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It is now four months since the European referendum. The passage of time has not lessened our dismay at the outcome or—so far—provided much clarity about the future.
Today, I will make clear where my priorities lie. I want to maintain the Government’s commitment to our environment and to our natural assets; I want to continue to seek the Parliament’s support for our ambitions and aims; I want to ensure that our environment is healthy and supports our prosperity; and, above all else, I want to protect Scotland’s position as a climate change leader.
We are recognised as a leader in climate change, but we know that there is more to do, which is why setting even more ambitious targets through a new climate change bill and working hard to achieve them is at the heart of the Government’s overarching priorities. Where do we seek common cause to achieve those priorities? In aligning ourselves with our European neighbours across the water.
Our membership of the EU has ensured progress on a range of important issues. It has enabled us to apply high standards in vital environmental protections, to the benefit of our most precious natural assets. We cannot afford to take our chances by jumping on to the United Kingdom Brexit bandwagon and turning our back on the EU and all that a continuing relationship offers for our environmental priorities.
We cannot trust the Tories to protect the interests of Scotland’s environment. They are the same Tories who have, for example, cut subsidies for renewable energy projects, which has put our low-carbon future at risk. In one grand symbolic gesture that highlights how low climate change sits in the UK Government’s list of priorities, one of Theresa May’s first actions as Prime Minister was to abolish the previously clear ministerial lead on climate change.
I am happy to say that we can make common cause today with the Labour Party and the Green Party. The Labour amendment highlights one key area on which we must continue to focus: our marine environment. I thank the Labour Party for raising that issue.
Although I have some issues with the wording of the Green amendment, the Government shares its intent. We agree that the EU and Canada have their own highly developed legal systems and domestic courts that are capable of dealing with any issues that might arise from a trade agreement. We are also mindful that such international trade agreements must be carefully calibrated not only to enhance trade opportunities—especially for Scotland’s produce and tourism—but to not undermine our public services or our environment.
I know that concerns have been expressed about parts of the Canadian trade deal—the comprehensive economic and trade agreement—which I understand has just been agreed this afternoon. I am not able to discuss the final details of that agreement as I am not aware of them yet.
The important thing is to maintain vigilance about the position, as it is not always at the forefront of people’s minds.
It would be far easier for Scotland to influence the substance of such agreements if we had our own seat at the EU table—nobody would argue with that. If anything, the CETA deal serves to highlight our impotence in relying on a half-engaged UK Government to protect our interests rather than protecting them for ourselves. That is another reason why it is vital that we ensure a continuing relationship with the EU and membership of the single market.
The environment plays a key role.
Not just now.
Fundamentally, a healthy natural environment is critical to our success as a nation. It underpins our economy, our health, our landscape and our way of life. Scotland trades internationally on our reputation as a clean, green country with wholesome food and drink. We often take that natural environment for granted, but we must all remember that it is one of Scotland’s most precious assets.
The threat of Brexit brings those benefits into clearer focus. Although environmental arguments were not at the heart of the EU referendum debate, there is widespread acceptance that the EU has been a catalyst for driving up environmental standards since the UK joined in 1973. We strongly believe that membership of the EU delivers considerable social, economic, environmental and cultural benefits for individuals, businesses and communities across Scotland.
We have much to be proud of in Scotland’s environmental record. We have an excellent record on water quality and we are acknowledged to be one of the leaders in delivering comprehensive policies across the landscape to further enhance the water environment. We have built a reputation in Europe as leaders on climate change and on the circular economy, and we fully intend to maintain that position.
EU nature policy and legislation are effective, ambitious, far reaching, robust, consistent and well enforced. Scotland provides the major part of the UK’s contribution to Natura 2000, with more than 15 per cent of our land area designated for a wealth of habitats and species. We remain a stronghold for a number of species that are threatened or extinct elsewhere in the EU.
Scotland’s first national marine plan was adopted in March 2015 to provide a comprehensive and joined-up policy for protecting and enhancing our marine environment and resources.
We have shown leadership in areas such as natural capital—Scotland was the first country in the world to establish a natural capital asset indicator—and the largest green-space project in Europe is right here in Scotland, with the central Scotland green network receiving some 25 million visits per year.
In 2015, we published Scotland’s first separate air quality strategy, which demonstrates our determination to improve air quality. We are also working hard to halt biodiversity loss in Scotland.
Although we cannot be complacent, overall, we can be proud of our successes in seeking to protect our environment. The EU referendum result does not affect our commitment to build on those successes.
It is important to recognise that we are much more aligned to the EU’s position on a number of issues, such as climate change, than the UK Government is. The EU referendum result creates unnecessary uncertainty and, to be frank, Brexit would make it more difficult to achieve our ambitions for the environment. It is not that we would lose our ambition but that our ambition would be made harder to achieve.
It is not by chance that we enjoy high environmental standards in the EU. We have been able to develop and maintain our high standards because the EU has created arrangements for trade between partner nations that respect and promote progress in social and environmental protection.
Scotland has been, and continues to be, an active partner in Europe on the climate and low-carbon agenda. Scotland participates widely in EU research and development programmes and knowledge exchange and it leads on delivering emissions reduction measures and pioneering low-carbon technologies.
Membership of the EU enables us to help to shape the rules, regulations and standards that directly affect our ability to maintain and enhance our environment. It allows us to participate in the meetings and discussions that take place in Brussels. Many of the environmental challenges that we face do not respect national boundaries. Being part of the EU makes it easier to take the collective action that is needed to tackle those environmental challenges.
Bilateral trade deals do not necessarily respect environmental, climate change and sustainable development goals. Whatever the good intentions of Governments, we know that maintaining high standards is difficult without trading arrangements that allow that to happen.
The best way to maintain progress on environmental quality and towards the achievement of climate change targets is within the EU. Let us not forget that that is also what the Scottish people wanted—to remain in the EU. Being in the EU allows us to promote resource efficiency and make genuine moves towards sustainability. With our partners, we believe that there is potential to reform producer responsibility to promote aspects of design that support a more circular economy, such as increased durability or recycled content. We also intend to explore how we could direct more products into higher-value use beyond recycling and into reuse and remanufacture.
What are a couple of the specific threats that are posed by Brexit? I will first speak about climate change. Whatever form of Brexit the UK Government pursues—let us be honest: views on that seem to change daily—we will no longer be part of the EU negotiating bloc on climate change. That risks our international reputation as climate change leaders and our opportunity to contribute to global climate diplomacy. We will lose access to financial support programmes and the ability to influence decisions that will continue to have an impact on Scotland.
Climate change targets are challenging and the best way of achieving them is to continue with collective effort, which is vital for delivering on Paris agreement commitments. The UK’s forthcoming exit from the EU is already creating uncertainty about the key building blocks for achieving targets, including emissions trading and effort sharing. With a UK exit looming, the global community is concerned about risks to the EU’s position in global climate negotiations.
I would be glad to hear from Mr Findlay what some of those opportunities are, because I know that he voted leave and therefore agrees with the Westminster Government—
I am glad to be corrected.
I move on to the specific issue of the research institutes.
My portfolio directly supports a number of world-leading research institutes in Scotland that provide cutting-edge advances in agriculture, food and environmental research that have helped to boost our rural economy’s performance and enhance our environment. Their research helps to inform policy decisions in Scotland and in the EU—indeed, the EU is a major funder of those institutes and it accounts for around £6 million in funding every year. The funding uncertainty is now considerable.
However, the uncertainty is about more than just funding. EU nationals make up around one in six employees of the research institutes, and their skills and experience are integral to the institutes’ success. It is an absolute disgrace that the UK Government has not guaranteed the position of EU citizens in our country—by not doing so, it directly damages Scotland’s research future. I plan to meet EU nationals from the research institutes next month, and I reiterate that the 181,000 non-British EU nationals who have chosen to make their home here continue to be welcome.
What are the next steps? The Scottish Government is actively engaged in discussions to protect our natural environment and to progress action to tackle climate change. In July, I convened a stakeholder event at which we explored the potential implications—all of them; I hope that Mr Findlay is listening—of leaving the EU for Scotland’s environment. That event was an opportunity to promote collaborative working and to share experiences and concerns about those difficult challenges. I also welcome the establishment of the environment and climate change round table, which is chaired by Professor Dame Anne Glover. The panel draws on different areas of expertise in academic and environmental organisations to advise the Scottish Government’s standing council on Europe.
Those actions, along with the establishment of the standing council on Europe, demonstrate how serious we are about exploring all options to protect Scotland’s interests. Given how much we will be affected by leaving the EU, it is essential that Scotland has meaningful discussions with the UK Government in the development of the UK position for the negotiations that are ahead.
The environment has been a key competence of the EU for good reason. Progress on environmental and social goals has developed hand in hand with a single trading market. A level playing field allows higher standards for all, and we have been able to work together to tackle global problems, including climate change.
If we end up in a hard Brexit, our ambitions for Scotland’s environment will remain high. We continue to commit to maintaining, protecting and enhancing our environment, and it is crucial that the environment and climate change are part of the consideration of future trade arrangements. The Scottish Government will maintain efforts to secure Scotland’s place in the EU, not least to protect our environment, but we will continue to seek to protect the environment regardless of what the outcomes may be.
That the Parliament agrees that membership of the EU has ensured progress on a wide range of environmental issues in Scotland and continues to underpin vital environmental protection; recognises the importance of the EU in securing collective action and progress on climate change; further recognises that a healthy environment supports prosperity and allows the promotion of Scottish produce and tourism around the world; notes that the value of the natural environment to the people of Scotland must be recognised by the UK Government in any future trade negotiations; welcomes that the Scottish Ministers will pass on in full the EU funding guaranteed by the UK Government so far, which is vital to protecting, maintaining and enhancing the natural environment; believes that Scotland must protect its position as a climate change leader, and calls on the UK Government to ensure that Scotland has a role in the decision-making, as well as full involvement, in all UK negotiations.
I am disappointed that the Scottish National Party Government wishes constantly to debate portfolio X in relation to Brexit, rather than focusing on maximising the powers that have been devolved and that are fully in the competence of this Parliament. The argument that every problem facing Scotland is the fault of the UK Government is as weak as it is simplistic.
The member will be aware that marine fuels M30, M40 and M60 are all permitted to carry sulphur up to a level of 3 per cent, which is nearly 2.5 per cent more than any other kind of fuel. That is one of the most polluting ways to generate energy. Does the Scottish Parliament have power to change that?
We will fully cover all those points in the course of the next eight and a half minutes.
Overall, the Government’s approach is the politics of grievance. The irony is that, like with a spoilt child, the more powers that have been given to the Scottish Parliament, the louder the moaning and whingeing from the SNP Government gets. I am not accusing the Scottish Government of being a one-trick pony in blaming the UK Government for every single Scottish Government failing; since 24 June, it has a new trick of blaming Brexit as well.
I believe that Brexit will happen, that Brexit means Brexit and that the UK Government will deliver the best package for everyone in the United Kingdom.
Those who believe the Government motion would think that the EU should take credit for every environmental or climate change target delivered in Scotland. Clearly that is not the case. In fact, it does the Scottish Government a disservice. The cabinet secretary said earlier this week in relation to EU directives that
“any responsible Government would be choosing to do these things”, and that EU directives were
“simply a starting off point”.
I agree. Why does the motion go against that?
Of course, the EU has had a part to play, but so have the United Nations and many international non-governmental organisations, as well as major international treaties such as the Kyoto protocol and, most recently, the Paris agreement.
It should also be recognised that much of this portfolio already lies within the competence of the Scottish Government and that, on this occasion, it cannot blame its failings on Westminster or Brexit. Going forward, it is simply not acceptable for the Scottish Government to use Brexit as a smokescreen to hide behind in respect of its performance in this area.
Perhaps the problem is that the Scottish Government does not trust itself to look after the environment without intervention from the European Union. I echo the sentiments of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland, the Woodland Trust and the Marine Conservation Society that the Scottish Government should not use Brexit as an opportunity to deregulate and weaken environmental targets and legislation.
