course of action and one that I hope is followed through on.

Like the Scottish Government, the next Prime Minister must put tackling this climate emergency at the heart of what the Government do. It is something that each and every one of us must keep at the forefront of our minds every day. Make no mistake: climate change is a global problem and responsibility and its consequences will not respect national borders. Let us ensure that this target is delivered upon with no room for complacency and help to set the agenda for other nations to aspire to.