Climate Change (Communities)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:00 pm on 11th December 2008.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 5:00 pm, 11th December 2008

The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S3M-2991, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on communities leading on climate change. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. Mr Harvie has seven minutes.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates the community groups around Scotland, such as the Toryglen Gardening Club in Glasgow, that have made successful applications to the Climate Challenge Fund; notes that the fund makes available £27.4 million over three years to support community-led efforts to make serious carbon reductions across Scotland; believes that Scotland's diverse communities can play an important role in carbon innovation, and believes that projects supported by the fund can also help build community cohesion, tackle social exclusion and build sustainable local economies.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 5:07 pm, 11th December 2008

That should be just long enough for the dulcet tones of Lord Foulkes to disappear from the back of the chamber.

I thank the members who have stayed to participate in the debate and I thank those who supported the motion. I ask members to welcome to the public gallery the representatives of projects that have successfully bid for money from the climate challenge fund.

I am often given to comment on the status that climate change has achieved on the political agenda over the years. When I was a lad, I was taken along by my mum to various environmental demonstrations. I am pleased to say that she still goes to environmental demonstrations. It is fair to say that, in those days, climate change and other issues that were being raised by the environment movement were sometimes portrayed as being on the fringes of the political agenda.

However, over not only the short span of my life, but the decades since the concept of climate change first came to the awareness of scientists, we have reached the point at which the few who deny the issue, who deny the reality of the problem and who deny the serious impact that it will have on lives and economies around the planet are now portrayed as the fringe eccentrics on the edges of the issue. It has taken a long time to reach that point and it has taken a lot of work, not only by politicians but by communities and activists at community level. We are now at the point when ministers are asked questions about climate change every week in this Parliament: they have to respond and take the issue seriously.

We have reached the point at which the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, today addressed the delegates at Poznan and called for a new climate revolution—in fact, for "a new Copernican revolution". That is how profound the issue is. Global solidarity is needed on climate change, which is the defining challenge of our era. Mr Ban argues that if banks are too big to fail, so is the climate. That is something on which we can all now agree, although there might not have been such agreement even a few short years ago.

We Greens have played our part constructively, not just here but around the world, although we certainly do not pretend that we are the only people to have done so. Other people in other political movements have done so, and people have played their parts in their own communities. We will continue to challenge the Government sometimes, issuing our criticisms as we did yesterday when we considered the strategic transport projects review. Criticism on its own is not enough, however, even when Governments fall short. It is necessary also to promote positive ideas about what can be achieved. That is the approach that we took to last year's budget negotiations, when we asked for the establishment of the climate challenge fund, which has presented an opportunity for communities to bid and to set their own agendas.

Although consensus has developed on climate change, something has fallen between the cracks. We have spoken about the relationship between Government, business and individuals. Who needs to play their part? Where does the balance of responsibility for climate change lie? It has been forgotten for a long time that, between Government, individuals and business, communities can collectively play a far more powerful role than any of us can individually. Cutting emissions directly is one thing, but communities can also set their own agendas and priorities. Different solutions will be appropriate in different towns and villages and in different parts of a city. The issues might be around food production, transport, buildings or lifestyle: people have a host of choices and opportunities.

If the Government simply comes along, wags the finger and tells communities how things are going to be, however, it risks its approach being rejected. The Government's allowing communities to set their own agendas, and providing a little bit of extra financial support can help to create a can-do spirit. That is what communities can do, which individual action—however important—cannot do on its own. With that can-do spirit, relationships can be built at community level, which can generate all sorts of spin-off benefits, whether in social justice or in economic wellbeing—which means so much more than mere growth, of course.

In many ways, we face a pretty frightening time with the so-called triple crunch. We are facing an economic crisis, a climate crisis and an impending energy crisis—all three at once. Those are the consequences of generations of unsustainable politics and economics. They might be unprecedented challenges, but there are unprecedented opportunities, too. Creative solutions are available, not just for tackling climate change, but for working towards the concept of a sustainable community.

