Carbon Offsetting

– in the Scottish Parliament at 10:29 am on 14th June 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 10:29 am, 14th June 2007

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-173, in the name of Robin Harper, on carbon offsetting. Members should leave the chamber if they are not participating in the debate.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 10:35 am, 14th June 2007

Carbon offsetting is a relatively new concept, whereby the amount of carbon that is emitted when we drive or fly, or as a result of manufacturing processes, is offset by someone else, somewhere else, who does something else to reduce carbon emissions. The concept has grown in popularity among individuals, private companies and even political parties, but it is increasingly coming under fire. It has been likened to the granting of papal indulgences in the middle ages, when the church offered a means for people who had committed a sin to buy their way out of hell—of course, hell was a very hot place.

Although Greens acknowledge that action by polluters to reduce carbon emissions to mitigate the effects of climate change can play a useful role in supplementing sound Government environmental policy, the Government cannot seriously regard carbon offsetting as a substitute for policies that directly reduce carbon emissions.

In 2003, the Scottish Executive announced plans to plant trees alongside the new roads and motorways it planned to build, to offset the emissions from the vehicles that would use the new roads. The proposal was ridiculed after independent experts calculated that the Executive would need to plant 150 million trees over 100,000 hectares—a forest six times the size of Greater Glasgow—to soak up the carbon dioxide from vehicle exhausts. It was suggested that the Executive should plant fig trees, the leaves of which might at least be used to cover ministers' embarrassment. The Executive's tree-planting scheme was further undermined when experts pointed out that even if a gigantic forest could be planted, the carbon would not be locked into the forest in perpetuity. Trees do not stand for ever; they fall down, decay and release carbon back into the atmosphere. The planting of trees is, at best, a temporary measure. Of course, there are other excellent environmental reasons for planting trees. I am an avid tree planter, but I do not offset my carbon production against the trees that I plant.

So much for home-grown carbon offsetting, but what about the alternative, which is investment in projects in developing countries to offset our emissions? There are serious concerns that some projects might increase, rather than reduce, environmental, economic and social impacts. A report from the World Rainforest Movement outlined human rights abuses at the Mount Elgon national park in eastern Uganda. Villagers who live along the park's boundary have been beaten, shot at and barred from their land, and have had their livestock confiscated, by the armed park rangers who guard the so-called carbon trees inside the national park.

The Times reported recently that an Indian company

"has spent just £1.4m in equipment to reduce its emissions, but it will reap a profit of more than 200 times that amount from British investors and others."

So that it can increase its carbon offset gains, the company is expanding its production of chlorodifluoromethane, or HCFC-22—the replacement for the chlorofluorocarbons that used to be in fridges and are so damaging to the ozone layer—the manufacture of which incidentally produces the gas trifluoromethane, or HFC-23.

China is imposing a 65 per cent windfall tax on the money that is coming to companies through carbon offsetting.

The Environmental Audit Committee at Westminster said when it launched its inquiry into the voluntary carbon offset market:

"the carbon offset market ... is not always seen to be robustly regulated", and went on to say:

"particular concerns surround the issues of proving additionality, of verification and monitoring, of the permanence of the offset, of possible leakage from offset projects and the potential for double-counting."

Greens are particularly concerned that any international development supported by offsetting must be additional to the existing commitments in that field, because only then will there be any prospect of a genuine contribution to sustainable development in poor countries.

An extensive report on carbon offsetting, which was published recently by Carbon Trade Watch, makes the fundamental criticism that carbon savings that are expected to be made in the future are counted as though they are made in the present. The authors of the report point out that such "future value accounting" was also used by Enron to inflate profits, with disastrous consequences.

There are serious concerns about ineffective offsetting schemes and about the difficulty of verifying the true value of many other offsetting schemes. There are also concerns about the on-the-ground impact of such schemes on people in developing countries. If carbon offsetting is to have any role in tackling climate change, there must be rigorous independent assessments of the full direct and indirect carbon impact of each project. Any scheme into which a Government enters must at least meet the criteria of the internationally recognised gold standard, the main purpose of which is to ensure that projects reduce carbon dioxide emissions and foster sustainable development. There must also be continuous updating of data throughout the lifetime of the offset infrastructure, to ascertain whether changes are required to annual offset funding.

However, if we are to reduce the carbon dioxide that we emit, there is no substitute for directly reducing our own emissions, here in Scotland—that is the bottom line.

I ask members to support the motion and I move,

That the Parliament notes the growing popularity of carbon offsetting among individuals and private companies; believes that actions by polluters to reduce carbon emissions elsewhere, or to mitigate the effects of climate change, can play a useful role in supplementing sound environmental policy by government; considers however that carbon offsetting cannot substitute for policies that reduce carbon emissions directly and that any role for offsetting should only be transitional; notes the widely held concerns about many commercial offsetting schemes and the difficulty in verifying the true value of most offsetting schemes; notes the Scottish Government's intention to introduce carbon offsetting in respect of transport infrastructure projects, and calls on the Scottish Government, before introducing such proposals, to consider issues such as the need for rigorous independent assessments of the full direct and indirect carbon impact of each project and its associated offset, continuous updating of data for the lifetime of the infrastructure to establish any changes required to the annual offset funding, compliance with the internationally-recognised Gold Standard and the need to ensure that overall transport policy leads to direct emission reductions.

EOF: CG turn AJ>

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 10:42 am, 14th June 2007

Climate change is widely recognised as one of the most serious threats that face the world today. Unchecked, carbon emissions will have serious consequences for Scotland's people, economy and environment, and it should certainly not be dealt with solely by granting indulgences.

