Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:35 pm on 28th May 2008.

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Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative 4:35 pm, 28th May 2008

Bill Wilson was right to suggest that climate change is probably the most serious issue that we face as a planet. There was little else in his speech with which I agreed, although I probably agreed with more of it than the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change did, judging from the puzzled looks he gave me.

I will pick up on one important point that the minister made in his statement. He said that we will soon receive the figures for the 2006 carbon emissions and that, unfortunately, it is thought that they will show an increase. This is not a criticism aimed at the Government, but it worries me slightly that only now will we receive figures for 2006. If we are to get a serious handle on climate change—to be fleet of foot and make the necessary adjustments to help us hit our targets and avert global warming—we need to invest serious energy in ensuring that we get our figures far quicker than that. I am sure that we do not ever get instantaneous figures by sticking our hands in the air, but we need to consider how we can get much more up-to-date figures so that we can change course when we need to.

I will comment on a number of issues that have cropped up. One is the question of the gases that are to be included in the Scottish climate change bill. I offer no great answer, but I have a couple of observations. I have learned that 20 per cent of Scottish greenhouse gas emissions are not carbon dioxide. Most people who read the literature on climate change would be wise to assume that carbon dioxide is the only gas with which we must concern ourselves. However, in Scotland at least, 20 per cent of the problem is not CO2—it is other gases, including methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur. That is important, because if we are going to ignore 20 per cent of emissions completely, then we have a problem, given that the overall objective of the bill is to try to avert climate change. I have also been told—although I have not had a chance to examine this properly—that pound for pound, methane is a lot more damaging than CO2. If that is the case, we need to examine the matter very seriously, because methane is the largest non-CO2 gas emission. It would be unwise to exclude the basket of other greenhouse gases.

Annual targets have been discussed a lot today, and of course the Government has been beaten with its commitment on page 29 of its manifesto. I will not dwell on that too much, other than to say that we need to get the right figures and take the right decisions for the whole 42-year period and more, instead of putting something in place just because it was in the manifesto. It would be prudent of the Government to admit what was in the manifesto and say that it has taken advice on it since then and decided not to run with it, instead of trying to hide from the issue—that would probably put the matter to bed.

Mandatory annual targets are important if we are to make serious progress towards the 80 per cent figure. I draw a comparison with the tourism target that was set in 2005, which was a 50 per cent increase in tourism over a 10-year period. No annual targets were put up and no review mechanisms were in place; and now, three years into the process, we have gone slightly backwards, and the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee is examining ways of addressing the issue. If that can happen over a 10-year period, members should consider the potential for drift over a 42-year period. That is why the targets are so important.

Anyone in business probably has quarterly targets, and certainly annual targets. There is a real danger of slippage if we do not meet our annual targets in one particular year. In relation to any form of finance, debt is a lot easier to pay off with regular instalments, which is why some form of annual target—without saying today exactly what, and how rigid it must be—is important. Without such a mechanism, there is a serious danger that we will not achieve our end result.

It is important to have proper scrutiny of the results each year. Laying things before Parliament is important but, in their alternative bill, the Conservatives south of the border proposed an environmental commission. Made up of experts and scientific bodies, it would be independent of political parties and would examine the figures rigorously so that we would know that they were absolutely correct. It would take away the danger of the issue being used as a political football and would force political parties and everyone else to acknowledge any bad news, reach a consensus and come up with clear strategies for progress.

The other important issue, which Alex Johnstone raised and which we must take seriously, is whether we measure consumption or production. We must not simply go for the one that will enable us to hit the target most easily or the one that suits Scotland the best. Ultimately, a global perspective is needed if we are to be successful. We want every country in the world to cycle on the same side of the path on this issue. Every country must either go for consumption or for production, or else large areas of emissions will be completely missed out and we will still have a problem with climate change, even though every country will say that they hit their targets. We might have to consider what China, India and the United States of America are most likely to accept and work hard to ensure that we get global consensus on that.

Stern said that if we act now and act internationally, we have a good chance of averting climate change. Let us hope that we can do both.