As the member will be aware, I do not speak for the UK Government, but I can say that the UK Government has played a wonderful role in subsidising an amount of renewable energy, which has allowed the Scottish Government to achieve the targets. I would expect some congratulations on that point.
Post Brexit, we should work proactively to maintain and strengthen current legislation, where appropriate, and explore the opportunities to change EU legislation that is not in Scotland’s interests.
So why is the SNP hiding behind Brexit? Let us look at its record. For example, the recent biodiversity 2020 progress report shows that work is slipping and targets are being missed. On peatland restoration, 10,000 hectares of peatland has been restored since 2013, but we should be restoring 21,000 hectares annually, so that is a failure. We should be creating 3,000 to 5,000 hectares of new native woodland per year, but the target was not met last year and just 2,314 hectares of native woodland were created—another failure.
We need to restore approximately 10,000 hectares of native woodland into satisfactory condition, in partnership with private woodland owners, through deer management plans. No actual achievements for that target are listed—another failure. On safeguarding Scotland’s resources, there is a commitment to promote the sustainable design of products, but where is that? It is another failure. The target recycling rate of 50 per cent for 2013 has still not been met and Scotland is the worst performer in Britain—another failure.
I could go on, but I will take an intervention from Mr Russell at this point.
I refer members to my earlier answer, which is that I am not a spokesperson for the UK Government. This is the Scottish Parliament, with devolved powers to deal with Scotland.
With Brexit, we must take the opportunities that exist and maximise them. For example, we have the opportunity to take back control of our seas and exert control over our 200-mile economic exclusive zone as prescribed in the United Nation’s law of the sea convention. We can establish a more effective fisheries management system in our waters that delivers for Scotland’s fishing industry and provides environmentally sustainable solutions.
We only have to look across the North Sea to see how non-EU countries are meeting the challenges of climate change and environmental protection. The Norwegians have already made great strides, with their 100,000th electric vehicle registered earlier this year. One in three cars now sold in Norway is electric, which is a situation brought about by the Norwegian Government working hard for it with tax breaks and significant investment in the underlying infrastructure.
Norway did not need the EU to establish that goal for it; it did it for itself. The SNP often likes to cite Norway as a model for Scotland to look up to, and here I agree with the SNP. The Scottish Government can seize the opportunity that Brexit gives us to go above and beyond when it comes to the environment.
I call on the Scottish Government to focus on the day job; set aside its obsession with a divisive second independence referendum and the blame game; stop the naval gazing, inverse counterfactual history and the quantum reality postulation; and focus on the job at hand of protecting and enhancing Scotland’s environment.
I move amendment S5M-02125.1, to leave out from “ensured progress” to end and insert:
“at times aided progress on a wide range of environmental issues in Scotland and continues to underpin vital environmental protection in certain areas, along with a variety of international organisations and nations; recognises the importance of the EU, the UK and non-EU states in securing collective action and progress on climate change; further recognises that a healthy environment supports prosperity and allows the promotion of Scottish produce and tourism around the world; notes that the value of the natural environment to the people of Scotland will be recognised by the UK Government in any future trade negotiations; welcomes that the Scottish Ministers will pass on, in full, the EU funding guaranteed by the UK Government so far, which is vital to protecting, maintaining and enhancing the natural environment; believes that Scotland must not only lead but also deliver on climate change and recognises the positive impact that being part of the UK has had on climate change in Scotland; calls on the Scottish Government to recognise that much decision-making in this portfolio is already in the competence of the Parliament, and further calls on the Scottish Government to participate fully in a positive manner in all UK negotiations in light of the invitation from the UK Government.”
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
The environment is an international issue and, whether we are choking in the smog of Los Angeles or watching acid rain fall in eastern Siberia, climate change recognises no boundaries.
One of the EU’s great successes has been the comprehensive suite of laws, directives and treaties that have developed, sustained and protected the environment. The EU is perhaps not the world’s environmental watchdog, but it is nevertheless a champion and a leader in making the large-scale global emissions cuts that are needed to begin tackling climate change.
It is easy to forget that, in the 1970s and 1980s, the UK was known as the dirty man of Europe. We had the highest sulphur dioxide emissions from power stations, causing acid rain across northern Europe, and raw sewage was routinely dumped into the sea. In 1976, for example, only 27 beaches in the UK were deemed to be clean enough for swimming.
The EU has helped to modernise the UK’s environmental policies since we joined in 1973. Through the EU, Scotland said farewell—this year—to its last coal-fired power station, and the precautionary principle means that the most harmful pesticides were banned from use on the crops that are most visited by bees—I declare my interest as the species champion for the great yellow bumblebee. European rules have meant that thousands of dangerous chemicals have been removed from everyday products, such as lead from paint, and if the current proposals in the revised waste framework directive are adopted, they have the potential to be transformational for Scotland in relation to litter.
However, I stress that the relationship between the EU and the UK has not been one-way. The UK has helped to shape EU thinking across a number of areas, including wildlife protection and climate change. For example, Europe’s water framework directive led to cleaner Scottish water, Europe’s landfill directives led to improved Scottish recycling rates and Europe’s environmental assessment directives have led to improved Scottish air quality.
Air quality is a key aspect that—of course—affects people the world over. Currently, Scotland is influenced by binding EU legislation, which has a direct implication for our health. The EU air quality directive target was missed by both Scotland and the UK as a whole, which led to the cleaner air for Scotland programme being introduced. However, that came into being only because the EU law could be used as a stick over the UK Government, keeping it accountable and pushing it to improve standards, although I note that the legal limits for nitrogen dioxide are still being broken in several parts of Scotland.
It is incredibly important to note that, once we leave the EU, the fact that Scotland and the UK will have the ability to repeal the legislation does not mean that they should. Not only does Scotland have the desire to stay in the EU, which is an incentive to keep within the current EU expectations of standards; another incentive is to help to improve the health of our population.
What are the consequences of Brexit for the environment and climate change? Even the famous 17th century Highland mystic, the Brahan Seer, who allegedly predicted the outbreak of world war two in 1939, would be stumped. Will it be a hard or a soft Brexit? Will MPs and, indeed, MSPs have a voice before article 50 is invoked? What if the proposed great repeal bill is defeated? What concessions will the remaining 27 member states want in exchange for a continued trading relationship with the UK?
Let me give an example. Recently, I attended the Economic Development Association Scotland conference in Edinburgh, and one of the key speakers that day argued that Spain would demand access to Scottish fishing rights as part of the negotiations. Any suggestion that the UK should continue to have access to the single market would need us to meet the test of the EU’s holy grail of the four freedoms, including freedom of movement. There is also a world of difference between being part of the single market and having access to it.
What would a soft Brexit mean for the environment and climate change? One possibility is to negotiate membership of the European economic area, as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein have done. As members know, the EEA comprises the 28 EU member states and the three European Free Trade Association states. As an EFTA fact sheet states,
“it is therefore impossible to be a party to the EEA Agreement without being a member of either the EU or EFTA.”
Of course, the UK would have to implement EU product standards to access the single market, but it would have no role in shaping future EU environmental policy.
The real threat from Brexit is that Europe’s checks and balances may go. Who will enforce Brussels directives post Brexit? Who will be in charge of infraction procedures? My colleague Neil Findlay will talk in more detail about the effect that future trade deals may have on the environment and climate change.
In its briefing, Global Justice Now explains:
“The EU-US trade deal known as TTIP and its Canadian equivalent, CETA, are among the biggest threats to democratic decision making in Europe of our time ... The UK cannot go back to the sewage ridden beaches and environmental destruction of decades past. It is of vital importance that any Brexit deal must involve the UK agreeing to fully maintain EU standards on areas like biodiversity, water and air quality.”
The investor-state dispute settlement system creates tribunals in which foreign investors can sue Governments that interfere with their profit—their bottom line. They are part of CETA, which is the comprehensive economic and trade agreement, and are also likely to be in TTIP, which is the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. For example, Swedish energy firm Vattenfall used the ISDS mechanism to demand €1 billion from Germany after the state government of Hamburg introduced stricter regulations on the firm’s coal-fired power stations. That led to a change of Government policy, a court settlement from Germany and a major set back for the environment and climate change.
The debate is about much more than Brexit. It is about what sort of Scotland we want in the future: a Scotland that is clean, green and sustainable, and a Scotland that is recognised around the globe for the quality of its natural environment, its stunning hills, glens and lochs, its talented multicultural workforce, and the warmth of its welcome to tourists.
In our history, Scots have been leaders: James Watt, the godfather of the industrial revolution; Robert Watson-Watt, the inventor of radar; Willamina Fleming, the early astronomy pioneer. Today, we are leaders in climate change and the environment, and as the great environmental activist, Wendell Benny, said:
“The world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.”
I move amendment S5M-02125.2, to insert after first “climate change”:
“and in driving forward collective action for the sustainable development of the marine environment; notes the significant role played by collaborative research across the EU in developing the scientific evidence that underpins protection and enhancement of a healthy environment”.
I welcome the debate.
As we have heard, we live in a Europe where air pollution knows no borders, where fish swim across international waters and where our shared values and actions to protect our commons and our nature are enshrined in European laws and treaties. The days when the UK was known as the dirty man of Europe are over, because EU regulations on the environment dragged us into the modern world. As David Stewart said, we no longer send boats out to dump raw sewage off the east coast—that would be unimaginable today. We no longer treat precious plastic and steel as rubbish to be buried in stinking pits in the ground. We gave the white-tailed eagle, the wildcat and the minke whale the status and protection that they deserve under progressive EU laws. I should declare an interest: I am a champion for the white-tailed eagle.
I openly confess in the chamber that I wept in front of my family on the Friday morning when the Brexit vote was announced, because for me as a Green it represented the casting aside of 40 years of environmental and social progress that we won as a European movement, and it put into grave danger the hope of a further 40 years of progress and reform for my children’s generation.
A visit the same day to the Royal Highland Show did not improve my mood, as institution after institution that I spoke to shared their pain. Collaborative projects had been cancelled that very morning, as confidence from European partners drained away.
We are seeing that the cost to Scotland’s environment is stacking up. The EU LIFE programme, for example, has provided £42 million in matched funding to support peatland restoration over the past 20 years. Where will that support come from now, when we need healthy peatlands more than ever for both their conservation value and their vast carbon sinks? A proposed RSPB and Plantlife £11m EU LIFE project to eradicate invasive rhododendron has now been withdrawn. That would have been preventative spend, which the Christie commission urged us to invest in. If we do not make such investments, it will cost the environment and the public purse for generations to come.
What will we be left with post Brexit? If we end up with a soft Brexit and remain part of the European free trade area, at least some of our common EU standards will remain, but directives on things from birds to habitats and bathing water quality, and even the common agricultural policy and common fisheries policy, will no longer apply.
I welcome the cabinet secretary’s commitment, which I have heard her repeat on many an occasion, to uphold EU laws and directives, but these are early days and times change. Ministers and even Governments change, and already lobby groups are seeing the opportunity to weaken what they see as red tape in a CAP and CFP-free zone.
That is why it is more important than ever to refocus efforts on respecting scientific advice and adopting an ecosystems approach to regenerating our seas and fish stocks. It is also why we need to revisit the defining principles of our agriculture policy, possibly for the first time since the pivotal post-war Agriculture Act 1947, which was passed when we lived in a nation that was desperately hungry. The Scottish Government has the chance to put in place a progressive agricultural vision that can be reflected across the EU, including the prioritisation of organic production, the smarter use of fertiliser and the raising of livestock health. That approach will find support across Europe, particularly from the French, who now have placed agro-ecology at the heart of their national agriculture policy.