According to Sir Nicholas Stern, it would cost up to 1 per cent of the world's annual gross domestic product to stabilise emissions by the middle of the century, but—critically—failure to tackle emissions could cost 20 per cent of GDP. The longer we wait to take the necessary action, the more the cost to society will rise.

Action to avoid and reduce emissions is widely recognised as the most appropriate way of dealing with climate change, which is why we intend to consult on ambitious targets to reduce emissions in Scotland through our proposed climate change bill. Next week, we will announce to the Parliament our objectives for the bill, and we will discuss the bill's content with representatives of the Parliament and others during the coming month. I have started direct engagement with other parties on the matter—I have met representatives of half the parties in the Parliament and will meet representatives of the remaining two parties today. Climate change is truly a cross-cutting and cross-party issue and we need a long-term consensus if we are to succeed.

We know that everyday actions consume energy and produce carbon emissions, but people in Scotland need to travel and use energy—Scotland's economy depends on their doing so. Without access to good transport links and reliable energy supplies, Scottish businesses will be unable to compete in the global marketplace. That could result in our businesses relocating, taking their jobs and emissions with them and giving us a false sense of having reduced our output. Such a result simply would not benefit Scottish people or the global environment.

Avoiding and reducing emissions require action on many fronts. There is much that everyone can do simply by making smarter choices—there are smarter ways of doing business, of travelling and of reducing energy use. Although the smarter choices can reduce emissions, they do not eliminate them. That is why technology will be such an important part of our fight against climate change. Technology can provide us with new ways of generating as well as saving energy and new ways in which we can continue to grow Scotland's economy without growing carbon emissions.

That is why we want Scotland to become a global leader in developing solutions to the challenge of climate change and a pre-eminent location for clean energy research and development in Europe. We want Scotland to become the green energy capital of Europe. We can do that by playing to our strengths; other people will have the same ambition. We have unique potential for wave and tidal energy. We can build on the world-class Orkney test centre, which the previous Administration supported, and on indigenous expertise in the area. We can make Scotland the global byword for marine renewables, which are the new generation of renewables.

There is another option that can support efforts to reduce emissions: compensating for unavoidable emissions with an equivalent carbon saving. Carbon offsetting is not a cure for climate change, but it can play a part in reducing the impact of our immediate actions. If offsets can be purchased, it means that carbon emissions have a cost that can be avoided if emissions are reduced. A climate strategy that includes offsetting can help to raise awareness of the carbon impact of actions, influence behaviours to reduce carbon emissions where possible and thus help to drive down further emissions.

We want to lead by example. Continuing from the previous Executive, we want to reduce emissions from our own travel. When I meet David Miliband in London on Monday with representatives of the other devolved Administrations, I shall travel by train. I am afraid that I have to fly back, but at least I have made that 50 per cent reduction. On another occasion, my diary will be better arranged.

Climate change will not be solved by a single country, organisation or action and it will not be solved in a day, a week or a month; it is a long-term issue that requires a coalition of commitment that transcends a single Parliament or Administration and crosses political, economic, geographic and country boundaries—it is a genuine cross-cutting issue.

Carbon offsetting is one of the measures that should be properly considered. I welcome the debate as an opportunity to do so.

I move amendment S3M-173.4, to leave out from "transport policy" to end and insert:

"policy, including transport policy, leads to direct emissions reductions."

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 10:49 am, 14th June 2007

We welcome the debate and hope that it will lead to further detailed discussions about the issues that are involved.

Yesterday we debated how to achieve a greener Scotland. Putting targets in place to drive action and ensuring that Scotland plays its part in meeting our United Kingdom and global commitments are crucial, but we need to ensure that we put transport at the core of our policies. Reducing our need to travel must be part of that challenge. That is why Labour in government was so committed to vastly increasing our public transport expenditure, moving freight off our roads, improving communications technology and using videoconferencing and phone calls—I strongly recommend that. Although we can never eliminate the need to travel, we have to look at travel reduction as well as new infrastructure.

We must develop joined-up thinking to deliver what are sometimes minor incremental changes. Can one park a bike anywhere in a new development? Can one store a bike safely in a new housing development? Although those seemingly minor ideas would not count as part of a transport policy, failing to implement them could make it impossible for people to make low-carbon travel choices. That is why the debate cannot just be about transport infrastructure; it must be about wider transport policy linkages.

We must focus on how people access new infrastructure and how they use it—whether that is through improved public transport information, park and ride facilities or transport hubs. It is also about improving subsidies and the quality of bus subsidies, ensuring, for example, that older people retain the ability to travel on buses without being excluded because of cost. There are genuine carbon benefits in that policy.

Of course, the debate is also about major transport infrastructure projects. That is why we continue to support projects such as the Edinburgh trams; the Airdrie to Bathgate, Stirling to Alloa and Borders rail lines; the upgrading of Waverley station; and Glasgow crossrail. Also crucial are the airport rail links, which would cut road traffic on some of our congested road networks.

Reducing our emissions has to come first. While making sure that we are not looking only at building transport infrastructure, we must look at travel and use of the infrastructure. I welcome the fact that the new minister will continue with the example that was set by previous ministers. It is crucial that not only ministers but the whole Executive and all Executive agencies should be required to travel more sustainably. The Executive should make it more desirable as well as the default option wherever possible. It will then be able to manage down some of the carbon emissions and set a lead.

We are not talking about banning people from using cars—far from it. There will always be circumstances in which the car is the only available choice, but the Executive has to lead the way. We need to ensure that it manages down its own emissions so that others can be persuaded to follow.

We have heard much talk from the new SNP minority Government in the past few weeks about the need to review transport projects to ensure value for money. It will not have escaped many people that the two projects over which Alex Salmond has chosen to hold an axe are those that offer the greatest opportunities to get people out of their cars and on to public transport and to reduce emissions. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which was published during the election campaign, reinforced the need for us to redouble our efforts to get going on carbon emissions reduction.