The Transition Network Ltd is one of the organisations that has benefited from the climate challenge fund. It is the inheritor of a set of ideas—a holistic sense—about what sustainable communities are. Over the years, we are going to have to build in concepts not just of low-carbon living but of resilience and self-reliance. If the climate crisis, the energy crisis and the economic crisis play out as some of us fear, the communities that will prosper and thrive, and which will be able to maintain wellbeing, will be those that can meet their needs locally. That might mean local food production, which the Toryglen gardening club is exploring. Other projects have benefited from the climate challenge fund.

I asked ministers recently whether they are aware of the land share concept: the idea that those who have spare land that is not being used can turn it into something productive and an asset for a community. That is very much what the folk in Toryglen are doing. They are working with churches, housing schemes and a host of people who can provide a little bit of land. That land can be the catalyst not just for producing food locally and cutting carbon emissions, but for bringing people together with their common interests—despite the frightening economic crisis.

I hope that members will refer to various projects around the country that are benefiting from the scheme and that are creating benefits for the communities that they serve. I have circulated to all members a map that shows where projects are around the country. There are many more of them in the pipeline.

In closing, I will mention Des McNulty's members' business debate next week, on the subject of eco-congregations. I am aware that the eco-congregations network is now a huge network of projects around the country. I hope that the network is positively considering the opportunities that the climate challenge fund offers.

I again thank members and the many activists from around Scotland who are making things happen. Without that, policies are worth very little.

I invite anyone who wishes to join us to committee room 4 for a little drink at the end of the debate.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party 5:15 pm, 11th December 2008

I thank Patrick Harvie for securing this debate on community action on climate change, which provides a timely reminder of the important role that communities can and must play in driving down Scotland's emissions.

The debate comes shortly after the introduction of the Government's Climate Change (Scotland) Bill, which sets out an ambitious framework for action. Although leadership from Government is important, leadership from communities and dedicated groups and individuals will bring about real change. The efforts of such people—many of whom are in the public gallery—will ultimately convince people who are struggling with pressing everyday problems that climate change is not so overwhelming or remote from their lives that they should not care about it. Action that improves an area and cuts the local carbon footprint has tangible benefits for social cohesion, health and wellbeing and the economy—at a time when that could not be needed more. Local action is a means whereby communities can empower themselves.

The climate challenge fund has provided funding to develop and support many inspiring community-based projects to reduce the carbon footprint. The fund was a good idea from the Greens, which the Scottish Government, which is always open to good ideas, funded in the budget and made happen.

In Edinburgh, there are excellent examples of community-led efforts. Patrick Harvie mentioned the transition town model, which epitomises the ground-up approach to tackling climate change, and in which small communities are helped to identify and use local resources to work towards a low-energy future. From its humble origins in a village in Ireland, the movement is gathering momentum, not just in Scotland and the United Kingdom but throughout Europe and beyond. I am delighted that Portobello, the first transition town in Scotland, won funding for a community audit and awareness raising campaign, which will lay the foundations for a carbon reduction scheme. The focus will probably be on food, transport and the built environment, which are the three major contributors to emissions in the area. I was pleased when individuals who are involved in the Portobello project received a grant to establish transition Scotland support, which will help communities throughout Scotland to encourage local interest in the transition model and will build on Portobello's success.

Other inspiring projects in Edinburgh have benefited from the climate challenge fund. The Craigmillar community combined heat and power scheme provides cost-effective energy systems and learning, training and employment opportunities. The Edinburgh Community Backgreens Association, which I had the pleasure of visiting not long after I was elected, helps to connect tenement residents, which can be difficult in the city centre, and encourages people to use their shared greens for the community. It offers a fantastic example of how we can use our green spaces and I am delighted that it is receiving support. Community groups throughout Scotland are showing that they have a vision of the kind of Scotland in which they want to live.