The proposed good food nation bill should start by recognising that food overproduction has destroyed biodiversity, has effectively strip mined our soils in some areas and is driving land use into becoming an even bigger emitter of carbon than the entire energy generation sector. That has already been the stand-out point in the evidence that the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee has received in the few weeks that it has met. The evidence of the UK Committee on Climate Change shows that that we have a crisis in agriculture with regard to not just carbon emissions but adaptations. The need for agricultural reform is clear, but we must move forward together to raise the playing field of standards across the EU and shift subsidies away from blunt support for overproduction to measures that can deliver real benefits for taxpayers, from flood protection and species reintroduction to clean soil, air and water.
On the moral imperative that is climate change, our targets have been set in the context of a Europe that is driving hard progress on carbon and energy. A weaker set of UK climate targets agreed with the United Nations would take the pressure off the UK, and with a Westminster Government that is mad keen on nuclear energy and fracking, it is likely that energy market rules established in the wake of Brexit will stifle Scotland’s ambitions for renewables instead of realising them.
In that respect, it is incredible to hear Maurice Golden talk about the subsidy regime, given that it has been cut by the Conservatives. His Government is no longer supporting renewables in Scotland, and people are losing jobs as a result. We have seen how it has butchered that renewables subsidy scheme, and it is switching off the investment pipeline for onshore wind and other technologies in Scotland just as the cost gap with conventional generation is starting to narrow. The news that the UK has dropped to 14th most attractive place for renewables investment in the world behind Morocco is a disgrace, given the richness of our renewable resources and innovation expertise. Indeed, the signs are not good, given that we still await Westminster’s action plan to deliver the UK’s climate targets, with no clear timescale on the horizon.
A post-Brexit bonfire of environmental regulations, investment, research and subsidies from Westminster will only drive bad consequentials for budgets in Scotland and put our own green ambitions firmly back in the box. However, the hard Brexit scenario offers an even more terrifying prospect of a race to the bottom in environmental and social standards driven by neoliberal trade deals that undermine the democratic will of citizens across the world. CETA and the transatlantic trade and investment partnership are not benign trade agreements that helpfully reduce tariffs and quotas; they allow public policy on everything from climate change to food standards to be challenged by corporations. The right to trade trumps everything and states that those who stand in the way can be sued through closed corporate courts. As Alyn Smith has said, we do not live in an economy, we live in a society, and those trade agreements have the potential to pull our public services and hard-fought environmental protections apart.
That is why the Green amendment reflects three key red lines around democratic accountability and protection for public services and the environment. There are examples that I can highlight for Liam McArthur’s benefit. In Quebec, corporations have sued Governments over fracking bans. It is unthinkable that such a thing could happen here in Scotland, but all Algy Cluff would need to do to sue the Scottish Government would be to open up an office in Vancouver—he would not even require an office here.
It is clear that, collectively, states and devolved Parliaments across Europe have taken their eye off the ball with CETA. Scrutiny at Westminster has been non-existent and the devolved Administrations are coming late to the debate.
Wallonia stuck its neck out and although it was largely isolated, it spoke for millions of citizens across Europe who have petitioned and campaigned against TTIP and CETA.
A strong democratic heart is beating louder than ever in Europe, and now is the time for Scotland to step up, join that beat for reform and create a fair Europe that protects and builds on the environmental and social progress that we have delivered together, leaving a world fit for future generations. That is why I move the amendment in my name.
I move amendment S5M-02125.3, after “trade negotiations;” to insert:
“notes that, like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the final Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) text contains an arbitration court that sits outside of the domestic court system and is only accessible to foreign investors, mechanisms that might create a downward pressure on environmental regulations and risks to public service provision; believes that the passing of CETA might result in significant negative implications for environmental protection in Scotland; calls therefore on the UK Government to act to address these concerns;”.
This is my first opportunity to participate in the now weekly debates on the consequences of Brexit. I make it clear from the outset that I absolutely share the dismay that is felt by many at the mess that the Tories have landed the country in through an abject failure to manage divisions within their party. I believe that the vote by the UK to leave the EU was a backward, self-defeating step of historic proportions, and one that was not in the interests of the UK, of Scotland or of the Orkney community that I represent.
Back in June, my constituents voted heavily in favour of remaining part of the EU. They recognise that EU membership is profoundly in their interests for a host of reasons, so I will do all in my power to safeguard those interests in the months ahead. However,
Orkney voted even more overwhelmingly in favour of remaining part of the UK back in 2014, and I simply do not accept that layering the additional uncertainty of a second independence referendum on top of what we already face with Brexit is compatible with representing and safeguarding the interests of those whom I was elected to serve.
There will be colleagues in the chamber—I will not name them—who can chart a more long-standing commitment to European integration and the principles that underlie it. For me, though, it is at the heart of why I am a Liberal Democrat. A passionate belief in empowering individuals and communities to fulfil their potential only works if one also accepts the necessity of collective action and collaboration to tackle problems and seize opportunities that transcend nations.
An obvious example of an area in which such action is required is climate change and, more broadly, the protection of the environment. The Government’s motion is absolutely right to point to the pivotal role that the EU has played in developing the environmental agenda, raising standards in air and water quality, cutting emissions, reducing waste and a host of other areas. In part, the EU has achieved that by securing concerted collective action and lifting the threat that steps taken by one member state would leave it at a competitive disadvantage compared with others. It has also succeeded in bringing those issues into the main stream of political debate across the continent and further afield.
Domestically, it is estimated that around 80 per cent of our environmental legislation originates at an EU level. To take just one example, Scottish Renewables claimed in 2013 that EU directives and their implementation by the UK and Scottish Governments were responsible for delivering much of the progress that had been achieved in the sector up to that point, although Mark Ruskell made some sensible observations on what has happened in the past couple of years.
However, that did not stop the Scottish ministers setting renewables targets for 2020 that were more challenging than those for the UK or the EU. In truth, there is nothing to stop the cabinet secretary taking a bolder, more ambitious path on the environment, regardless of whether we are inside or outside the EU. The RSPB and others make that very point in their briefings, along with the case for securing sustainable land and sea management and future funding for environmental initiatives, which other members have mentioned.
The current uncertainty over Brexit and the UK Government’s platitudinous mantra of “Brexit means Brexit” are wholly unhelpful, but that is not a justification for the Scottish Government to throw its hands up in the air and say that nothing can be done, or for this Parliament to renege on its responsibility to hold ministers to account on the environment.
WWF has set out a range of areas in which that can and must be done. Heat and transport, to which my amendment refers, are prime examples. Although excellent progress has been made in reducing emissions from electricity, the same cannot be said of heat, which is responsible for more than half our greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, renewables account for only 4 per cent of Scotland’s heat. WWF argues that that will need to improve tenfold by 2030 if we are to begin to meet our climate changes targets.
On transport, the situation appears to be little better. Emissions from transport have fallen by less than 1 per cent since 1990, and WWF highlights ways in which improvements might be made in the future. What is not suggested is that the Scottish Government should give a £250 million tax break to the airline industry through changes to air passenger duty, which will also pump 60,000 tonnes of carbon into Scotland’s air each year. Also absent from any to-do list for decarbonising transport is flag-waving Scottish Government support for Heathrow expansion. That decision is set for years of legal dispute over breaches to EU and UK laws on air quality and noise, and it flies an Airbus A380 through the SNP’s commitment to tackling climate change and reducing environmentally damaging short-haul flights. Doubtless, Heathrow lobbyists will be congratulating themselves on money well spent at the recent SNP conference.
Before closing, I will touch briefly on the final element of my amendment and the Government’s motion. As discussions continue over what precisely Brexit will mean in practice, Scottish voices must be heard and Scottish interests protected. In the area of climate change and the environment, that is not in the interests of just Scotland or the UK, but in the interests of the EU. The breadth and depth of our expertise here are truly world class. I cite the example of Heriot-Watt University only to illustrate what is to be found across our colleges, universities and research institutes, as well as in the private, public and voluntary sectors in Scotland.
I will not undermine Heriot-Watt’s achievements by trying to describe its work on surface active agents under the MARISURF project. Suffice it to say that that collaborative venture under the horizon 2020 programme amply demonstrates how Scottish research is highly regarded and its direct relevance to addressing the environmental challenges that many of our industries face, as do industries across the continent and further afield.
Although such initiatives have needlessly and recklessly been made more difficult by Brexit, it is hard to understand SNP ministers’ view that a vote for Scotland to leave the UK would have had no impact on the allocation of research funding or collaboration, but that Brexit presents an existential threat. Whatever the future holds, I hope that the Scottish and UK Governments, and indeed the EU, will continue to recognise and invest in the world-class research, innovation and skills that are to be found here in Scotland.
The tragedy of June’s vote takes many forms, and making collaborative action on the environment and climate change less straightforward is but one. However, with a climate change bill, a warm homes bill and an energy strategy in the pipeline, the Parliament will have opportunities in the months ahead to show leadership on the environment, if it so chooses.
I move amendment S5M-02125.4, to leave out from “believes” to end and insert:
“considers that while the EU has helped secure concerted collective action, it has always been open to governments to set more ambitious standards; believes that Scotland’s status as a climate change leader is jeopardised by the Scottish Government’s lack of progress to reduce emissions in areas such as heat and transport, coupled with its support for environmentally damaging policies on air passenger duty and Heathrow expansion, and further believes that the expertise available in Scotland on environmental and climate change matters, and its needs, must be taken into account by the UK Government during the Brexit decision-making and negotiation process.”
We now move to the open debate. I remind all members who wish to take part to ensure that their request-to-speak button is on
. Perhaps some members do not realise that if they make an intervention, their request-to-speak button is switched off. I ask members to make sure that their button is still on if they have made an intervention.
As the MSP for what I like to say is one of the most environmentally important constituencies in Scotland, I am glad to be able to speak in favour of the Government’s motion today.
We must not forget that it has been a good start to the parliamentary term with the news that the nation met our annual targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The collective effort of many organisations and individuals and the Scottish Government is to be commended for progress in mitigating climate change. Challenges remain, however, not least of which is the vote to leave the European Union.
However, in the face of Brexit-related confusion and uncertainty, I am delighted that the cabinet secretary has given assurances that we will continue to champion policies that protect the environment. We need to be ambitious and aim high with innovative and transformative policies that do not just impose themselves on stakeholders, but are an inherent part of society’s daily life. We are all stakeholders in that—fishermen, farmers, office workers, children, parents, and commuters. We make choices, and we need to make the right ones, but those choices need not be onerous or inconvenient. Many benefits to our economy, health, culture and education derive from mitigating climate change and managing our natural resources well.
Therefore, I will direct much of my focus today on natural capital—that is, the benefits, be they social or economic, that we can derive from Scotland’s natural assets. The cabinet secretary has already identified that we are global leader in that regard, having launched the natural capital asset index. We are the first country in the world to publish such a detailed document to monitor annual changes in our natural capital. We are fortunate to live in a country that is rich with natural assets, such as fertile land, diverse animal species and natural energy capabilities. We rely on our natural resources to provide the very basic goods and services that are vital to economic activity and society’s wellbeing.
With financial capital, if too much is spent, debts are accrued and bankruptcy can ensue, and the same is true with natural capital. The Scottish Wildlife Trust summed it up when it said:
“If we keep drawing down stocks of natural capital without allowing nature to recover, we run the risk of local, regional or even global ecosystem collapse.”
Avoiding that risk takes cross-border efforts and, in the past three decades, the EU has played an important role in supporting and protecting our precious resources. Environmental challenges such as air pollution do not respect borders and I hope that we will continue to collaborate internationally to combat climate change and protect natural resources.
Some fantastic projects in my constituency have derived from the natural capital of our country and have created jobs, boosted our tourism industry and benefited our food and drink sector. I will give a few examples. The Wilderness Scotland tour in Aviemore and the Nevis Range mountain experience in Fort William both make use of stunning scenery and biodiversity and have each been awarded gold certifications from Green Tourism. On Skye, which is the second most visited place in Scotland, the status of Fairy Glen as a geological wonder has been used to promote tourism and strengthen the island’s position as a must-visit location for tourists who visit Scotland from across the globe.
