Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:21 pm on 28th May 2008.

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Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party 4:21 pm, 28th May 2008

I welcome today's debate on Scotland's role in tackling the global threat of climate change. The debate offers an important opportunity—before the consideration of crucial legislation later this year—to take stock, reflect on what has and has not been achieved, and consider the best course of action as we progress towards becoming a low-carbon society.

It is clear that tackling climate change requires commitment and co-ordinated effort at local, national and international level, and across every field of government. Where responsibility is devolved, the Scottish Government is showing leadership; but moving towards the low-carbon society that we all seek will require a fundamental shift in attitudes and behaviour from individual citizens and communities.

Although the Government has a vital role in facilitating changes in behaviour, the most meaningful and effective changes are those which are driven by, and not forced on, local communities. One of the most exciting examples of the think globally, act locally approach to the climate change challenge is the transition town initiative. A perfect example of the ground-up approach, the project began in a small village in Ireland and has now been adopted in five towns in Scotland, including Portobello, which is Scotland's first transition town.

The transition model assists communities to develop a clear vision for their town, identifying and using local resources to help to make the transition towards a low-energy future. It offers clear benefits for the cohesion of communities, in addition to reducing the carbon footprint in their areas. The movement is building momentum and I am delighted that a steering group is now looking at adopting the model to make Edinburgh a transition city.

I know that the Scottish Government appreciates the aims of the transition town initiative, and I know that the minister has met representatives of relevant groups. I am sure that we will do all that we can to facilitate the setting-up of more transition towns and cities across the country.

Work in schools is another important driver of change at community level. Future generations will have to live with the consequences of the decisions that we take today. Therefore, it is vital that young people are actively and meaningfully involved in the debate. The children's climate change project, which is being organised by WWF Scotland in co-operation with Children in Scotland, is one project designed to ensure that they have that opportunity.

Children between the ages of nine and 14 from across Scotland will soon get together to debate climate change. They will then be coming to the festival of politics and to the Scottish Parliament later on in the year. I look forward to seeing them at the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, presenting their arguments to us.

Although many committed individuals of all ages are already doing their bit, many people still need to be persuaded that small changes in their lifestyle can make a difference and are worth making. One important way to do that is for the public sector to lead from the front. That is why climate change considerations must be at the heart of all public service decision making. From the design of capital projects to public procurement—not just in local government, but in the further education sector, the prison service and the health service—the public sector must take into account the impact of its decisions on the environment.

Signing up to a climate change declaration is simply not enough. Therefore, I am pleased that councils across Scotland are now adopting ecological footprint analysis, with the City of Edinburgh Council among eight councils joining the local footprints project in October 2008. I hope that others will follow its lead and that such analysis can be adopted by other sections of the public sector in future.

As has been said, the Scottish Government will need to work with the Westminster Government to progress towards our common goals in this area. There has been a lot of good work and common consensus. However, I was disappointed that the United Kingdom Government did not use the opportunity offered by the Energy Bill to introduce legislation enabling the roll-out of smart meters or a feed-in tariff scheme for households producing energy from microgeneration. The latter has been extremely successful in other European countries; for example, the German Government calculates that in 2007 savings of 57 million tonnes of CO2 were directly attributable to the country's feed-in tariff legislation.

Co-operative action is needed at all levels of Government and throughout society. Much work has been done, but there is still much to do, and time is running out if we are truly to begin to make a difference.