Concerted effort and commitment from all sectors of society will be required if we are to drive forward a sustainable economy, and community groups are playing an important part. The quotation that Alasdair Gray made famous—

"Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation"— never seems more relevant than it does when I consider the work that communities in Edinburgh and the Lothians and throughout the country are doing to create a greener and more sustainable future. I congratulate Patrick Harvie and the network of community groups on their work.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 5:18 pm, 11th December 2008

I thank Patrick Harvie for bringing to my attention the work of the Toryglen gardening club, of which I was unaware. However, I have been concerned about the issue in other ways.

We all know that there are big projects that will affect the progress of climate change. We talk about such projects quite often in the Parliament, and a recurring theme is that not just large but small projects are important. In recent decades there has been a move away from the tradition of growing our own food. People buy food from supermarkets, but the carbon footprint of food that has been brought in from abroad might be much bigger than we realise.

We must encourage local food production. Conservatives in the Parliament have been heavily involved in encouraging the growing, purchase and use of food that is produced on local Scottish farms.

However, the traditional allotments that were to be found around the country are all too rare now. Quite often, where there used to be allotments there is now a block of flats—without a garden. As a consequence, the people who live in the flats do not have the advantage of being able to grow their own food in the traditional way.

Given that the debate has been brought forward on the basis of the work of the Tory gardening club, I ask the minister to consider what can be done in Scotland to make land available either on a temporary or, preferably, on a longer-term basis. I ask for an expansion in the amount of the land that can be made available for allotments or similar activities in our towns and cities.

Far too often, people have decided that change is irreversible. Some change is not good, but I would like to see a return to allotments. I will be interested to hear the minister's ideas. I will write to him in the near future with further ideas on the subject.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 5:20 pm, 11th December 2008

I congratulate Patrick Harvie on bringing the motion to the chamber. At the outset, I say to Alex Johnstone that he spoke of the Tory gardening club, rather than the Toryglen gardening club. I know that he meant the latter.

I am delighted that four projects in Edinburgh in my region applied successfully to the climate challenge fund. I am also delighted that in the public gallery are representatives from three of those projects: Linlithgow climate challenge, the Portobello energy descent and land reform group project, and the Edinburgh Community Backgreens Association, to whose work Shirley-Anne Somerville paid tribute.

I have long been a fan of the Edinburgh Community Backgreens Association. More than half of Edinburgh's residents live in tenements. The back greens of many blocks look exhausted and underused, and are often in a poor state of maintenance and repair. Thus far, in the main, they have represented an extraordinary missed opportunity. The Edinburgh Community Backgreens Association has already done a tremendous amount of community-based work in regenerating tenement back greens, turning them into thriving community green spaces and inspiring local residents. Of course, the most important thing about such initiatives is the inspiration and community spirit that they generate.

The money that the Edinburgh Community Backgreens Association has received through the climate challenge fund will support its work to develop, through community workshops, a wide range of new carbon reduction projects. The workshops will help to connect Edinburgh's tenement residents with their natural environment and one another through, for example, local food production projects and the setting up of play areas, bike sheds and communal compost facilities. In addition, the projects offer residents the benefit of simply relaxing with their neighbours.

I am delighted that the Edinburgh Community Backgreens Association has received money from the climate challenge fund to continue its excellent work. It will provide a platform for carbon reduction plans and a carbon weight-watchers activity. The project will engage communities and promote increased environmental sustainability of tenement households. The Greens created the climate challenge fund for precisely that sort of imaginative community-led work.

That community spirit will spill out into the way in which people who live in tenement flats relate to one another when they meet on the stairs. I remember the old days of the stair tyrants who ruled the tenements of Edinburgh. There was one in the tenement in which I lived when I first came to Edinburgh. They were special people who ensured that everyone in the tenement was up to the mark in keeping the stair clean and the back green in reasonable condition. Not many of those people are left, because of the turnover of people who live in the centre of our cities. The Edinburgh Community Backgreens Association fulfils a valuable purpose in that regard.