Likewise, my constituency has benefited from a number of EU wildlife regulations. The Moray Firth is home to a large group of bottlenose dolphins, a mammal that is classed as a European protected species. The habitat regulations of 1994 have ensured that those beautiful creatures can continue to cultivate their natural environment without interference from pollutants and other industrial waste—long may that continue.
To effectively manage our natural capital, we have to take the requisite action so that we do not run up our ecological, social and economic liability. The EU has been the primary legislator on environmental matters and, with the UK Government thus far showing an unwillingness to continue that work, it is more important than ever that Scotland leads the way with ambition and conviction. We must do that with an effort to engage all stakeholders in the process and to make combating climate change an inherent part of society’s daily life.
I draw attention to my registered interests in forestry, biomass and timber construction.
It is important to make the Scottish National Party aware that voting remain was not the same as wanting independence. For most of us, that would seem obvious, but I fear that some on the SNP benches have not yet understood it. What is more obvious is that we are leaving the European Union and we are going to make a success of it. Unfortunately, we are all too aware of what the SNP wants to achieve today.
Does Mr Burnett agree that, in the independence referendum, the better together cohorts campaigned on securing Scotland’s place in the European Union and that is why a great deal of people voted no in that referendum? We should not make the assumption that the member makes.
Most people who voted in the Scottish referendum understood that there was the very strong possibility that there would be an EU referendum and made a choice in the knowledge that a referendum would happen. All of them believed in the democratic process and I hope that everyone in Scotland will continue to believe in it.
Returning to the debate, the SNP will blame its failures on the environment before Brexit for the reasons that it is failing the environment after Brexit. From missing targets to targets without end dates, the Scottish Government is failing our forestry sector. I can imagine the SNP briefing for this debate reading like a broken record: Tories bad, Brexit worse. The facts simply do not add up for the SNP in the sector. Forestry is one of our strongest areas—from timber production for paper, biomass or construction, wood is the most environmental product that we have, and we should have it in abundance in Scotland.
By leaving the European Union, Holyrood will get the powers over directives that affect our environment. Those powers cover the forestry strategy—unfortunately, it is riddled with shortcomings—and will give us an opportunity to create a bespoke Scottish model.
We will get more control over what we will be able to do for planting, which I will come to. The powers covering forestry will come to Holyrood.
The Scottish Conservative MEP, Dr Ian Duncan, held a consultation that asked Scottish stakeholders—including wildlife charities, government agencies and private sector companies—how EU environment legislation could be amended or altered for the benefit of Scotland. The conclusion was that EU legislation has become cumbersome and confusing.
One of the main problems with the directives is that they have to take into account the needs of 28 other nations. In forestry, that means 28 nations finding a single solution to fit all forests from the mountain birch trees in Abisko in the Arctic circle to the stone pine forests of Donana national park just north of Africa. For a party that wants independence, I find it strange that the SNP would be willing to give that legislation back to Brussels instead of deciding it here.
However, perhaps we know the real reason why the SNP does not want future forestry powers discussed here. A quick look at its track record on planting reveals that not once in the past six years has the SNP Government hit its target of 10,000 hectares. Without the planting needed for our basic needs, let alone the areas required to hit our climate change targets, the forestry sector is continually let down by the SNP Government.
Planting figures were one of the main discussion points when I recently met the Confederation of Forest Industries, the industry body. It recognised the need to establish a fully devolved arrangement that can make a success of Scottish forestry. It has pushed for a well-resourced effective forest and management service that works with the private sector for the benefit of Scotland.
Confor seems to have put more thought than the Scottish Government has into how we can make a success of Brexit for forestry. It has outlined five key aspects that need to be fixed in order to create a thriving forestry and timber sector. I encourage the cabinet secretary to take on board those and many other stakeholders’ suggestions.
Confor states that Brexit offers a unique opportunity to integrate forestry and timber production as a major driver of the rural economy. Is it not the case that the Scottish Government should get behind the ideas of the industry instead of perusing political point scoring?
However, it should have been clear from the outset that the First Minister and her colleagues have never had any intention of delivering on Brexit opportunities. Not one member of Nicola Sturgeon’s expert panel has been involved in the forestry sector. That is simply not good enough when nearly 20 per cent of Scotland is covered by forest and the industry, which is worth £1 billion, employs more than 25,000 people.
To conclude, we have a Government that is hell-bent on a single policy and which is willing to use any legislation to promote its ultimate goal. It is now more important than ever for the SNP to quit its grievance politics and get behind the opportunities that Brexit will bring our forestry sector.
After years of the drip-drip undermining and misreporting of the EU by sections of our print media, was it altogether surprising that so many people in the UK fell for the claims of Brexit advocates about aspects of EU-inspired law? There were stories about those Brussels bureaucrats who were imposing their will on the Brits and demanding that bananas and cucumbers not be overly curved, that firemen no longer be allowed to slide down poles, that pale ale no longer be called pale ale—and all that nonsense. So great in scale and variety was the nonsense that a website is dedicated to debunking the myths.
When it comes to shaping law on the environment, it is undeniable—to the extent that even the right-wing media struggle to make a case against this—that EU membership has been a force for good. Brexit raises obvious and significant concerns for an area that is covered by more than 650 pieces of legislation. The concerns are being highlighted not just by environmentalists but by academics. They are also being highlighted in our sister Parliament in Northern Ireland.
The Scottish Government has been clear in its commitment to maintaining high environmental standards, whatever the future holds. However, there are implications and possible threats in that regard.
The overarching principle is that right now the EU is there to keep Governments honest and hold them to account on environmental commitments. The mechanisms that we have in place enable action to be taken to ensure that obligations are met. The mere fact that they exist is, by and large, enough to ensure compliance.
Against the backdrop of our so-called taking back control, what will the future hold for a Scotland that is in the UK but outwith the EU? Stakeholders who gave evidence to the UK Environmental Audit Committee were of the view that the EU has provided a necessary enforcement mechanism, which has incentivised the UK Government to take action that it might not otherwise have taken. They gave the example of the air quality directive. The committee noted in its report, “EU and UK Environmental Policy”, that many witnesses expressed the fear that
“if the UK were free to set its own environmental standards, it would set them at a less stringent level than has been imposed by the EU.”
We can understand why such concerns exist. The deregulatory tone of the UK Government’s rhetoric and—even more so—that of the leave campaign might easily be regarded as a sign that the flexibility that Brexit offers is more likely to be used to reduce than to strengthen environmental protections when they conflict with other goals.
As Dave Stewart asked, when we are outside the EU, who will ensure compliance? Will the laws survive in their existing form to be complied with, if powerful voices in the UK marine and, in particular, land sectors demand a slashing of red tape and approaches that favour their short-term interests?
What of the risk of reverse devolution, at least in relation to cross-border areas, which academics have flagged up? Is it conceivable that a UK Government will appoint itself as overseer of environmental compliance and a consistent approach across these islands and their devolved Administrations? That is a concerning prospect. One can certainly imagine a situation in which, where Scotland’s environmental standards were higher than standards over the border, powerful lobbying forces would demand to compete on a level playing field.
We might already be seeing signs that such an approach is emerging. Scottish Land & Estates, in its paper on possible post-Brexit relationships between Scotland, Wales and the UK in the context of food, farming and the environment, gets only as far as the second paragraph before it asserts:
“Crucially, we suggest that there is a need for a level of consistency across the UK, so that farmers, landowners and rural businesses are not disadvantaged by geography”.
In the interests of fairness, I acknowledge that the paper makes a number of reasonable and considered points. However, one other comment jumped out at me as I worked my way through: the demand that policy development involve consultation with landowners and farmers at every stage. I noted the lack of reference to environmentalists. Of course, the organisation represents farmers and landowners, and I hope that the absence of an acknowledgement that environmentalists would rightly also need to be involved is no more than an oversight.
Many, not insignificant environmental questions arise from Brexit. One is the EU emissions trading scheme, which is administered at EU level and does not simply transfer into UK law. The UK could negotiate continued involvement of some kind in the scheme, but we must be realistic and ask how accommodating the EU will want to be, given that that might offer encouragement to other member states that are entertaining thoughts of splintering off. Even if the UK could remain involved in ETS as some sort of associate member, how would UK interests be fully protected in the rightful drive to tighten the cap, if the UK could not vote on legislative changes to the EU ETS? If that is a non-starter, will we have to set up a replacement national trading scheme? How might that work in practice?
The politics around environmental legislation could be huge, but even if we set politics to one side we find that the considered view is that Brexit’s impact has the potential to be significant for our environment, as Professor Colin Reid of the University of Dundee set out in his paper, “Brexit: Challenges for Environmental Law.” I will just refer to Professor Reid’s conclusions. He says:
“For environmental law overall, the most significant changes are likely to be not so much in the details of any legislation, but the new vulnerability of environmental rules to short term political pressures and the removal of the means by which the government can be called to account. Whatever its flaws, the EU has provided a stable framework of environmental law and the means to ensure that governments and others live up to their obligations. The post-Brexit world will be more volatile. We do not know what the coming years will bring in terms of the details and timing of the UK’s withdrawal, the nature of future relationships with the EU and others or the extent to which existing laws based on EU measures will survive unchanged. The one certainty is uncertainty.”
There are so many questions and so few obvious answers, highlighting the absolute need for Scotland to be able to safeguard and indeed build upon the environmental progress that we have made, however that might be achieved.
T his debate is timely and important. It speaks to the broader question of how we in this Parliament and in the UK Parliament handle our departure from the European Union, because in my view it will happen whether we like it or not. If it does not happen, I believe that there is the real potential for an ugly social, political and democratic crisis. In a recent
Guardian article, George Monbiot summed up the possible consequences of such a scenario. He said:
“Were this vote to be annulled ... the result would be a full-scale class and culture war ... pitching middle-class progressives against those on whose behalf they have claimed to speak, and permanently alienating people who have spent their lives feeling voiceless and powerless.”
I think that the stakes are that high and, tragically, I fear that he may be right—an issue that I will return to later. First, there is much in the Government motion that I agree with but there are other assumptions that I believe are in need of challenge. I recognise the benefits that being part of the EU have brought to our environment. Our drinking water and beaches, the treatment of waste water, air quality, climate change targets and the protection of wildlife have all seen positive action as a consequence of joint working across the nations of the EU.
Through legislation, enforcement and awareness raising, the importance of the environment and our need to protect it has risen up the political agenda and we must ensure that the standards set by the EU are sustained and improved on as we continually strive for a better environment. However, we know that there is a constant tension and often a contradiction at the heart of things—between trade policy and a desire to see environmental protection; and between protecting and sustaining the environment and adhering to the neoliberal economic doctrine driven by the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Those institutions often talk a good game in terms of environmentalism but it always seems to play second or third fiddle.
We can see examples of those tensions playing out here in Scotland with the very powerful airline industry. The Scottish Government sets much-lauded targets to cut carbon emissions but at the same time promotes airport and air route expansion and the scrapping of air passenger duty and is a cheerleader for Heathrow expansion. All that will result in more flights, resulting in more pollution and more greenhouse gases. Once again, economic gain trumps environmental protection.
The EU falls into the very same trap. It has put in place worthy directives, which have been transposed into our law, but it is also in thrall to many of the corporations that pollute and damage our environment, exploit workers and avoid tax on an industrial scale as they put profits before people, planet and communities. TTIP and CETA are cases in point. Both deals are currently being negotiated outside democratic lines of accountability, a situation that goes to the very heart of the democratic void at the centre of the EU. They are agreements that are more concerned with protecting free trade than with protecting our communities and the environment and which will see corporations at the heart of policymaking, with a seat at the table.
If—it is a big if—Governments then put in place policy and legislation that run counter to corporate interests, those democratically elected Governments could be taken to court and sued. It has happened in Canada, Australia and elsewhere. What arrogance; what an affront to democracy. I believe that it is for those reasons—and many more—that voters across the UK voted leave.