We will not support the SNP amendment, because it deletes the reference to transport. We need to ensure that air transport is included in the emissions schemes. That would be a big step forward. What will replace Kyoto will be important, but we must start acting now. As a constructive Opposition, we want to concentrate minds and scrutinise budget proposals not just for the financial but for the carbon implications—that must be standard.

Robin Harper is absolutely right that we need properly accredited carbon offsetting schemes, but they should be at the bottom of the policy hierarchy, after we have done everything else. We agree with the principles behind the Tory amendment. We should raise with people just how much carbon offsetting costs. It will get us thinking about doing the right thing first rather than last. We need to reduce our travel and make it more sustainable and make sure that carbon offsetting is the last choice, rather than something that the Government crows about.

I move amendment S3M-173.1, to leave out from "and that any role" to end and insert:

"or indirectly; notes the crucial role that transport policy must play in meeting carbon reduction targets and therefore calls on the Scottish Executive to ensure that potential carbon reduction is a central consideration in the evaluation and prioritisation of transport infrastructure projects; reaffirms support for a balanced and sustainable transport policy with the bulk of investment being targeted towards reducing unnecessary journeys and congestion, widening transport choices by providing high-quality and affordable public transport options and support for walking and cycling; further notes the Executive's intention to introduce carbon offsetting, and calls on ministers to consult widely on the applicability and robustness of such schemes, demonstrating that carbon offsetting is additional to rather than a substitute for the direct or indirect planned reduction of carbon emissions."

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 10:53 am, 14th June 2007

I thank Robin Harper and the Greens for introducing this issue for debate. Although we have not discussed carbon offsetting at great length in the Parliament, it has nevertheless become important in many people's thinking. However, there are those who are concerned that carbon offsetting might not deliver all that we would wish it to.

The truth is that carbon offsetting is to some extent the privilege of the relatively well off. The experience in my party and of individuals within it makes it clear that we can offset carbon emissions if we wish to make a difference. The Conservatives make an effort to offset the carbon that is generated by our activity as a political party. Famously, David Cameron is an active carbon offsetter whenever the opportunity arises. The Conservative party and David Cameron have decided that the money that is spent on carbon offsetting should pay double by being spent on third-world projects—for example, the replacement of thermal with solar power plants. Not only do such projects deliver benefits locally, they deliver the secondary benefit of economic development in the area.

However, the importance that is attached to carbon trading perhaps reflects the complex nature of carbon offsetting. As other members have pointed out, significant concern has been expressed about how we can regulate carbon offsetting and ensure that it does us some good. Many programmes that have been supported under the Kyoto agreement have failed to achieve as much as some of the programmes that are not on the approved list. As a result, in deciding how to offset carbon, the Government in Scotland must evaluate the various programmes to ensure that it employs the best available, not simply those that have achieved international recognition.

The Conservatives are pleased to support the SNP amendment, because we feel that it extends the range of the terms of the motion. The Labour amendment, on the other hand, seeks to introduce a couple of additional elements. We do not object to that, especially as we agree with a broad range of the points that it sets out. However, I seek clarification of what is meant by

"high-quality and affordable public transport options".

In that context, the word "affordable" could be interpreted in two ways. Are the options affordable only for public transport users or are they also affordable for the taxpayer? If we do not use taxpayers' money responsibly in the development of "high-quality ... public transport options", we might find ourselves in a difficult position in the long term. The Conservative amendment, of course, refers to the cost of carbon offsetting, because we are always concerned about the cost to the taxpayer. That said, although I seek clarification of that element of the Labour amendment, I agree with its broad thrust.

The Liberal Democrats' amendment seems to suffer from the fact that they have been toppled out of government. For a start, they applaud their own record in government, when, in fact, most of the initiatives that they highlight were brought in through the efforts of Sarah Boyack as a Labour minister and, later, as a Labour back bencher.

We must tackle the issue of carbon reduction head on. Carbon offsetting is an indulgence that salves the consciences only of the relatively well-off. Although Government must approach the matter carefully, cutting carbon must still be the first priority.

I move amendment S3M-173.2, to insert, after "and its associated offset":

"and the related cost to the taxpayer of such schemes,".

Photo of Alison McInnes Alison McInnes Liberal Democrat 10:58 am, 14th June 2007

I find it interesting that the Green party has brought a debate on carbon offsetting to the Parliament. However, the Scottish Liberal Democrats believe that we must have a much wider debate than that. I remind the chamber that the previous Scottish coalition Government introduced the first-ever Scottish climate change target, which sought to exceed the Scottish share of the UK target by an additional 1 million tonnes by 2010. I believe that such a move should be applauded.

At best, when it is carried out by a reputable organisation, carbon offsetting is a short-term approach; at worst, it is a dangerous diversion from the real problem and an excuse for inaction. Organisations, businesses, and individuals striving to tackle climate change should be encouraged to consider other actions first.

It might be useful to compare the issue with what happened many years ago when waste management issues started to come to the fore. Many of the early discussions and actions focused on how and what we should recycle, and it took some time to reach a proper recognition of the fact that some key steps were being missed out. Now we have all become used to the waste hierarchy of reduce, reuse and then recycle.

We must take the same rigorous approach in tackling climate change. Indeed, before we even think about carbon offsetting, we need to take two significant steps: first, we must reduce direct emissions; and, secondly, we must work with others to reduce indirect emissions and establish markets for low-carbon energy products. Only then will it be appropriate to consider carbon offsetting and, as other members have pointed out, the integrity of the offset must be guaranteed. Offsetting must be the last resort, not the first thought. In that respect, I commend the work of the Carbon Trust, which has helped to bring about change by working with local government and the public and private sectors.