Patrick Harvie mentioned community spirit not only in Scotland but around the world. A few years ago, I visited Johannesburg for the world summit on sustainable development. The politicians came in their white Mercedes to the Sandton convention centre, and all around were advertisements for BMW cars. Some 23km away, there was a meeting of civic society with 1,000 people from all over the world. They came from the poorest slums of big towns in just about every continent of the world. Their voice was not heard at that time, but understanding of the importance of civic society and recognition of communities is spreading around the world, and their voice will be heard at the next WSSD conference.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour 5:25 pm, 11th December 2008

I, too, thank Patrick Harvie for bringing the matter to the chamber for debate. I congratulate all those who are with us this evening who have participated in the climate challenge fund.

In his introduction, Patrick Harvie talked about the decades of change since climate change was on the fringes of the political agenda. It now holds a strategic place at the centre. I feel that I have made that personal journey myself. Members might be surprised that I am the Labour member who volunteered to speak in this debate, because I have not always participated in members' business debates, but that reflects the decades of experience that I have had with Sarah Boyack since we were both young members of the Labour Party. We joined the party at around the same time, in our teens, and Sarah Boyack was a champion of environmental and climate change issues. She assiduously insisted that we all pay attention to the issues, and it is a tribute to her tenacity that I absolutely share her commitment to the significance of the climate change agenda in the work that we do.

Patrick Harvie is right to present the climate change agenda in terms of the great challenges that exist throughout the world. How we live, how we share resources, what options we have for the future—all those things are surrounded by the debate about climate change. We can discuss none of them without an appreciation of climate change and without interweaving consideration of what we can do about it. We must consider possible solutions when we discuss the economy or how we share resources.

I do not share the credentials of Patrick Harvie's mother, who raised him to be aware of the issues. I had the reverse experience. My children have insisted that I be alert to the issues. One of my sons resolutely refuses to learn to drive because he believes that it would be an unhelpful contribution to the planet. I cannot eat with him without him giving a lecture—I have to be honest—about what we are eating, where it was sourced, and the implications for our fellow human beings. My generation is now being taught by a younger generation about how we care for our planet and, essentially, how we care for one another.

As members would expect, I applaud Patrick Harvie's emphasis on communities and the vital contribution that they can make. In how they are organised, how they understand and how they act, they help us in the climate change agenda, alongside the work that they have done on many other issues. They make a vital contribution to the shift in culture that we need to undergo in order to understand the climate change debate.

In my time in the Labour Party, I have learned that, too often, we traded the environmental debate against the debate about economic progress or the debate about social justice. Communities—and some of the political debate that we have had—have taught us that there is no trade-off between those debates and that, in fact, we must bring them together. We cannot solve the issues of economic poverty unless we address climate change as well. We live in very changed times.

Climate change shows us that we have to be interconnected and interdependent with our friends and our interests throughout the world. It shows us that some of the best solutions lie at the local level, and those in the top leadership positions throughout the world, including in our country, must look to local communities that develop creative solutions and can provide answers to the agenda. In the Scottish Parliament, we can best pay tribute to those who are with us tonight and have undertaken such work by ensuring that we use every lever that we have to further the cause of answering the challenge of climate change.

In the true spirit of co-operation, I say that I support Mike Russell in the work that he does on the agenda. However, we will be assertive, as members would expect, in ensuring that we miss no opportunity to help Scotland to meet the challenge of climate change. It is in that way that we can pay tribute to the communities that Patrick Harvie rightly selected for attention tonight.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party 5:29 pm, 11th December 2008

I suppose that, in the spirit of the debate, I should thank Patrick Harvie's mother for creating the circumstances in which this debate has come about. I also congratulate Patrick Harvie on securing the debate and I thank my colleague Richard Lochhead, who has worked closely with Mr Harvie and others in bringing the fund into being.

I mention at the outset those who are here from the groups that have applied successfully to the fund. Their enthusiasm is driving it forward. It does not reflect well on a lot of members that those people outnumber us considerably this evening.

