Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:45 pm on 28th May 2008.

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Photo of Alison McInnes Alison McInnes Liberal Democrat 3:45 pm, 28th May 2008

What I accept is that the minister has turned down some major and significant applications that would have helped us to meet the targets.

For all its rhetoric, we have yet to see evidence that the Government has any substantive policies that will help us to meet the bill's targets. Indeed, just nine pages out of 85 in the consultation deal with supporting measures. Setting an emissions target is important, but taking action that will allow that target to be met is where the real work lies, and that work should have started already. The climate change bill must be robust enough to result in specific actions across government, industry, and organisations, and to encourage individuals.

While the SNP has dithered over its plans, the Liberal Democrats have taken the lead. In Opposition at Westminster, we set out comprehensive policies on climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as specific measures that will work towards our goal of making the United Kingdom carbon neutral by 2050. In the previous Administration at Holyrood, we led the way by investing more in renewable energy and support for energy efficiency measures than in any other part of Britain, and by ensuring that Scotland's first target on renewables generation was met three years ahead of schedule. Such strategies have seen the Liberal Democrats praised by environmental groups as the greenest of the main parties.

Given that the SNP's actions are falling so short, perhaps it is worth asking if it is getting the framework right. Unfortunately, the answer is again no. I welcome the fact that the Government has set an ambitious long-term target of an 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050. That was a positive move but, as so often seems to be the case, the SNP's commitment goes only so far. By going back on its pre-election pledge to introduce binding annual targets, it has demonstrated that it is willing to put political coverage ahead of achieving reductions.

It is not just the Liberal Democrats who see the necessity for annual targets. We have been listening to consultation responses and WWF Scotland says:

"The Climate Change Bill should include statutory targets of at least 3% per year. This is the absolute minimum annual reduction needed to ensure we do not emit more than our fair share of greenhouse gases."

Oxfam and Friends of the Earth Scotland agree with that view.

By rejecting its own policy of annual targets and instead opting for targets over five-year budget periods, the SNP has set not-in-my-term-of-office targets. Even with annual reporting, five-year budget targets will make it impossible to hold ministers to account for their actions or, indeed, their inaction.

By contrast, the Liberal Democrats want to increase ministerial accountability. We want not only binding annual targets but annual targets that are broken down by sector, so that each minister can be held to account for emissions from within his or her remit. However tempting it may be, we cannot hold the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change alone responsible for any shortcomings. We must recognise that the issue demands joined-up thinking across Government portfolios. It is also essential that we find a way of including aviation and shipping in the targets.

If the Government is willing to work with all parties and to listen to views that are raised in the consultation, Scotland's climate change bill may yet prove to be the world-leading example that we all desire, but I have my doubts.

Minister, I urge you to address what Friends of the Earth called the most critical shortcoming in your proposals. In the consultation, you note that a total target for cumulative emissions could be constructed and

"would give greater certainty about the level of Scotland's contribution to the global effort to tackle climate change than a single point percentage reduction target."

However, in the very next paragraph, you state that, as

"a cumulative emissions target will be more challenging and more costly to meet ... the Scottish Government proposes to adopt a point target for 2050".

Minister, I find that attitude deeply troubling.