I note the Scottish Government's intention to introduce a climate change bill. We believe that such a bill and other Government action should set challenging targets for reducing carbon emissions of at least 12.5 per cent by 2010 and 60 per cent by 2050. Also, the SNP manifesto commitment to annual targets will need to be complemented by an annual report to Parliament.

However, it is imperative that, as the climate change bill is drawn up, we do not find ourselves deflected from taking action now. After all, a great deal can be done without requiring new primary legislation. We believe that early action must be taken before the bill is introduced to reduce energy use, improve energy efficiency and support microgeneration. If we are to achieve a sustainable future, energy use reduction must come first. The issue is as much about reducing energy demand as it is about generating new clean energy.

Early action brings opportunities. For example, by tackling energy efficiency and building zero-energy houses we can help to reduce fuel poverty. Given the clear link between fuel poverty and poor health, such investment can bring both direct and indirect benefits.

The development and commercialisation of new technologies must be accelerated, which is why the Scottish Liberal Democrats have proposed the establishment of a carbon challenge demonstration fund to support innovative low-carbon developments. Scotland can be a leader in this field. The country is certainly well placed to take advantage of the economic opportunities in renewable energies, biofuels, forestry and construction. Moreover, the public sector must take the lead in ensuring that all Scottish government buildings and transport become carbon neutral by 2012.

Although energy production and use are the greatest producers of greenhouse gases, transport, too, has a significant impact on the environment, and we will never truly tackle climate change if we do not address the problem of carbon emissions from and energy use of transport.

Under the previous Government, investment in public transport was at record levels. Such transport accounted for 70 per cent of funding, and that high level of investment should be retained. However, I am sad to say that the new Government's comments in the chamber over the past couple of weeks suggest that it will not be. It is simply not credible for the SNP to talk about a climate change bill while at the same time claiming that it will ditch the Edinburgh trams scheme. Scrapping major public transport projects will render existing and future plans to reduce carbon emissions unattainable.

Robin Harper's motion does not go to the heart of the issue. As a result, I move amendment S3M-173.3, to leave out from first "notes" to end and insert:

"applauds the introduction by the previous Scottish Government of the first-ever Scottish climate change target to exceed the Scottish share of the UK target by an additional one million tonnes by 2010; notes the intention of the current Scottish Government to introduce a climate change Bill; believes that this Bill and other government action should set challenging and achievable targets for reducing carbon emissions of at least 12.5% by 2010 and 60% by 2050; further notes the SNP manifesto commitment to annual targets to reduce carbon emissions; welcomes the commitment to a climate change Bill but believes that early action should be taken in advance of the Bill to improve energy efficiency, reduce energy use and support microgeneration; further believes that the public sector should take the lead by ensuring that all Scottish Government buildings and transport become carbon neutral by 2012; considers that carbon offsetting should normally be viewed as a last resort as a carbon reduction measure, and is concerned that the SNP Government's transport plans and opposition to public transport plans will render existing and future plans to reduce carbon emissions unattainable."

Photo of Bill Wilson Bill Wilson Scottish National Party 11:02 am, 14th June 2007

There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real—indeed, it is perhaps the greatest challenge that faces humanity. I say that the consensus is overwhelming, not unanimous, to allow for the peculiar workings of the collective, em, intelligence of the Bush Administration. However, this is as much a development and global justice issue as it is an environment issue.

Rich countries such as the UK are responsible for climate change. Although such change is driven by our excessive carbon emissions, the poor countries will bear the brunt of the impact. Hundreds of millions face drought, floods, starvation and disease. The World Health Organisation estimates that climate change is already causing over 160,000 deaths per year, and the World Development Movement has estimated that a 4°C rise in global temperature could mean that 300 million more people who live on the coast will suffer from flooding. Of course, most of those victims will be in developing countries.

Those statistics on the potential horrors of our future are but the tip of the iceberg. Of course, future politicians will probably not be able to use that allusion unless, as with Dr Who's TARDIS, they first explain to younger listeners just what an iceberg was.

Yet, despite all the misery and suffering that lie before us, all the recent pledges and all the targets and speeches, UK greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Although the UK Government has claimed world leadership on climate change, it is likely to miss its 2010 target for emission cuts by 20 per cent. In fact, since Labour came to power, UK carbon emissions have increased by about 5 per cent. To make matters worse, we still await a UK Government commitment to annual reduction targets.

The Scottish Government has committed itself to introducing a climate change bill, which will have a mandatory target of a 3 per cent reduction in emissions per annum and a long-term target of an 80 per cent reduction by 2050. Such a move stands in clear contrast to the failures of the UK Government.

That commitment to reducing Scotland's impact on global warming underpins the SNP commitment to renewable energy. Indeed, we must not forget that in 2004 energy accounted for 38 per cent of Scotland's emissions. However, we need energy from renewables, not nuclear energy. It is not our intention to leave future Scots, even unto the 50th generation, to deal with our waste. We must deal with our own problems today.

Some members will no doubt be thinking at this point that I have not yet mentioned the subject of the debate, carbon offsetting but have instead been speaking about emissions. The answer to that is simple. Offsetting offers us an opportunity to help to reduce global warming, but it is not a replacement for reducing emissions and it cannot be used as an excuse for inactivity. More important, offsetting cannot be allowed to cover up inactivity. There must be a suspicion that when organisations publish their offsetting figures but not their reduction figures, they are failing to meet the challenges that are presented by global warming.

