Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:15 pm on 28th May 2008.

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Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour 4:15 pm, 28th May 2008

It is not every day that I welcome an announcement by SNP ministers, and certainly not twice in the same day. However, on this occasion, I am happy to be able to make an exception. When we debated the issues in January in the context of the UK Energy Bill, I pressed ministers to conclude their discussions with UK ministers on carbon capture and storage and to allow initiatives on carbon storage in Scottish waters to progress as part of the UK Energy Bill, through a legislative consent motion in the Parliament. I am delighted that this morning, at the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, Jim Mather did precisely that and confirmed that an agreed approach is now in place. I welcome that and I am glad that the delay in reaching agreement was not too prolonged after our debate in January. The joint approach by Holyrood and Westminster to the licensing of carbon stores offshore creates the necessary framework to allow the development of carbon capture technology, which is welcome in the context of climate change. The issue now is to make progress with the development of the technology. I hope that we will see early funding of projects from UK ministers and clear and unambiguous support for that from Scotland's devolved Government.

I would like to be equally positive about the Scottish ministers' support for renewable energy generation, but on that the record of the SNP's first 12 months in power is distinctly mixed. In that time, the Scottish ministers have approved, under the Electricity Act 1989, major wind power developments with a combined capacity of less than 600MW, whereas they have rejected major developments with a combined capacity of nearly 900MW. That is a disappointing record, however ministers choose to present it. Wind power is not the only way of generating low-carbon electricity. Ministers should not close the door on any power source that has a low-carbon impact. Scottish Government support for the development of wave and tidal power technologies is welcome and builds on initiatives that were taken by the forum for renewable energy development in Scotland, with ministerial support, throughout the past five years. Hydro power is capable of further development as part of a diverse energy mix.

Reducing the impact of carbon emissions also depends on greater energy efficiency and on reducing landfill disposal of waste. Yesterday evening, the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on renewable energy and energy efficiency and the cross-party group on wastes management met jointly to consider the potential environmental benefits of well-designed approaches to obtaining energy from waste, which is clearly one of a range of important and diverse initiatives that are relevant to the debate.

If ministers are serious about using low-carbon electricity as part of tackling climate change, they must acknowledge that onshore wind is the one renewable energy technology that is most capable of making a substantial difference in the short term. The opportunities for new large-scale hydro schemes are limited, precisely because of the success of hydro power two generations ago. The opportunities for large-scale offshore wind are real enough, but developments are not yet in place in Scottish waters, other than the Robin rigg development, which is currently under construction in the Solway Firth. The new marine technologies of wave and tide are capable of delivering environmental benefits and economic advantages for Scotland, but they are unlikely to contribute either soon enough or on a large enough scale to put us ahead of the curve on reducing carbon emissions in the next 10 or 12 years.

When, some weeks ago, I put to the First Minister his Administration's record on wind power applications, he did not dispute my figures. He should know—one of the rejected projects was in his constituency. Instead, he said that there would soon be renewables capacity in Scotland of 3GW, and that we therefore had more to celebrate than to regret about his Government's approach. The reality, of course, is that most of the existing capacity was approved by previous Administrations. Ministers could have chosen to add 1,500MW of new capacity over the past 12 months—such is the rate at which proposals for new developments are still being made—but they have rejected most of the opportunities so far.

When ministers come to consider some of the outstanding applications before them, I suggest that they acknowledge the need to send out positive signals to the wind power industry that Scotland is still a place where it can do business, and that decisions will be quick and positive. Making such decisions will help ministers to meet targets for renewable energy and to work towards emissions targets. We will need to meet targets here and now if we are to meet the long-term targets that have been described.