We must not think that such things could not happen here. Imagine if TTIP had been up and running: Ineos or some other similar company might be dragging the Scottish Government through the investor-state dispute settlement system to stop a democratically elected Parliament deciding its own policy on an issue such as fracking.
I am raising these concerns—I will continue to raise many more—as the debate over the terms of Brexit unfolds, because the political class in Scotland is coalescing around a narrative that seeks to frustrate the democratic will of the people who voted in a referendum not as separate nations but as one entity. We are in danger of fulfilling Monbiot’s gloomy prediction. I say that as someone who voted remain.
A failure to heed the warnings and to hear the voices of marginalised communities across Europe, a failure to take urgent action on mass youth unemployment in Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Italy and elsewhere and a failure to listen to those forced to leave their homelands to find work—often very low-paid, exploitative work—elsewhere, will drive people towards the simplistic solutions of the far right and threaten greater instability on the continent.
We all know that there is a rocky road ahead with Brexit, but if all we talk about is doom and gloom it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. We have the opportunity to argue for a social Europe, for a progressive Europe and for a Europe that protects our environment and puts people and communities first. We have the opportunity to make those points here and now, and not to focus on what I will continually call project fear on steroids. [
I very much welcome the Scottish Government’s motion on securing the interests of the environment and continuing progress on climate change, following the EU referendum result.
Since the SNP came to power in 2007, climate change has been a key area, in which Scotland has formed a distinctive approach. When it gained royal assent, the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 was the most ambitious climate change legislation anywhere in the world. We have exceeded one target that was set in the legislation by reducing emissions by 42 per cent six years earlier than expected. The Scottish Government will now set a new and—I am sure—more testing target for 2020 of reducing emissions by potentially a further 50 per cent.
In May, Nicola Sturgeon appointed Scotland’s first Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, which shows the importance that we continue to place on our ambitions in that area.
There is no doubt that the European Union has played a vital role in securing collective 28-country action and progress on climate change, or that Scotland has led by example as a devolved nation within that union. However, environmentalists have voiced a number of concerns about how the UK will proceed as it leaves the EU, dragging Scotland with it, and how that may affect our ambitions here in Scotland. Commenting on the morning of the referendum result, Richard Dixon, who is the director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said:
“Many of the politicians backing the leave vote are climate sceptics and against renewable energy, and much of the ‘red tape’ they complain about are the laws that have given us cleaner air and water, and forced companies to reduce pollution.”
Unfortunately, those fears appear to be well founded.
Two days after the EU fast-tracked ratification of the Paris climate deal, Theresa May failed to make mention of her own plans for ratification of the agreement in her keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference. The Prime Minister’s decision not to address the issue follows a worrying trend in her premiership that began back in July with the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. DECC was, of course, set up to implement the Climate Change Act 2008. That process will now be overseen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. David Powell of the New Economics Foundation said that it is “every bit as likely” to
“prop up the oil and gas industry and build nuclear power stations as it” is to “lead in green technology.”
Another indication of Theresa May’s attitude to tackling climate change can be seen in her Cabinet appointments. Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Andrea Leadsom has voted against key measures to stop climate change, including voting in 2012 and 2016 against setting a target on reducing carbon emissions. Ms Leadsom was a devout supporter of the vote leave campaign and is joined in the Cabinet by several other Brexiteers.
The link between climate change deniers and Eurosceptics became clear during the EU referendum campaign. In February, it was revealed that the climate-change-denying think tank the Global Warming Policy Foundation had moved its headquarters into the same building as Brexit campaign groups business for Britain and vote leave. The think tank was established by Nigel Lawson who, coincidentally, also headed the Conservatives’ vote leave group. It was a natural alliance that was formed from the shared belief that market freedom trumps all and should not be interfered with by regulations or state intervention.
With political will, we can take action to tackle climate change whether we are in or out of the EU. To determine whether the will exists, we must look at who has the power and whether they think action is worth taking. No matter how hard Scotland pushes for progress, we will be limited by the policies of a Westminster Government that is hostile to the notion of taking real action on climate change. For example, efforts to support and expand renewable energy production in Scotland have been key to our progress, and EU funding has been vital to development of that industry. However, it seems likely that the EU’s power to set renewables targets will be transferred to a hostile UK Government. The EU Renewable Energy Directive—which requires the UK to source 15 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2020—was already unpopular among Conservative MPs who lobbied against an extension of those targets before the referendum in June, and the renewables obligation will close to all new generating capacity on 31 March 2017.
The Government has decided to support the expansion of Heathrow, and we are aware that we can offset potential emissions by other measures. As the First Minister said at one of our events, we have to be aware of offsetting economic delivery and growth against climate change, so we will do whatever we need to do to balance those.
The UK Government’s plans have been criticised by a wide range of experts and stakeholders. Research that was conducted by Scottish Renewables before the EU referendum suggested that investors were already less willing to lend to wind farm projects.
The reality of Brexit is that it puts significant investment and jobs at risk—many of which could be located in my region. The best way forward for us is to maintain—by whatever means necessary—Scotland’s relationship with the EU and our place in the single market. Scotland will continue to deliver global leadership through involvement in the United Nations climate talks. I welcome the Scottish Government’s plans to work with the Committee on Climate Change to develop a new climate change bill while we continue to fulfil obligations under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009.
More than four months after the EU referendum, today’s debate is another chapter in the series of debates trying to hide the SNP Government’s failure, with SNP members once again blaming either Westminster or Brexit. Whether we like it or not and whether we supported it or not, the UK is leaving the European Union and we have to—and we will—make a success of it. This debate is nothing more than a smokescreen to hide the SNP’s inadequacies and failings when it comes to the environment and climate change.
I will quote the Scottish Wildlife Trust, which has said:
“The state of Scotland’s natural environment is inextricably linked to Scotland’s future prosperity, the wellbeing of its people and Scotland’s ability to cope with the effects of climate change. The quality of Scotland’s natural environment and being renowned for maintaining high environmental standards are both significant to ‘Brand Scotland’ and hence Scotland’s economy e.g. the tourism sector is worth at least £11.6 billion—nature-based tourism alone is estimated to generate at least £1.4 billion, with around 39,0000 full-time equivalent jobs.”
Therefore, there is no doubt that climate change is very important to Scotland. Moving forward, in or out of the EU, we must take every step to ensure that all our efforts and initiatives will enhance the protection of our vital natural environment. It is disappointing that the cabinet secretary suggests that if we are out of the EU, we will not strive for—or, possibly, achieve—the highest standards of environmental protection. Mr Ruskell suggests that if we do not have the stick of Europe, we are unlikely to carry through some of our current policies and standards.
In my constituency of Galloway and West Dumfries more than £300 million can be attributed to tourism. Our natural environment is of huge importance and covers marine, coastal and hill habitats. Eco-tourism is the fundamental basis for this industry.
Today’s motion states that
“membership of the EU has ensured progress on a wide range of environmental issues in Scotland and continues to underpin vital environmental protection”, but as our amendment states, the EU has “at times aided progress” in certain areas,
“with a variety of international organisations and nations” that should also be commended for their work.
However, the real problem for the Scottish Government is that it cannot get it right—even with us inside the EU—with agriculture and the common agricultural policy debacle, for which the Scottish Government is very fortunate not to be faced with a heavy fine. The same can be said of its rushed and poorly thought-out salmon conservation regulations. This Government failed to defend to the EU the fact that Scotland has long practised regulatory conservation of fish stocks under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003. Instead of gathering factual evidence on mixed-stock fisheries, the Government used inadequate and scientifically and analytically inappropriate stock modelling to create a quick fix that was acceptable to the EU and to avoid further fines.
Too often, the Government picks and chooses when to use proper scientific research. It has been forced to impose draconian catch-and-release restrictions that are based on a flawed and poorly researched river categorisation. I accept that measures are necessary to conserve salmon stocks for future sustainability, but the process that this Government used to categorise our rivers was clearly flawed and lacked the scientific evidence that it should have sought.
In Dumfries and Galloway, traditional fishing was given a special dispensation on the River Annan, on historical grounds. However, the River Nith was not afforded the same comfort, despite both rivers flowing into the Solway Firth and having similar historical fishing rights. Instead, what we got was a model that was based on the historical number of catches, with no consideration of the number of people who fish our rivers, or the rivers’ water quality. We should not be totally surprised by that; it is another example of SNP centralisation in which it has adopted a one-size-fits-all approach to every river in the country.
The result has been devastating not only for the fishing industry but for tourism businesses that rely on fishermen. In Dumfries, for example, the number of fishing tickets being issued on the River Nith has halved, with fishing rate charges now totalling more than tickets sales can cover. Worryingly, a 150-year-old commercial wild salmon fishery in my constituency, which has been a long-standing heritage, educational and tourist attraction, was closed for three years in April for “conservation purposes” but is in danger of being closed permanently if the Government proceeds on the current course.
The cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government need to get a grip on the situation. Scotland is a world-famous location for wild fishing, which is important for Scotland’s economy as a whole and especially in areas such as my constituency, where fishing helps to underpin many communities. If the high-handed one-size-fits-all approach continues, we will see local economies being hit hard. The wild fishing industry is a very big part of Scotland’s tourism industry. Whether we are in or out of Europe, the Government needs to step up to the mark with regard to the huge challenges that are brought about by climate change.
The fact of the matter is that the Scottish Government can no longer hide behind its failures on Scotland’s wild fisheries industry. The Conservatives believe that locally based river management plans are needed, supported by proper scientific and circumstantial evidence. The Scottish Government could take such action inside or outside the European Union.
I am well aware of the fishing issues in the Dumfries and Galloway part of my constituency. We attended one of the research surveys that was conducted on the River Fleet, and the scientific evidence from that will be brought forward. The constituents whom Finlay Carson mentioned have also contacted me and I have agreed to represent their concerns to the Scottish Government.
I take on board Emma Harper’s comments, but the scientific evidence will be looked at only after the catch-and-release programme has been in place for a year. Businesses in Newton Stewart have lost out because of the falling number of fishermen.
As I have said in the chamber previously, the Scottish Government has a unique opportunity post-Brexit to revitalise Scotland’s fishing communities and create an all-inclusive, effective and sustainable system. Instead of hauling Scotland back to the divisions of 2014 with the constant threat of a second referendum on independence, the Scottish Government should get back to its day job of delivering for Scotland.
Here we are today with, still, no plan for Brexit nor even any definition of it, to echo Finlay Carson’s words. I will address the last topic that he covered. In 1968 I was a water bailiff for the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board, and as a minister I had the great privilege of having dinner with members of the fisheries board in Mr Carson’s constituency. At that time—I am uncertain as to whether it was 2008 or 2009—the board reported that, as a result of the environmental improvements that were made under the previous Labour-Liberal Administration and continued by the SNP Government, the number of wild fish in the River Nith had quadrupled. That is slightly at odds with what I am hearing today. Things may all have gone in the wrong direction since then, but I rather suspect that they have not.
As other members have done, I declare that I am a species champion; I think that someone with a sense of humour must have offered me the opportunity to be the champion for the European spiny lobster. I will address a couple of points that have arisen in the debate.
During the recent referendum campaign, Nigel Farage—who I accept is not the most reliable of sources for political facts—quoted research by the business for Britain campaign suggesting that the UK had been overruled by the EU Council of Ministers on 55 occasions. My research shows that that is entirely wrong—the number of such occasions was 56. However, to provide some context, there were 2,466 decisions on laws, so the number of occasions on which the UK failed to get its own way amounted to just over 1 per cent. The UK has chosen not to reject the overwhelming majority of laws and regulations that have come via the EU Council of Ministers. In our debates, it is always as well to base some of what we say on facts.
I will not claim that the UK said that all the laws that it supported were perfect in every detail; there is always compromise in such matters. As the minister who took the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill through Parliament, I had two hours and 25 minutes to speak on the subject at stage 3—members will be delighted to know that I have only six minutes or so today—and the Queen graciously granted royal assent for the act on my ruby wedding anniversary on 1 August 2009, to my wife’s immense delight.