Scotland has potential for offsetting greenhouse gas emissions and for carbon capture. I hope that the opportunities that are presented at Peterhead will not be lost through UK Government inactivity. There are several potential schemes, and I would like to suggest one. There is great enthusiasm in Scotland for the regeneration of the ancient remnants of Caledonian pine forest. That would be a gold-standard project. Caledonian pine forest is home to a wide range of species, including Scotland's only indigenous bird species, the Scottish crossbill. Not only would we be offsetting omissions, we would be making a significant contribution to Scotland's natural heritage. Furthermore, the regenerated forests would be intended to stand for generations—it would be long-term carbon capture.

There is an additional advantage. To regenerate the Caledonian pine forests, we must reduce Scotland's massive red deer population. Ruminants are a source of methane, which is approximately 23 times more potent in its global warming effect than carbon dioxide. Reducing the red deer population would bring an addition benefit to such a scheme. The regeneration of Caledonian pine forest is, by every measure, a gold-standard scheme.

I welcome the Government's commitment to fighting global warming. The fact that it has had the courage to commit itself to annual reductions is a significant step—although that is apparently a step too far for the UK Government and new Labour.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour 11:07 am, 14th June 2007

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this morning's Scottish Green Party debate on carbon offsetting. There is no doubt that global warming presents a tremendous threat not just to Scotland but to the international community. We have a great opportunity to combat climate change and the increase in greenhouse gases in order to build a country that will be safe not only for our children but for future generations.

In meeting that challenge, carbon offsetting has been identified as a mechanism giving individuals and businesses the opportunity to compensate for their carbon dioxide emissions. It is well intentioned, but it has a minimal impact. A recent investigation by the Financial Times indicated some flaws. The investigation revealed worthless credits, through which the carbon that was defined was not in fact recovered and it showed that some brokers were not providing value for money and, in some instances, were providing very little service. It further indicated that verification was flimsy, with a lack of controls. Carbon offsetting can be used, but it should be used as a last resort. When it is used, it is important that appropriate controls are in place in order that the offsets can be measured and we can see what the CO2 reductions are.

The best way to combat climate change is to reduce our carbon footprint by reducing carbon emissions. There is a duty on Government to drive that agenda forward, but there is also a duty on us all—individuals, businesses and the public sector. There are some excellent practical examples in Scotland of organisations that are carrying the agenda forward. In my area, South Lanarkshire Council, which covers 300,000 people, 686 square miles, 1,300 buildings and 600 staff, produces 48,000 tonnes of CO2. The council has measured and recognised that and it has signed up to a five-year plan to combat carbon emissions and reduce their effect.

Building specifications are a big area in which improvements can be made. The Scottish Natural Heritage building in Inverness has a specification that is 30 per cent greater than the current convention. As a report on "Good Morning Scotland" this morning indicated, individuals are moving from using tumble dryers to drying clothes outside, which has resulted in a fourteenfold increase in the sale of clothes-pegs.

The way forward lies in strong Government action. Unlike the previous speaker, I welcome the strong action that has been taken by the UK Government and the previous Scottish Executive. Transport, which represents 18 per cent of our carbon footprint, is a key area. It is important to have an efficient transport system. A balance is needed, as transport is an important driver for the economy.

Carbon offsetting has a minimal impact and should be used only as a last resort. The onus lies on Government, individuals, businesses and the public sector to drive down CO2 emissions and produce a Scotland and an international community that are safe for future generations to grow up in.

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party 11:11 am, 14th June 2007

This debate gives me an opportunity to speak about measurement. In the end, it is all about how we use numbers, and our numbers are only as good as our measurements. There is a certain amount of kudos attached to the phrase "thinking outside the box". I suggest that, to get good measurements, we have to stand outside the box.

If we want to know whether the planet is warming up, we need to go out into space and look. We need to measure the heat coming off the planet and the heat going into the planet. That can be done quite simply and, although there are statistical problems with measuring a large sphere, that will tell us whether or not the planet is warming up. It cannot be measured down here.

If we want to know, for example, whether a nuclear power station emits a lot of carbon—we will no doubt come back to that example—we do not need to consider the process whereby the uranium degrades, which has nothing to do with carbon, but to consider the amount of carbon that is involved in constructing the power station, in maintaining it, in decommissioning it and, critically, in refining the uranium fuel. Those amounts will change over time.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Will the member concede that the same calculations should be used regarding the building of wind turbines?

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party

I absolutely agree. If I had time, I would move on to the subject of the foundations that we seem to insist on putting underneath wind turbines and other structures. However, time does not permit.

In considering transport systems, we must do exactly the same thing. It is no good telling me how much carbon my car uses; I have to know what speed it is travelling at and how far it is going. If it is possible to eliminate congestion, it will be possible to eliminate my car going slowly or going nowhere and emitting a great deal of carbon for no benefit.

In addressing the issues about transport systems, we need to ask ourselves how we minimise the impact of getting from A to B and back to A. We must ask ourselves whether people can park at their local station and whether their local train runs often enough and has enough carriages to transport them to where they want to go. It is not enough to blame everything on the car. It is not enough to examine individual schemes in isolation. We have to build a big box, look at it from the outside and measure absolutely everything.

I ventured into the subject of measurement because we tend not to discuss it, and that is because it is quite difficult. If we do not venture there, however, our numbers will be wrong, our calculations will be wrong and our conclusions will be wrong.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour 11:14 am, 14th June 2007

I welcome the chance that the Green party has given us to discuss carbon offsetting. As always, Robin Harper has put forward his party's position on the subject well and entertainingly. I had not considered the carbon impact of hell before; I am not sure what we can do about it.