The fund is about empowering communities to take the lead in the current economic climate; to reduce their carbon emissions; to save money; and to set an example for every one of us. I am grateful to Margaret Curran for her support. I would never expect her to be anything other than assertive. I expect that there is great veracity in her account of what happens at her dinner table; I suspect that the mood would be argumentative.

The fund, which amounts to £27.4 million in 2008 to 2011, will enable communities to take direct action on climate change. I am glad to say that communities are coming forward in huge numbers to lead projects. There was latent demand in Scotland for communities to have access to resources to undertake this type of activity and to deliver real change and real carbon emission reductions.

The fund was launched six months ago in June 2008 and, already, we have had 190 expressions of interest. Some 36 community projects have been funded to date, including four exemplar projects, which I will mention in a moment. Another grants panel—the panel is independent—is due to meet on 17 December to consider 30 further projects involving more than 60 communities.

The crucial point is that it is communities that are eligible for the fund. The fund puts resources into the hands of people who know what they want to do and are able to do it. We have insisted strongly that communities should lead the fund. That is working well, although some non-governmental organisations are also involved in supporting the communities by providing information and assistance.

Presiding Officer, you will be interested to know that the total estimated carbon savings for the panel-approved projects to date are 52,574 tonnes of CO2. That is an actual achievement that we are going to see. The fund is well resourced and will carry on over the period that we have set for it, so the figure for carbon savings will continue to grow quickly. We will continue to encourage community-led projects. The fund is well resourced and communities can access it easily—we want to ensure that they do so.

A number of members have raised the issue of allotments. It is vital that they are included. Some interesting work is being done in that regard. The Toryglen gardening club, which has been mentioned, has received £135,000 to maintain community gardens, orchards and woodland and to sell the produce to the community through local outlets or box schemes. Many communities could find available land; indeed, the Government has said that Government-owned land is available, which we want to release for the purpose of local food production, to allow people to gain experience of growing food in their community. I encourage people in every community out there who think that there would be a demand for allotments—I suspect that that would be the case in virtually every community—to think about how they could fulfil that ambition, to discuss it with the council and the Government and to find a way to apply.

I turn to the four exemplar projects, which are used to give direction, to act as examples for the purpose of knowledge transfer and to provide an inspiration to community groups. The Perth and Kinross carbon reduction project has been awarded almost £300,000 over three years to launch a groundbreaking project to reduce the carbon footprint of a whole village, in partnership with Perth and Kinross Council and Scottish and Southern Energy. The money has gone to the Comrie Development Trust. People all over Scotland will be able to learn the lessons from that.

Barra and Vatersay Community Ltd is to receive £62,000 over two years to develop a community-led action plan for the first practical steps on carbon reduction. Of course, Barra and Vatersay have won the United Kingdom and Scottish Calor village of the year competition as a result of their wide variety of community activities to protect and enhance the environment. I was lucky to launch the start of the Scottish crofting produce mark in Vatersay just six weeks ago.

The going carbon neutral Stirling project will receive £750,000 over three years for capacity building across an incredible 520 community groups and working with them to develop action plans across the Stirling area that involve all the community. Its partners include the Big Lottery Fund, Stirling Council and WWF.

Today, we have heard about the transition towns; Shirley-Anne Somerville described how effective those are. Transition initiatives are community-backed groups that are concerned about climate change and peak oil. The climate challenge fund is supporting the transition movement as an exemplar.

We will continue to engage ever more closely with the partners that I have mentioned and many others to support the community delivery of projects, recognising the fact that they are in the lead of the changes that need to take place in Scotland. In the current economic climate, projects such as the Comrie, Alyth and Letham street-by-street energy efficiency project will not only attract media interest but mean new jobs and opportunities for people in the area.

The climate challenge fund is a good example of how Government can make a difference. Of course, it can do that only if it works across parties and across communities, which is exactly what we are doing in this project. I am glad that so many people—even some MSPs tonight—have expressed support for the initiative. I look forward to its going ahead and to communities benefiting from it over the next three years. Any community that is thinking about the project should stop thinking and start applying now.

Meeting closed at 17:36.