I apologise unreservedly to Parliament for this Government’s having failed to meet its target: we promised that the reduction would be delivered in 2020, so I unreservedly apologise for our having delivered it in 2014. Similarly, I unreservedly apologise to Parliament for the Scottish Government’s being so far ahead on its renewable energy targets and beating out of the park all the targets that were set. Our failures are to be gloried in, not to be derided.
I acknowledge the Government’s strong record on electricity, given the difficult times with the subsidy cuts, but is not it the case that we are probably going to miss our 2020 target on heat?
I am not here to defend everything that the Government has or has not done. I am entirely happy to say that in 2009 we set ourselves, collectively and unanimously, a challenging set of targets across a range of areas. Heat is one of the more challenging areas in which there is clearly more work to be done.
I will pick up on a couple of other things. I direct Maurice Golden to the Scotland Act 1998, schedule 5, head E1, on transport. I find that we have no power whatever to legislate in relation to electric cars. We can provide electric charging points and we can subsidise councils and campaigns to encourage, but we have no powers whatever over electric cars.
I am not personally aware of that problem, but I will not attempt to rebut it. I now have a little hybrid car, which is just terrific. It is five years old, and it sometimes does 100 miles per gallon, which I absolutely love. That illustrates a very important point about addressing environmental issues. I am not just benefiting the climate; my wallet is getting a wee handout as well. That is often something that the Tories fail to recognise.
Looking at the text that the Tories want to substitute into the motion, I see that it
“recognises the positive impact that being part of the UK has had on climate change”.
I await news of what that “positive impact” might be. I absolutely recognise the negative impacts of the interference on renewables support from the UK Government. That has not been a helpful situation to be in for a single second.
The environment is not simply the purview of a single legislature or a single state. It is an international issue—one that affects people across Europe and in the world beyond. That is why it is vital that we continue to have the kind of focus that the EU has encouraged us to have, and which has led the way for countries across our continent. That is why we need to continue to adhere to the highest possible standards. We must not sign up to the Tories’ intention to disconnect the peoples of the nations of the UK from international agreements that support the environment—that world that we will bequeath to the next generation who will follow us.
I begin by declaring an interest as a hill farmer and food producer.
I, too, welcome this debate on the future of our Scottish environment post Brexit. None of you will be surprised to know that I have been allocated the slot in the debate dealing with land use, excluding forestry, which has already been elegantly discussed by my colleague Alexander Burnett.
Notwithstanding the fact that I voted for us to remain in the EU, Brexit offers the UK and Scotland a chance to re-examine our land use strategy and the environmental goals that we all want to achieve. Although developing a spatial land use strategy was considered during Richard Lochhead’s term in office and a land use strategy was lodged in the Parliament on 22 March, the day before dissolution, we still have a sectoral, piecemeal approach, with constant and abiding tensions still in place between food producers, environmentalists and wind farm and tourism interests, with our Government not always certain about its own ambitions for our rural areas.
We know that the Government is already failing in several areas, such as delivering better air quality, and that it does not comply with annex 15 of its own CAFS—“Cleaner Air for Scotland”—report. We also know that, although rural land use emissions and sequestration targets are difficult to measure, they are probably not being met as fully as they might be. We know that targets on native woodland planting and restoration need further work, and that deer management systems are not yet effective, try as we might to make them so. We also know that Scotland’s carbon footprint is increasing instead of decreasing.
I think that that was in evidence that was provided to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee recently. The member will find it there, but I am happy to provide the paperwork for Mr Stevenson, if that would be of help.
I will talk about two main subjects: overall strategic planning and peatland restoration. The most recent Scotland’s Rural College report on rural policy in Scotland stated:
“Whilst there are strategies for land use (the Land Use Strategy) and spatial planning (National Planning Framework), there is no overall strategy for rural Scotland and all that it encompasses. What is absent is a strategic framework setting out: specific rural outcomes; a baseline, targets, indicators, monitoring or review processes to see whether targets are being met; and the identification of the means by which collaborative working would be put in place to achieve them.”
For me, it is quite clear what the future should be, and it can be summed up in two words—working landscapes. Brexit offers us a much needed opportunity to reset our priorities, and indeed it will be a driver for that. Although we welcome the land use strategy that was laid before Parliament on 22 March, we still need a coherent, strategic spatial land use plan—in other words, we need more than we have.
We are concerned that the Scottish Government might seek to use Brexit as a way of driving a wedge between previously shared UK and Scottish objectives—the cabinet secretary’s opening speech certainly confirmed that view—which must not be allowed to happen. The Scottish Government must get on with the day job and start delivering on the objectives and targets that it has already defined and set for itself instead of viewing the current situation as an opportunity to weaken or deregulate environmental legislation or targets—the Scottish Wildlife Trust, too, has expressed concern about that. Agri-environment schemes that are funded by pillar 2 payments must continue to be supported for the real and obvious public benefits that they provide, and continuation of those and other schemes must be assured beyond 2020.
The cabinet secretary’s enthusiasm for the environment is well known—it is further evidenced by her cheerful and enthusiastic approach to that brief not once but twice—so she will know that peat restoration is one of the areas that need her special attention. I do not wish to invoke too much the memory of Rob Gibson’s lectures in the chamber on the importance of peat restoration—or, as Jackson Carlaw memorably put it, “peat wetting”—but the serious point is that the Government has not put its back into peatland restoration, which would be a hugely efficient way of capturing carbon.
The Scottish Government’s low-carbon Scotland report in 2013 suggested that up to 21,000 hectares per year of peatland restoration was technically feasible. Professor Robin Matthews of the James Hutton Institute estimated that restoring 21,000 hectares per year would contribute to an 8 per cent reduction in total Scottish carbon emissions. However, between 1990 and 2012, the average area of peatland restored annually was only 1,400 hectares.
To be fair, it is true that the restoration of 3,000 to 6,000 hectares a year was achieved between 2012 and 2015, but it is self-evident that that is far short of the potential 21,000 hectares a year that the Government’s report stated was technically possible. Certainly, it will be a big ask for the Government to provide funding for peatland restoration on the scale that was previously provided for it by Europe. However, it is certainly one of the easiest and most cost-efficient methods of carbon capture. Of course, the Government makes the task more difficult for itself by damaging peat flows through allowing wind farms to be put in peatland areas—often after cutting down trees already planted on those flows—in Caithness and Sutherland, as well as south-west Scotland.
Finally, I have a question for the cabinet secretary that she might wish to address in her closing remarks. Will funding be allocated in this year’s budget for peatland restoration, and if not—as I suspect will be the case—why not?
I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this important debate, not least because it allows me to highlight concerns about the environment that have been raised with me both locally and nationally since the Brexit vote on 23 June.
I say at the outset how pleased I was to see the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform announce during the summer recess—on 24 July—that the Scottish Government will refuse to turn back the clock on environmental laws and will abide by European Union rules that protect wildlife and prevent pollution, despite the Brexit vote. A pledge not to weaken a raft of Brussels legal measures that are regarded as crucial for conserving plants and animals and keeping air, water and land clean and healthy must have been music to the ears of every environmental activist in the country.
Things have moved on slightly since July, although we are still none the wiser as to the detail of the Brexit negotiations, probably because it appears that the UK Government itself does not yet know what it is trying to achieve. That makes life extremely difficult for the rest of us. The uncertainty is making some of my constituents in Falkirk East slightly nervous, not least the residents of Grangemouth, who live cheek by jowl with the petrochemical and agrochemical industries in the port. Local residents have expressed to me their concerns about local air quality. There have been breaches of the limits for sulphur dioxide emissions in Grangemouth. However, considering the concentration of industry in and around the town, it is thanks to EU directives on air quality that there have not been more complaints, or indeed breaches.
Grangemouth is home to six of Scotland’s 15 large Chemical Industries Association-registered companies. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which has oversight of large industrial sites in the town such as those of Ineos and CalaChem, has worked closely with those firms to improve working practices, tighten up procedures in order to ensure that they are operating within the legislative framework that is already in place and highlighted best practice for operation within the air quality limits that have been laid down by the EU. There is still work to do in ensuring that those high standards are maintained, and the uncertainty over whether compliance will be as easily enforceable without the back-up of the EU should be of some concern to us all.
That brings me to our international obligations. There is no doubt that, post Brexit, there will need to be some co-ordination between the countries of the UK. Until now, the EU has provided that envelope, and we need to know at an early date what arrangements will replace it. For example, there could be a scenario where the UK forced Scotland to accept things such as genetically modified crops by signing trade deals with little or no input from Scotland’s Government or Parliament.
There is significant concern out there regarding the implications of Brexit for UK environment and climate change law and policy. For example, there are concerns in the academic world from a Scottish perspective regarding the UK nationally determined contribution under the Paris agreement. In a nutshell, NDCs are documents that contain details of what each country intends to do to contribute to the 2°C goal that is enshrined in the Paris agreement in each of the five-year cycles that are envisioned in the treaty. The first such cycle covers the period 2020 to 2025.
From the beginning, EU member states opted to implement their commitments under the climate treaties jointly. In 2015, therefore, the EU submitted an NDC on behalf of all the EU member states. Now, the UK will no longer have the luxury of leaving that work to EU officials and will have to undertake the work itself. The ratification process of the Paris agreement has seen EU member states such as France deposit their ratification instrument and a declaration that asserts that they intend to rely on the NDC that the European Union submitted in 2015. Instead of that approach, the NDCs of some EEA countries such as Norway and Iceland assert that they intend to pursue their mitigation action in co-operation with the EU.
The UK is still a member of the EU, but it will no longer be one after 2020, when the first cycle that is envisioned in the Paris agreement will kick in. To comply with its formal obligation under the Paris agreement to submit an NDC, the UK will have to produce one of its own. We have to ask whether it has the capacity to do that.
It will be the first time that the UK engages in such an exercise. The closest proxy is EU negotiations concerning the so-called effort sharing decisions, through which EU member states shared among themselves the burdens that are associated with achieving the targets that are embedded in EU climate law and the Kyoto protocol. However, in that context it was a matter of deciding how much each member state would do, after a decision on how much to achieve collectively had already been taken at EU level. Now, instead, it is a matter for the UK to decide on its own—hopefully through consultation with all devolved Administrations, although we will wait and see—the level of ambition to embed in its NDC and how to achieve it.
With Brexit, the UK is, or should be, about to engage in an exercise to decide what it wants to include in its NDC for the period 2020 to 2025. As there is no precedent for that, the cabinet secretary and the First Minister must stress to the UK Government that devolved Administrations must be involved in the process.
It is clear that, with our strong domestic climate change legislation, we must be determined that Brexit must not result in a reduction in ambition when it comes to climate change action in Scotland. I was encouraged to hear the cabinet secretary say at this week’s meeting of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee that the Scottish Government is proceeding as planned with the climate change plan, which gives some certainty in an uncertain situation.
Although environmental policy is devolved, policies and countries are linked in many ways. Countries working together are able to achieve better outcomes than they can in isolation. Let us remember that the EU referendum result cannot reduce the strength of laws made in the Scottish Parliament, and we must all do all that we can to ensure that our regulatory bodies do all that they can to regulate and protect our environment.
There is considerable concern that one of the main impacts of leaving the EU will be that institutions conducting environmentally important research will no longer have the access to European Union funding programmes that they have enjoyed up until this point. A cursory look at any of our leading institutions that carry out environmental protection research will reveal that a great deal of their programmes are supported by EU funding—some completely and others in part. Their research programmes, which underpin our world-leading reputation for work on the bioeconomy and food security as well as on environmental protection and climate change, are not just science projects in hallowed ivory towers. That is research that is powering Scotland’s economy and worldwide reputation, including Scotland’s world-renowned food production and export industries, which Kate Forbes alluded to in her speech.