The motion is right to say that we need to be sure that we use the most effective methods to address climate change. However, although the Greens put the SNP in power, which I must say was a remarkable act of generosity, given that they lost so many seats to the SNP in the election—it was like Caesar promoting Brutus from beyond the grave—it is not surprising that they have become a bit nervous about the divergence between their strategies on climate change and those of the SNP. The motion refers to the Executive's intention to introduce carbon offsetting for transport projects, but the Greens argue—rightly, in my view—that offsetting is not enough. However, that comes after the Greens put the SNP in power, despite the fact that the SNP, like me, supports the Aberdeen western peripheral route while the Greens oppose it. However, we now understand that, perhaps as a concession to the Green party, the project is under review, which I must say has been met with dismay in Aberdeen.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

Okay. We need more clarity on that, because that is not what has been said previously.

In relation to effective strategies for minimising the carbon emissions that result from transport policy, I converge with the Greens on the need for consideration of the overall weighting of transport investment. In particular, I agree that it is crucial to prioritise further investment in improving our railway infrastructure. The Executive seeks to prioritise road-building projects, such as dualling the A9, rather than schemes such as the Edinburgh airport rail link, which Alison McInnes mentioned, or the tram system. In my region, I want the Aberdeen crossrail scheme to proceed from the planning to the construction stage. I know that the Green party agrees with me on that and I hope that SNP members do, too, as it is a crucial measure to improve public transport and address congestion. However, the Executive's Scottish transport appraisal guidance, which is used to assess the value and viability of transport proposals, has traditionally been weighted to favour road over rail.

Therefore, I am attracted to the motion's proposal for

"rigorous independent assessments of the ... carbon impact of each project", as that may create a more level playing field for those who make the case for rail projects. Our amendment talks about making

"potential carbon reduction ... a central consideration in the evaluation and prioritisation of transport ... projects".

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Does the member agree that, in considering the Edinburgh airport rail link project's total carbon impact, we should take account of the extra emissions from the tripling of air transport, along with the emissions from the construction of the scheme?

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

There is a debate to be had about the fact that an increase in the number of direct flights from Scottish airports can reduce the overall number of flights that people in Scotland make.

Although there is heated debate in the Parliament about transport policy and its impact on carbon emissions, there appears to be broad agreement on strategies for carbon offsetting and its place in the overall policy on climate change. The Executive has inherited a legacy of investment in public transport and renewables because Labour set strong foundations for progress in this crucial area. For as long as the Executive is in place, we will oppose measures that run counter to that and support those that will help to achieve the progress that it is vital for Scotland to make in our contribution to tackling climate change.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat 11:18 am, 14th June 2007

I welcome the opportunity to sum up on behalf of the Liberal Democrats in today's Green party debate. The SNP has pledged to

"offset the carbon impact of major government projects, including much needed improvements to Scotland's road network."

I do not know how many trees will have to be planted to make up for the shelving of vital public projects such as the Edinburgh trams or the Borders railway, but Mr Stevenson may soon need to look out his spade to plant a few trees. The SNP member Nigel Don complained about being stuck in his car—perhaps he will follow my lead and bring a motorbike to Holyrood every morning.

I am glad that the Greens have raised the issue, because my party believes that carbon offsetting has a role in reducing carbon emissions. However, I make it clear that offsetting is not a suitable substitute for reducing emissions at source, although it can sometimes be the next best solution. There should be no complacency when considering carbon offsetting schemes. The bottom line is that carbon offsetting will not tackle the problems of the current Administration's anti-public transport agenda. We need systematic social change if the Executive is to deal with climate change effectively.

A recent Financial Times survey concluded that instances of people and organisations buying worthless credits that yield no reductions in carbon emissions are widespread and that many brokers provide services of questionable or no value. It also found a shortage of verification, which makes it difficult for buyers to assess the true value of carbon credits. If Scotland is to pursue a policy of carbon offsetting, offset schemes, as well as infrastructure schemes, should be assessed independently for carbon emissions. There must be transparency, so that consumers can see what they are buying and how it works.

We must see the results of carbon offsetting immediately. For example, if an individual takes an international flight, the 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide that need to be offset are emitted within a matter of days. However, if they pay into a tree-planting scheme, the project may undertake to offset the emissions only over the next 100 years. That is far from ideal and, although it may provide people with a sense of social responsibility, it will not provide immediate reductions in carbon emissions. Another problem is that large-scale tree plantations can decrease biodiversity, displace people and cause social disruption. Doubts have recently been cast on the contribution to reducing carbon dioxide levels of planting trees outside the tropics, especially when trees are planted in peat-based soils, because of the carbon release from the peat.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Does the member agree that the Scottish Executive has a huge opportunity to extend the use of money that is gathered through carbon offsetting to underpin the Scottish forestry industry in years to come?

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

Of course I agree.

Although the Liberal Democrats welcome a carbon offset scheme, it must be introduced only if it complements a large range of effective carbon- reducing measures and then only if the environmental impact is assessed. As has been said, the Liberal Democrats, as part of the previous Executive, set the first-ever Scottish climate change target, to exceed our share of the UK carbon savings by an additional 1 million tonnes in 2010. The new Administration needs to step up and provide firm targets that can be shown to be achieved and that have real and clearly detailed objectives, rather than socially favourable schemes that some might see as a token effort in dealing with carbon emissions and climate change, rather than a serious and workable commitment.

Photo of Nanette Milne Nanette Milne Conservative 11:22 am, 14th June 2007

As we all know, climate change is a serious issue for the world and we must all play our part in trying to reduce carbon emissions, which are resulting in the temperature rise that threatens our planet as we know it. The best and most important way in which to achieve that is to change our behaviour so that we reduce our carbon footprint by whatever means we can, for example, by going back to eating local produce whenever we can, by using public transport rather than cars more often, by keeping air travel to a minimum and by cutting the amount of gas and electricity that we use. We all know what needs doing to cut carbon emissions, but we do not live a utopian existence and inevitably will continue to produce the pollutants that contribute to global warming, albeit, I hope, on a lesser scale. Of course, that applies to businesses and Government as well as to individuals.

