Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:05 pm on 28th May 2008.

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Photo of Bill Wilson Bill Wilson Scottish National Party 4:05 pm, 28th May 2008

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of the age—if not the greatest. There is no longer serious debate about that in the respected scientific community. If we fail now, future generations will look back on this time with not inconsiderable anger.

UK Government policy gives grounds for disappointment. The target for a mere 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050 is not good enough. Of course, some people will argue that Scotland cannot race ahead of the pack, because even if we reduce emissions by more than 60 per cent other countries will not do so. They will make the argument that if others will not act, we in Scotland should not act, because we will endanger our businesses and industries. That is an old, well-tried and rather cowardly argument. A few centuries ago, people argued that we should not stop selling slaves, because others would not stop selling slaves. A few years ago, people argued that we should not halt arms sales to Indonesia, because other countries would not halt their arms sales. Today, people argue that we should not attempt to achieve an 80 per cent reduction in emissions, because others will not make such an attempt. We all agree that the slave trade was wrong—I hope—and most people agree that selling ground attack aircraft to Indonesia was wrong. Settling for a 60 per cent reduction in emissions would also be wrong.

We have a moral duty, as a wealthy nation, to cut our emissions not by 60 per cent but by 80 per cent by 2050. Anything less would be a betrayal of the billions of the world's poor. I welcome the Scottish Government's commitment to cut emissions by 80 per cent and I welcome the saltire prize and the commitment that goes with it to building the renewables industry in Scotland.

However, how much more could we do in an independent Scotland? A Scotland that was not committed by Westminster to squandering billions of pounds on illegal wars might instead spend the money on carbon capture and lead the world in that technology. A Scotland that was not committed to wasting £100 billion on the son of Trident over the next 20 years might spend those billions on renewables and lead the world in those technologies. How much more satisfying would it be to know that Scotland's wealth was being used to fight not wars but climate change?

However much we commit to building a better future, we should bear in mind the fact that the real problems, like pantomime villains, are often behind us—out of sight, or at least not in our immediate field of attention. I have no doubt that we can and will achieve what we set out to achieve, for example on wave and tidal power, but I am concerned that what we achieve might be undermined from unexpected directions. I give one example of an organisation whose activities could easily negate everything that we achieve, and which is likely to slip under our radar. The European Investment Bank is one of the world's largest sources of investment capital—greater than the World Bank. The EIB is supposedly committed to sustainable development, but the report from the EU-funded counter balance coalition sets out a very different picture.

I wanted to give a few examples, but I do not have much time. The Chad-Cameroon oil project, which involves 300 wells in Chad and more than 1000km of pipeline from Chad to Cameroon, is a clear example of EIB failure to take environmental issues seriously. The EIB insisted that its investment in the project depended on environmental and social conditions being met, but Chad has slipped on the United Nations human development index. A major beneficiary of the Chad-Cameroon project was ExxonMobil, a company that funds climate change sceptics. Since 1998, ExxonMobil has spent about £20 million to fund climate change deniers such as the Heartland Institute. Should EIB be funding ExxonMobil?

As a result of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline project, coastal rainforest has been destroyed, rivers have been polluted and thousands of farmers have been forced from their land. There is no sign of the promised social development projects, but climate change sceptics have been funded and non-European oil companies have made huge profits courtesy of the European taxpayer. We must be vigilant if we are to ensure that money and commitment that is offered in Scotland is not undermined by our investments elsewhere.

The Scottish Government is correct to commit to an 80 per cent reduction in emissions. For Scotland, our size and overall contribution to global warming is neither here nor there: the moral imperative is for us to push forward on the climate change agenda. We must do all that we can. I do not believe the doomsayers when they tell us that any attempt to lead the field will harm Scotland; indeed, I argue the contrary.

Morality aside, leading in renewable energy will benefit Scotland. It will ensure our future energy supply and our ability to capitalise on a growing market. Leading the field in carbon capture will benefit Scotland. The globe cannot convert to clean energy overnight. In the interim, carbon capture technologies will form a vital part of the strategy to fight global warming. Leading the field in reducing emissions will benefit Scotland. It will enhance our international reputation and generate a positive attitude towards our country, both of which will benefit us socially and economically.

In committing fully to the fight against climate change, we have little to lose and much to gain.

Even if that were not the case, the moral imperative is for us to act.