There are too many examples to mention, but I have chosen a few. Scotland’s Rural College heads up the land economy, environment and society research group, which has done pioneering research on sustainable agriculture, food supply chains, environmental management, sustainable use of natural resources, environmental economics, climate change and rural community resilience. The Rowett institute in Aberdeen, which is right next to my constituency, is a world leader in animal and human nutrition. In my constituency of Aberdeenshire East, the European offshore wind deployment centre, which is also known as the Aberdeen Offshore Wind Farm, is running an environmental research project on the interactions between offshore wind, the natural world and the local human environment. That €3 million project will get half its funding from the EU, and its results will facilitate continued development of environmentally sustainable offshore wind energy, using sound science to develop an empirical evidence base and novel methods to advance and streamline environmental impact assessments.
It must be said strongly that many of those research projects are staffed by leading academics in their field, hailing from across the EU. There it is again: the question of freedom of movement and the impact that will be felt on our labour market, not least in our scientific and research communities, which have been able to attract talent from across the EU.
We are poised to innovate on carbon emissions management—or, should I say, we were poised. I want to mention the cancelled UK research funding for the carbon capture and storage project which, if continued, could have seen Peterhead, which is in the constituency of my friend and colleague Stewart Stevenson, who is not here just now, be a world leader in that technology, which would have assisted considerably in meeting Scotland’s emissions reduction targets.
That technology would have provided jobs and would have been patented and exported across the globe to reduce emissions in other persistently fossil fuel-reliant economies—by which I mean pretty much every world economy.
The disastrous cancellation of UK Government funding for the carbon capture project is a stark indication of the UK’s environmental intentions. I would like to think that the cancellation might have been mitigated somewhat by access to EU funding that would have allowed it to continue, but I guess that we will never know now that that option is closed to us. On Mr Golden’s point about grievance politics, I am not really involved in that, but I will say to him, “If you don’t want to hear our grievances, don’t cause them.” Perhaps if his UK Government colleagues had not pulled the rug from under CCS, shut down the renewables obligation or cut subsidies for those wishing to play their part by investing in a wind turbine, we might not have felt so aggrieved.
I do not feel particularly comfortable knowing that research funding is reliant on the UK Government, given that neither emissions reduction nor climate change issues are a priority for it. I have to admit that, when I read the Tory amendment and saw the phrase
“recognises the positive impact that being part of the UK has had on climate change in Scotland”,
I am also nervous of a UK Government that has allowed fracking contracts to be awarded under national parks with no debate and which has ploughed on with that technology without carrying out any serious research into the environmental consequences. I wonder whether the very heartfelt comments that were made by Mr Golden and Mr Burnett about establishing more woodland mean that they agree that fracking under areas of national significance is an abomination. Do I trust a Government that takes such an approach to support renewable energy or emissions reduction research programmes? Frankly, I do not.
I start by taking my lead from the spokesman for the spiny lobster, Stewart Stevenson, and declaring an interest as an ambassador for the Scottish primrose.
I am showing a softer side.
Unlike Neil Findlay, I am not a veteran of these Brexit debates but, unlike Finlay Carson and his colleagues, I have been pleasantly surprised by the extent to which large parts of the debate have broken free of the Brexit shackles to consider the wider environmental issues. The cabinet secretary set the tone in her opening remarks, but a number of speakers have followed on from that. For example, Gillian Martin’s comments on the leading role of Scottish research in shaping the environmental landscape were entirely valid. I cited the example of Heriot-Watt University, but I made it clear that there are many other examples, which Gillian Martin referred to.
In a considered speech, Mark Ruskell probably covered the ground more expansively than anyone. I had concerns about where he seemed to be going with regard to agriculture but, even there, I believe that a challenge has been set down to those in the farming sector to step up to the plate. Likewise, Kate Forbes made interesting points about the importance of natural capital, although I take violent exception—she would expect nothing less—to her assertion that her constituency is perhaps the most environmentally significant.
I did not cover any of the amendments in my opening remarks, so let me address that shortcoming now. David Stewart’s amendment makes useful points about collective action to protect the marine environment as well as about the collaborative approach to research across the EU to underpin environmental protection. Indeed, I made the same point earlier. Mr Stewart also—rightly—suggested that this is not a one-way process and that the UK has been instrumental in shaping the environmental agenda at an EU level, particularly in relation to wildlife and climate change.
Similarly, Maurice Golden’s amendment makes reasonable points, but it glosses over the damage that has been done by the Tories’ failure to deal with the divisions in their party over Europe. Unlike Stewart Stevenson, I agree that being part of the UK can help us to meet our climate change ambitions, but not if the current UK Tory Government persists with a reckless approach towards the development of renewables and continues to reverse the progress that was made on the green agenda under the coalition Government.
Mark Ruskell’s amendment was written in far more moderate terms than previous iterations—I would expect nothing less of him—but in recent times trade agreements have been the subject of more focus, more scrutiny and more vigilance than ever before. That is a good thing, which has resulted in more transparency and an improved process. As a result, Liberal Democrats have been alert to a number of the concerns that have been raised, raised them at UK and EU levels and secured change as a result. However, as a trading nation, we benefit from trading and it is not clear to me what we would be asking the UK Government to do if we agreed to the Greens’ amendment.
There I was being complimentary about Mark Ruskell and he has thrown it back at me.
Genuine concerns have been expressed about TTIP and CETA, and a light has been shone on the process in a way that has not been done on any trade agreement negotiations in the past. We have highlighted those concerns and have sought changes as a result but, at this stage in the process, it is not clear to me what we would be asking the UK Government to do.
Not at the moment, Mr Findlay.
I turn to the broader debate. The Scottish Government is anxious for us to focus entirely on the consequences of Brexit. I certainly do not diminish them—I whole-heartedly agree with what the cabinet secretary said about the importance of the EU to research on the environment and how the UK Government’s treatment of non-UK EU nationals as a pawn in a game has had a damaging effect and been utterly self-defeating—but it would be a missed opportunity if we were not to shine a light on how we are doing as an EU member state now or to consider what our ambitions should be, whatever the future holds.
The Scottish Parliament passed world-leading climate change legislation and I pay tribute to the part that Stewart Stevenson played in that. He was right to say that the legislation was passed collectively and unanimously, but I think that he would accept that that was the easy part. Since then, we have met our emissions targets only once in five years. The UK Committee on Climate Change concluded that only two out of 28 Scottish Government adaptation priorities had
“plans in place, actions being delivered and progress being made”.
It also said that two thirds of the Government’s policies and proposals had no timescale for delivery, so there is a great deal of work to be done.
As I highlighted in my opening speech, two areas in which we need a step change are heat and transport. WWF has said that a tenfold increase is needed in the heat that is generated from renewables, from which only 4 per cent of Scotland’s heat is currently generated. The warm homes bill offers an excellent opportunity, but we need a commitment to rapid growth in district heating and renewable heat. We must translate energy efficiency from a national strategic priority into delivery on the ground, and the necessary investment must be provided for that. As an aside, there is a need for catch-up zones to target resources at the areas that top the league table on fuel poverty.
Action is also needed on transport. The take-up of electric vehicles is higher in Orkney than anywhere else, but the figures for Scotland as a whole are behind those for the rest of the UK.
As I said earlier, those goals will not be achieved through the £250 million tax cut for the airline industry or the Scottish Government’s support for Heathrow expansion. The expansion of Heathrow is likely to mean that, if we are to meet our emissions targets, ministers will have to cut airport capacity in regional airports or other sectors of the economy.
I will conclude where I started. I firmly believe that the UK vote to leave the EU was a wholly regrettable and retrograde step. Collective action on the environment has been one of the clearest examples of where the EU has acted as a driver of change and progress. However, as today’s debate has highlighted—
Considerable criticism can be levelled at the European Union and the Greens’ amendment does that without losing sight of the broader issue that is at stake. The progress that the continent has made in safeguarding our environment and tackling climate change—the most urgent issue of our generation—is a success of the European project. That success here in Scotland and across these islands is potentially under threat from Brexit.
If Scotland is forced out of the European Union despite the result of the vote, there is much that we can protect by using the Scottish Parliament’s powers, and I welcome the reassurances that the cabinet secretary gave. However, much is outwith our control and we must pressure the Westminster Government to take that seriously.
Some Conservative colleagues seem keen to derail the debate and to divert us from their party’s record and actions. Finlay Carson said that the debate was just a smokescreen for Scottish Government failures, which I found a bit bewildering. The Greens have consistently called out Scottish Government failures on the environment and climate change. Are the Conservatives suggesting that we should not debate the significant impacts that Brexit could have on every portfolio area for which the Parliament is responsible?
Maurice Golden almost always makes substantial points on the environment, so I was disappointed that he reverted to the single transferable speech of the Conservative Party post Brexit. That is not what we need in this kind of debate.
Alexander Burnett raised important points about forestry and planting. He is right that the Scottish Government has failed to make the required progress. However, I am glad that, unlike Mr Burnett’s colleagues down south, the Scottish Government has not tried to sell off our publicly owned forests.
On that point, I am enthusiastic about giving forests to community ownership, but we will object to any Government attempts to sell off forests to commercial interests. [
T he cabinet secretary noted that there is significant reason to doubt the UK Government’s credibility, given that one of the first acts of the new Government under Theresa May was to abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Its responsibilities have moved to the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
That move illustrates the mistake that the UK Government and many other Governments have made in their approaches to tackling climate change. We should tackle climate change not simply for economic benefit but because there is a moral imperative to do so. We should bring every possible resource to bear in the fight. We have no right to leave the environment uninhabitable for future generations. We have no right to wreak untold damage on our fellow citizens of the world.
Eight of Scotland’s hottest years on record were in the previous decade. That presents problems for us, but it is not a catastrophe. However, in May last year, more than 1,300 people died during a 10-day heatwave in Andhra Pradesh. Members will remember the European heatwave in 2003 that killed more than 70,000 people. Climate change is killing people here and now.
The think tank that was founded by Kofi Annan, a former United Nations general secretary, estimates that more than 300,000 people die every year because of climate change. It is the ultimate example of the poor suffering the consequences of the actions taken by the earth’s richest.
I do not mean to say that the solutions to climate change are separate from the economics. Indeed, we will tackle the crisis only with wholesale economic transformation and by achieving the people’s Europe that Neil Findlay referred to. I am optimistic that Scotland can still play a full part in that.
At First Minister’s question time today, Patrick Harvie spoke of climate justice, which almost all of us in the Parliament are in theory committed to. I say “in theory” because such a commitment is not compatible with commitments to maximising the lifespan of the fossil fuel economy or to supporting airport expansion and tax cuts for those industries. That is why the Greens appreciate the amendment in Liam McArthur’s name. However, I fail to see why that amendment would remove the reference to the Scottish Government deserving a role in the Brexit negotiations; that would be an unfortunate omission.
The point is about broadening the process to ensure that wider civic society and the expertise that is to be found in Scotland have a place in the debate, which needs to be secured, so that it is not just the Scottish Government that has a role in however the UK Government discussions in the JMC have evolved.
I thank Liam McArthur for that point and agree enthusiastically. I just feel that the amendment takes away a necessary inclusion, because the Scottish Government has an issue with being involved in the Brexit negotiations.
The European Union has been a leader in the fight against climate change and in the protection of our environment; it is not just a follower, as the Conservative motion seems to imply. David Stewart gave the example of what the EU has achieved for our beaches, which were previously polluted by sewage but have been transformed in recent decades.
However, as the Green amendment highlights, the European Union is far from perfect and should be robustly challenged on the priority that it has given to economic growth and a commitment to neoliberal economics that is incompatible with ending the climate crisis. Just today, the comprehensive economic and trade agreement has made a comeback. That trade deal between the EU and Canada places hard-won progress on environmental protections at risk. Angus MacDonald rightly raised the threat that it could pose of forcing GM crops on Scotland.
