It is a pleasure to follow Chris Law and hear about examples of best practice in Scotland, that fantastic member of the United Kingdom.
There is no doubt that our actions are changing the planet. Our relentless consumption of the earth’s resources over centuries has consequences, and today we are starting to see them. Many of our once abundant coral reefs are bleached white and left lifeless. Vast expanses of land where rain forests once stood are stripped bare for farming. Even in Europe, some reports suggest that deserts will expand across the southern Mediterranean. We are destroying the earth’s natural carbon sinks, and with them, the wider biosphere—so much so that our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. Not since the extinction of the dinosaurs have we seen such a loss of plant and animal species. According to one study, current extinction rates are 1,000 times higher than they would be if humans were not around. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list found that more than 27% of all assessed species on the planet are threatened with extinction.
We have the facts about what is happening to our world today, and we know why these changes are occurring, so in theory the solution should be simple. In one sense, it is—we need to stop producing carbon dioxide and implement strict protections for vulnerable ecosystems. But to do that, we need both the political will and a sense of economic realism. We need to take the people of the country with us, which is why this must not be a party political issue.
I have heard the calls for putting the UK on to a war-like footing, immediately banning combustion engines, limiting flights and turning off the taps to traditional fossil fuels. It can be tempting to get swept away on this wave of emotion and the calls for drastic change. There is a serious risk of gesture politics overtaking pragmatic, sensible policy making. Setting goals without a plan is wishful thinking. We need a plan, but it must be carefully constructed to avoid the mistakes of the past. We all remember diesel cars—we were all convinced that we had to buy them. As a result, the market share went from 14% to 65%, and look what happened next.
We need to ensure that these actions are complementary. I co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on the United Nations global goals for sustainable development. We need to check that the policies we put in place are coherent, because some policies to pursue one goal may impact negatively on another goal. This is the whole world’s ecosystem we are talking about, and we need to take account of that.