Carbon offsetting is a reasonable way in which to help compensate for our lifestyles and contribute to the battle against climate change. However, although it undoubtedly has a part to play, it should not be at the expense of the required change in behaviour. From what has been said, no one here disagrees with that. We understand the concerns about the viability of many of the offsetting schemes that are in operation. Serious issues arise about the environmental credibility of many of the available carbon credit schemes, with allegations that consumers are being ripped off by paying for projects that already exist or that make no contribution to reducing carbon emissions. It is difficult to verify the real value of most offsetting schemes but, as the motion suggests, we need rigorous independent assessment of each project's direct and indirect carbon impact and its associated offset. Our amendment is important too, because it is only right that the taxpayer should know just what the Government spends on such schemes.

Because of the serious concerns about the worth of some offsetting projects, we support the proposed gold standard that is being developed south of the border by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. However, as Alex Johnstone said, we feel that the criteria should be broadened to include voluntary schemes that are not Kyoto-approved projects, which are the only ones that DEFRA will currently agree to include, despite the fact that some of the voluntary schemes save more carbon than the Kyoto-registered ones. Because deforestation contributes 20 per cent of worldwide carbon emissions, which is more than transport contributes, we want avoided deforestation credits to be adopted in the Kyoto process, to acknowledge the importance of preserving existing trees and forests, which absorb more carbon than new forests do.

The gold-standard code of practice that is being developed at Westminster may or may not cover all of the UK. We would like to know whether the SNP Government wishes to adopt that standard or would rather develop a separate scheme for Scotland.

We would also like to know which offset scheme the SNP intends to use in fulfilling its manifesto pledge to offset Government-induced emissions. Whichever scheme it selects should have the highest proven carbon reductions, even if they come from a voluntary project rather than a Kyoto-registered one.

Finally, we think it hugely important that, before it considers offsetting, the Government commits to emissions reductions—for example, by investing in better energy efficiency and in renewable energy in publicly owned buildings.

This has by and large been a consensual debate on an important issue. We have no argument with the Green party's motion, other than with the non-inclusion of the cost to the taxpayer. We hope to gain support across the chamber for our amendment to that effect.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour 11:25 am, 14th June 2007

This has been an interesting debate with some effective contributions. I may be a little less positive about offsetting than others. The consideration of offsetting is a result of increasing awareness among the general public of climate change, and that is a good thing. However, offsetting has also become fashionable as a means of salving people's consciences when it comes to the use of unsustainable means of transport or sources of energy. If we are to address climate change, we will all have to change our behaviour and adapt. That will not be achieved by merely making a financial contribution towards some kind of environmental activity. Unless we reduce direct and indirect carbon use, offsetting is purely a veil for our consciences.

That is not to say that offsetting is always a bad thing. For individuals—provided that offsetting schemes are properly validated and there is genuine environmental benefit—offsetting is better than not offsetting. However, it is not a substitute for individuals changing their behaviour in the first place—for example, by reducing the number of flights taken, by reducing the number of unnecessary journeys made, or by using public rather than private transport. Sarah Boyack mentioned many such issues in her speech.

Two or three of the arguments in our amendment are different from the arguments in the Greens' motion. We mention the need to take into account indirect as well as direct emissions. We stress that carbon offsetting has to be additional to other measures rather than a substitute for them. We also focus on affordability. I would like to respond to Alex Johnstone's point. We are very interested that public transport should be affordable to users. A problem in recent years has been that the price of public transport has risen much more than the price of private transport. We have to address that problem. I accept Alex's point that we have to ensure that public transport projects and roads projects are affordable. The Government will have to be responsible for managing the costs of such projects.

There will have to be a wide debate on these issues and a separate debate on private offsetting—the schemes that apply to individuals. Governments have responsibility for managing, controlling and reducing carbon emissions, but if they started talking about offsetting schemes, I would worry that they were moving away from the direction that they should be going in. We will examine the climate change bill and any offsetting proposals within it to ensure that they are not a substitute for, or a distraction from, the control and reduction of direct and indirect emissions. We will have to bear that in mind.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 11:29 am, 14th June 2007

Like others, I am pleased to have been part of this interesting and valuable debate, which has helped to highlight some of the complexities that should be considered in any decisions on using carbon offsetting as a response to climate change.

I will refer to some of the contributions made, starting with that of Mrs McInnes. She stressed that we should not wait for a climate change bill before introducing initiatives, and I agree absolutely. We will continue to take every opportunity to make progress. At official level, we have been discussing energy efficiency with the UK Government and considering how we can jointly make improvements. Such issues will form part of my discussions with David Miliband when I meet him in London on Monday.

Bill Wilson mentioned Peterhead. As a number of members may know, my colleague Jim Mather today provided section 36 consent, under the Electricity Act 1989, for energy generation of 550MW from decarbonised fuel at Peterhead. That is but one part of a project that would have faced substantial hurdles had we denied that consent.

I was delighted to hear from John Park that sales of clothes-pegs have increased fourteenfold.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I beg James's pardon. I grovel before him. I hope that the clothes-pegs in question were wooden ones made from renewable sources rather than plastic ones made from fuel oil.

I can advise Mr Hume that my wife has planted 46 trees in the past 18 months. We are making as much progress as we can as individuals.

Nanette Milne spoke about energy-efficient buildings. I have been involved in discussions on building standards and I think that we will bring some good news on the contribution to energy efficiency that will result from the next updating of the standards, which will be in the not-too-distant future.

