First, I apologise for being a couple of minutes late at the start of this debate.
This is such an important debate, as it covers probably the three biggest areas that will affect our lives directly and the lives of our children and of the generations to come. I look forward to travelling to New York next week with other members of the International Development Committee for the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. This serves as a central United Nations platform for the follow-up and review of the sustainable development goals—I was hoping to hear more about that in today’s debate—which have been described as
“a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.”
Achieving those goals will be vital for securing global development. Looking at all 17 of them, it is clear that protecting the environment and tackling climate change will play a fundamental role. Let me give some examples. Goal 6, to provide clean water and sanitation, goal 7, to provide affordable and clean energy, and goals 14 and 15, to protect life below water and life on land, all require environmental protection in order to succeed. The fundamental question that we in this Chamber must ask is: how will we achieve goal 1, no poverty, goal 2, zero hunger, or goal 11 on sustainable cities and communities, among many others, when those goals are being put in jeopardy by the disastrous consequences of climate change?
Protecting the environment and tackling climate change must be a priority for all Departments of all Governments in these islands, with clear targets, policies and actions to ensure that that is delivered. As we know, Scotland has a rich and diverse natural environment, and the Scottish Government are determined to lead by example by protecting and enhancing our natural capital.
Studies suggest that the elements of Scotland’s natural capital that can be given a monetary value are worth more than £20 billion pounds each year to our economy, supporting more than 60,000 jobs. Furthermore, many of Scotland’s growth sectors, such as tourism and food and drink, depend on high-quality air, land and water. That is why the Scottish Government are taking action to protect our environment to ensure that we have a thriving and sustainable economy. For example, the Scottish Government have an ambition for Scotland’s air quality to be the best in Europe and have established an air quality strategy called “Cleaner air for Scotland: the road to a healthier future”, with 40 aims to realise this goal. To support this, £10.8 million has been provided to support the introduction of low emission zones—something on which I will touch later and, given what was said by the previous speaker, something that is important for all of us here as well.
Moreover, figures from June have shown that the Scottish Government have met their target of 11,200 hectares of new tree planting and now plan to increase the target further in 2024 to 15,000 hectares. To put that into context, that is 22 million trees. I have to say that, sadly, England has barely managed to make 10% of that, so I am looking to hear more about that later. These actions will not only protect the environment, lead to healthier lives and offer fantastic opportunities for our economy, but play a fundamental role in tackling climate change.
Last month, I spoke in this Chamber and welcomed the UK Government’s decision to legislate for a net zero carbon emissions target by 2050, following the advice of the UK Committee on Climate Change. However, simply setting targets will not solve climate change, and I think we have heard that from across the Chamber. What we need is a clear plan setting out how to transition to a net zero economy. Today, the UK Committee on Climate Change has reported that action to cut greenhouse gas emissions is lagging far behind what is needed, and that the UK’s credibility rests on Government action over the next very short 18 months. There is no time to dither or delay. The Committee has called for a net zero policy to be embedded across all levels and Departments of Government and for the new Prime Minister to lead the UK’s zero carbon transition from day one, working closely with Northern Ireland and the First Ministers of Wales and Scotland.
The Scottish Government’s “Climate Change Plan 2018-2032”, which sets out the actions needed to make Scotland carbon neutral by 2045, is due to be updated within six months of the Climate Change Bill receiving Royal Assent. Work is already under way to meet the increased target. Scotland’s energy strategy sets a target for the equivalent of 50% of energy for Scotland’s heat, transport and electricity consumption to be supplied from renewable sources by 2030. In order to help achieve net zero emissions, a publicly owned not-for-profit energy company will be established to deliver renewable energy to Scottish customers. This is not a party political debate about the left or the right, but a debate about how we can combat not only climate change but fuel poverty. The reason for setting up that company is it will endeavour to ensure that the price is as close to cost price as possible. I urge the UK Government to do that for the rest of the UK, as well as to achieve their recently set targets.
Furthermore, with transport accounting for just over one third of total energy demand, Scotland already has the most ambitious agenda in the UK for decarbonising transport. The Scottish Government have already announced the change in policy on air departure tax and committed to phasing out the need for new petrol and diesel cars by 2032—eight years ahead of the rest of the UK. They plan to implement low emission zones in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and my wonderful city of Dundee by the end of 2020.
To help achieve all that and send a clear signal that Scotland is a place for innovation and low carbon technology, the Scottish Government will establish an innovation fund to invest a further £60 million in delivering wider low carbon energy infrastructure solutions across Scotland, such as electricity battery storage, sustainable heating systems and electric vehicle charging. The expansion of the charging network will raise awareness and uptake of ultra low emission vehicles among private motorists and accelerate their procurement in the public and private sector. I am disappointed that the UK Government withdrew the tax incentive from electric vehicles last December; I hope that they will consider putting it back, so that more people move towards electric vehicles again.