Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:30 pm on 28th May 2008.

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Photo of David Stewart David Stewart Labour 3:30 pm, 28th May 2008

The debate is significant. The climate change bill might become the most important legislation that the Parliament passes in the next three years, so I welcome the opportunity to debate climate change. I was delighted to hear the minister say that 21,000 people responded to the consultation—they include the children of the island of Eigg in my area of the Highlands and Islands.

I make no apologies for stressing the international context of climate change—to be fair, the minister did that, too. Greenhouse gases are no respecters of boundaries and no invisible barrier exists at the Channel or Hadrian's wall. A terrible injustice is that the rich, developed north has created the bulk of the emissions while the poor, developing south is experiencing severe climatic events, such as those in Burma and in China. Oxfam is respected throughout the globe for its development expertise. It talks about climate change affecting poor people who rely on crops that require rainfall that is no longer predictable, whether in the Philippines or Zambia, while the residents of Bangladesh struggle to cope with the effects of severe flooding.

As Al Gore argued in his excellent film "An Inconvenient Truth", the peer-reviewed scientific community are united on the problem and the solution. We all know—the minister touched on the issue—that it is crucial to keep the average rise in global temperatures to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels to try to avoid the most serious impacts of climate change. We all know what those impacts are: severe summer droughts, damaging winter floods, the loss of our coastal communities and crippling economic damage. As we heard from the minister, the solution is that greenhouse gas emissions need to fall by between 50 and 85 per cent by 2050, but current scientific opinion emphasises the top of that scale.

As the introduction to the Scottish Government's second annual report on climate change says, the Bali summit set out a new road map to reach a new deal on international climate change—a sort of son of the Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012. Our debate also takes place in the context of the UK Climate Change Bill, which will make the UK the first country to have a legally binding long-term framework to cut greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.

Labour welcomes many of the practical suggestions in the second annual report—particularly on the key emission hot spots of transport and energy. We know from the Stern report, which describes the economic effects of climate change as the great depression meeting world war one, that early quick wins are effective, neat and important to achieving the correct trajectory to meet the target of reducing emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. It will be crucial to keep on target year on year in the Scottish bill's infancy. If that does not happen, there will be a mountain to climb by 2020, never mind 2050.

As Stop Climate Chaos Scotland has said, the melting of summer sea ice in the Arctic has significantly accelerated. The 2007 melt was 23 per cent greater than that in 2005 and scientists predict that the Arctic might be free of all summer ice by 2030, which is 100 years ahead of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's projection.

Closer to home, as the minister hinted, Scotland's emissions have risen by 8 per cent since 2005-06. That is mostly a result of changes in the fuel mix of Scottish electricity generation. We already need to start short-term course adjustments. The Scottish Government must take action now to meet the climate change targets, so I was disappointed that neither the second annual report nor the minister mentioned establishing a statutory, binding carbon-reduction target of at least 3 per cent per annum. Just in case the minister has misplaced it, I have the Scottish National Party's 2007 manifesto, which says on page 29:

"In government we will introduce a Climate Change Bill with mandatory carbon reduction targets of 3% per annum".

I note that the minister's colleague Mike Russell is to reintroduce an extinct native species—the beaver—to Scotland, which he is right to do. I respectfully suggest to Mr Stevenson that he might want to reintroduce an extinct native clause from the SNP's manifesto to strengthen the proposed bill.

What should the bill aim to do? In simplistic terms, the Government should lead by example and set a framework to make it easier for people to make the right environmental choices. Doing that is not rocket science.