Des McNulty rightly focused on the need for changes to individuals' behaviour. Being made the minister with responsibility for tackling climate change has caused me to think about the issues in a new way. I hope that the climate change bill will have a similar effect on us all.

Since becoming minister, I have reduced my top speed in the car by 5mph. Interestingly, that has resulted in a reduction of only 2mph in my average speed, but a reduction of slightly over 10 per cent in the amount of fuel that I use. The challenge now is to travel less distance and to use more sustainable means of doing so. Quite simple things that we can do as individuals can start to make a difference. The Government wants to encourage people to do those simple things.

Offsetting has a value, but suppose that we did nothing directly but reduced our net carbon impact by exporting all our carbon use through offsetting alone. That would not be helpful, and it would not be possible either. Offsetting is a palliative in the short term; it raises awareness and helps us to engage with the issue, but in the long term it really is not the answer.

We want to work with other Administrations and, as I have indicated, with other parties. The tenor of the debate bodes well for engagement on the climate change bill. I repeat: our climate change targets are challenging and long term. They cover many Parliaments and will transcend many Administrations. Offsetting should be viewed as a small part of a hierarchy of actions, but the most effective way to avoid or reduce emissions will be by changing behaviours. Developing and adopting new low-carbon technologies will play a part in reducing emissions. When it is not possible to avoid or reduce emissions, cost-effective offsetting, providing auditable carbon reductions, can have a role. That is why the Executive sees value in properly auditable initiatives and why we will consider whether offsetting can play a role in our future plans.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 11:35 am, 14th June 2007

We initiated the debate as the beginning of a discussion about this complex issue and I am grateful to all members who have engaged constructively in that conversation, not least Nigel Don. I am sorry that he has just left the chamber, because he made a thought-provoking speech that I was glad to hear.

There is general global debate about what role market-based mechanisms can have in tackling climate change. For Governments, emissions trading is the main expression of that idea. Among many individuals and businesses, to whom such trading mechanisms do not directly apply, the idea of voluntary offsetting has gained some popularity. They want to do the right thing. That is, of course, to be welcomed, but the question is whether the Government should not only endorse that approach, but initiate its own offsetting policies.

I echo Des McNulty's comments on that. If we accept the concept of offsetting—as many politicians from a number parties do—there can only be a case for using it in relation to so-called housekeeping emissions to offset or attempt to offset a particular journey or the total emissions from running a conference or major event. The arguments about offsetting infrastructure projects are very different from those on offsetting housekeeping emissions.

Robin Harper compared commercial offsetting to papal indulgences or even fig-leaves. He talked about good reasons for many international development measures and domestic tree planting but made it clear that such measures cannot, in themselves, simply be totted up and offset against polluting practices and policies or used as an excuse for continuing such practices and policies elsewhere. Jim Hume also spelled out the difference between burning ancient carbon—the carbon cycle of which is on a timescale of geological time—and replacing it with tree planting, which is on a short carbon cycle.

Stewart Stevenson was one of many members who talked about the importance of climate change as an issue that faces the world. I welcome the commitment to the climate change bill. I look forward to the statement next week and to seeing the contents of the bill when it arrives, but I question the stated intention of attempting to offset transport infrastructure projects. I hope that my questions are constructive and I look forward to receiving the answers to them, because the intention to offset is an implicit acceptance that those infrastructure projects are not sustainable.

I also express a little disappointment that Stewart Stevenson stated that he would have to take a domestic flight. I do not accept that there is a case for flying on this small island in any except life or death circumstances and for essential island connections, which are the only option for some people. I regret that his visit to see Mr Miliband will leave him in a position comparable to Nicol Stephen's after his urgent and necessary trip to the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards last year.

I also echo a lot of what Sarah Boyack said. She laid out a clear case for a truly sustainable transport policy and advanced many arguments with which I agree, not least on the Edinburgh tram system and the Glasgow crossrail.

Richard Baker mentioned the Aberdeen crossrail. I reassure him that I am no more nervous about criticising the unsustainable transport policies of my SNP colleagues than I am about criticising those of the Labour Party, not least the Edinburgh airport rail link. We are critical of that project because we regard its business case as being predicated on a further dramatic expansion of aviation and because it will have to compete for passengers with the trams, which risks undermining the case for not only building but completing the tram network, which would serve the whole city, not only airport passengers.

We also disagree with all the other parties on major road building projects. I find myself unable to support either the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrat amendments. Those parties have supported projects such as the M74 extension and have simply pointed to a few green-thread policies as an excuse for pursuing unsustainable transport policies. For them to use phrases such as "sustainable transport" is the political equivalent of offsetting. They have their green threads so that they can carry on with business as usual.

Alex Johnstone mentioned Mr Cameron's offsetting habit. I cannot agree with that, but I am glad that Alex Johnstone entered into the debate properly and acknowledged the concerns that many people have about offsetting. His amendment detracts nothing and adds a little, so we can support it.

Alison McInnes said that climate change needs a much wider debate. I agree and hope that she agrees that this debate takes nothing away from that. We need to debate offsetting in advance of the Government introducing its climate change bill and proposals on offsetting—if that is what happens—not least because of the limitations that she mentioned in relation to offsetting. We initiated the debate not because we are overly concerned about the text of a motion or an amendment, but because we have a general concern about the concept of offsetting.

I recommend that members look at the website, which urges people who feel the need to be unfaithful to their partners to fund somebody else to be faithful as a way of offsetting the amount of pain and unhappiness that they are generating in the world. It urges people to think about how to reduce their unfaithfulness to sustainable levels first. It is satire, of course, but it makes the point about what offsetting really is.