At its core, CETA is a deal that places corporate power above democracy. The proposed dispute mechanism will result in secretive corporate courts that are unaccountable to our elected Parliament. They would be able to reverse the Parliament’s decisions or even punish us for having made those decisions.
Liam McArthur asked the cabinet secretary for examples of the dire consequences of such deals. The investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, which Neil Findlay mentioned, has been used by Veolia to sue Egypt for increasing the minimum wage and by numerous energy companies to sue Argentina for freezing energy prices. The awards that have been given to multinational corporations have been eye watering. For example, the US company Occidental Petroleum won compensation of more than $1.5 billion in a claim against Ecuador.
The Scottish Parliament does not have the power to stop CETA, although other devolved Parliaments, such as that in Wallonia, have the ability to do so. However, the fight is not over. We can note our concern today and force the Westminster Parliament to address it. The Greens urge colleagues across the chamber to support our amendment.
I am pleased to speak in this debate on climate change, environmental protection and Brexit. I intend to focus on some specific threats and I will try to pose some questions, although frankly I do not know how many answers I have. I will talk about the marine environment, then explore research and development and finally delve into climate change challenges.
It is essential that we support the Green amendment in the name of Mark Ruskell. As he said, the strong democratic heartbeat has to be considered. We in Scottish Labour feel strongly about TTIP and CETA. We will also support the Scottish Government motion.
Our marine environment has been measurably bettered by the EU acquis communautaire. Marine issues cannot be effectively tackled without collaboration and we have a responsibility to maintain or strengthen the collective ambitions that have proved to be sustainable for the environment and the economy. Since the 2014 reform of the common fisheries policy, it has been robust. It is vital that we maintain Scotland’s part in multinational management of shared natural resources. Our fish stocks and coastal communities cannot afford to have fishing policy slip back 10 years.
It is essential that there is a replacement for the European maritime and fisheries fund. Scotland benefits substantially from the fund, receiving approximately 42 per cent of the UK’s allocation. Coastal communities need long-term funding assurance to allow them to continue to fish sustainably, diversify their economies and finance new projects.
We have successfully designated a number of marine protected areas and those, too, must receive continued funding and monitoring. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s decision to proceed with new special protected areas, as we are still an EU member, but I am interested in whether she will commit to seeing those 40 SPAs through to implementation come what may.
As many members, including Gillian Martin and Liam McArthur, have highlighted, another serious concern as we leave the European Union relates to the academic community that the EU fosters. Research and development are collaborative by nature, and that is prized by the UK in application considerations. Once we are out of the EU, we run the risk of isolation. Concerns have already been raised that the UK is an unfavourable research partner because of the funding issue and freedom of movement uncertainties. Many environmental issues cannot be overcome by individual national efforts. It would be a travesty to weaken those knowledge-sharing paths.
The briefing that we have received from Heriot-Watt University demonstrates that starkly through a case study. The MERCES—marine ecosystem restoration in changing European seas—project focuses on the restoration of degraded marine habitats. It is a collaboration between 28 partner institutions that has been granted €6.65 million of horizon 2020 funding. Although those funds were initially secured through the UK Treasury, the issue of longer-term funding for that and many other research projects must be squarely faced in the Brexit negotiations.
Beyond funding considerations, we also face the removal of a layer of accountability. Although many EU directives are encompassed in Scottish Government legislation, the loss of funding and accountability puts research and development at risk. There must not be a loss of impetus.
Finally, I turn to climate change. The Government motion states that the Parliament
“recognises the importance of the EU in securing collective action and progress on climate change”.
On that issue, I focus on the EU emissions trading scheme for heavy emitters; it is not perfect, but it has focused minds on reduction. Scotland has its own allowance as it is part of an EU member state. The UK Committee on Climate Change has published a note about Brexit and climate change implications for the UK, which states:
“It is possible that the UK would remain as part of the EU ETS even after leaving the EU ... More generally, increased linking (rather than delinking) of international carbon trading schemes is desirable in promoting the least-cost international path to reducing global emissions.”
The Prime Minister has made some encouraging moves on climate change: rapid approval of the fifth carbon budget and the announcement of its intention—finally—to ratify the Paris agreement by the end of the year. However, members including Mark Ruskell have highlighted the butchering of the feed-in tariffs and Emma Harper has highlighted the deplorable DECC decision. When my colleague Barry Gardiner, shadow secretary for energy and climate change, asked Jesse Norman, the Tory energy minister, about that issue, he replied:
“Those targets could be more testing, less testing or exactly at the level required by the ETS itself, so there need not necessarily be anything particularly problematic about it.”—[
Delegated Powers Committee
, 18 July 2016; c 8.]
That last line is extremely worrying to me and to the Scottish Labour Party. It exemplifies why Scotland, in the words of the motion, must have
“full involvement, in all UK negotiations.”
This is not just about what present Governments, or indeed the next Governments in Scotland and the UK, can do; it is about establishing and maintaining an international and European framework far into the future beyond our lives on a stable basis, and how that can be done.
I am pleased that we have had this debate on Scotland’s environment and efforts to tackle climate change.
We all recognise that the natural environment is a key asset for Scotland and that beauty and heritage must be maintained. It is key in attracting the visitors whom we welcome every year and who bring an estimated £1.4 billion to our economy and 39,000 full-time equivalent jobs. Our world-renowned food and drinks sector, which is worth an estimated £5.1 billion in exports, also relies on our rich natural heritage, as does our diverse and unique range of animal species, which includes the pine marten and the wildcat. Whatever the prevailing or future political context in our country, it is imperative that Scotland’s natural environment is maintained and retained for future generations.
Our debate is in the context of the UK-wide decision to leave the European Union. There are policy areas where we are currently tied to EU legislation that impacts on the environment, such as the emissions trading scheme or the birds and habitats directives. Finlay Carson referred to wildlife in the EU context, and Mark Ruskell commented on that and the difficulties of being tied to that EU set-up when the EU gets things wrong.
The UK and Scotland have led the way in environmental and climate change policy in Europe, as was highlighted by the minister, Roseanna Cunningham. While welcoming the vote to leave, we should have confidence in our abilities and track record. I support the Scottish Conservative amendment to the Government motion, which reflects the reality that we will not fall off a cliff when we leave the European Union, any more than we would if we stayed in.
The amendment recognises that, in today’s globalised world, environmental and climate change policy transcend European and international borders, as David Stewart pointed out. Many of the UK’s commitments were made in the context of international frameworks, such as the UN sustainable development goals and the Paris agreement on climate change. Following the European Parliament’s approval of the Paris agreement in September, the UK minister Greg Clark committed to ratifying the agreement by the end of the year.
In contrast, at about the same time, during the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora, in Johannesburg, the EU was instrumental in blocking proposals that would have given elephants the highest-possible level of international protection. The approach could have been key to ending the current ivory poaching crisis. Let us emulate the EU’s success in environmental matters, but let us not follow its errors.
Scotland controls its own destiny in many areas. The Scottish Conservative amendment to the motion calls for the Scottish Government to consider what it can do to protect the Scottish environment. The Scottish Government should recognise what it has been capable of achieving, which I am delighted to acknowledge. In certain areas Scotland can hold its head up high, as we heard.
However, we cannot rest on our laurels. There are many areas in which being in or out of the EU is of little consequence. In the transport sector, emission levels have fallen by less than 1 per cent since 1990. St John’s Road in Corstorphine, here in Edinburgh, for example, is among the most polluted roads in the country.
There is work to be done by the Scottish Government in that regard, which, as Liam McArthur pointed out, is not predicated on EU membership. Our Scottish transport minister—whether or not he is a transport expert—needs to get to grips with making our public transport infrastructure more appealing to commuters. Maurice Golden talked about Norway, where electric cars are part of the circular economy. We need to be more ambitious in Scotland in that regard.
My Conservative colleagues have indicated where the Scottish Government has failed to meet targets, irrespective of EU membership. Action in such areas could successfully protect our natural environment in the years to come. Let us look forward. Alexander Burnett commented on the need for Scotland to contribute positively to Brexit negotiations.
The EU has had positive effects for Scotland’s environment in certain areas, as I said, as a result of initiatives that members have described. It developed those initiatives in the context of world recognition that our planet might be robust but needs to be taken care of. In the past, we have failed to take care of the planet and damage has been done. We need to improve our stewardship of creation for future generations.
Although the UK Government and the Scottish Government have made progress in some areas, we need to do more. The Scottish Parliament has the power to make further progress. Let it do so. The Scottish Conservatives will continue to push the Government to get on with the job that it is tasked with, rather than focusing on powers that it does not have.
Before I conclude, I commend my parliamentary colleague Stewart Stevenson for his humourful contribution to today’s debate—I have benefited from Stewart’s sense of humour since I stood for the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and took part in hustings with him. I think that all members were most enlightened by his comments about what the Queen’s grant of royal assent to enact legislation can do for domestic relationships. I thank him again for that contribution.
I wish Stewart Stevenson and the Scottish Government well in recovering from what appears to be a chronic state of self-induced Brexitis. As my colleague John Scott said, the Scottish Government has got a job to do; it should get on with it.
I start by declaring an interest, as others have done. I have been a species champion of the corncrake and the tree lungwort—but not at the same time, I stress.
The purpose of these debates is to try to discover common ground and to hear new and positive ideas. That is the same idea that motivates the meetings that I am having with party leaders and much of the discussion that I am taking part in across Scotland.
Unfortunately what we have learned today, which we learned at the very outset of this debate, is that the Scottish Conservatives do not want to take part in that process. Mr Golden was very testy about it in his opening speech. Finlay Carson also pooh-poohed it, although I am glad to see that my reasonable friend John Scott welcomed the fact that these debates were taking place.
The reason why the Scottish Conservatives do not want to take part in these debates is that they expose the emptiness of their position, because if the debates are about bringing ideas and imagination to help Scotland move forward, the Scottish Conservatives are found wanting.
I think that bringing ideas and imagination to this chamber and standing up for our constituents and for Scotland is our day job. I suggest to the Scottish Conservatives that they get back to their day job and start to bring some ideas and thoughts to this chamber rather than simply complaints.
I am delighted to be involved in the debate—
Not at this moment, Mr Scott, but I will let you in later on. I have some more to say about Mr Scott, which will be positive, of course. [
It is a pleasure, even with the little voice that I have left today, to support my friend Roseanna Cunningham on environmental issues. She succeeded me as environment minister in February 2009. We agree, I think, that the job is the best job in Government, and I am delighted that it is now of full cabinet rank. She is a great defender and advocate of a greener Scotland, but her skills, passion and knowledge will be needed as never before because the environment must become a key issue in the Brexit negotiations.
It is already clear to me from the discussions that I have had that the UK Government is not really interested in the issue of the environment—it is low down its list of priorities. The Scottish Government can help the UK and Europe—and, one might even say immodestly, the planet—by making sure that it takes centre stage.
It has been a pleasure to hear Claudia Beamish and Mark Ruskell in the debate. The three of us are among the five nominees for the Nature of Scotland politician of the year award this year. The other two nominees are Richard Lochhead and Sarah Boyack. The smart money should be on Sarah Boyack for her contributions in the chamber. It is probably important to mention that now, because this is a debate that she would have relished and which she would have contributed to with great distinction. But on to less happy matters.
Mr Golden opened the debate by saying that he believes that “Brexit means Brexit”. Later on, Mr Burnett told us that
“we are leaving the European Union and we are going to make a success of it”.
Just as there was a little red book of Mao quotations, there is now clearly a little blue book of Theresa May quotations, because those are direct quotations from Theresa May.
However, it will take more than quoting the little blue book to convince anybody in the chamber or in Scotland about the reality of Brexit, because what we are hearing from the Tories—as the First Minister said this morning—is not collaboration or co-operation; it is capitulation. We are hearing nothing at all from them about standing up for Scotland or putting the case for Scotland in relation to Brexit. That was, alas, also true of what Mr Golden had to say.
Mark Ruskell made that point almost immediately after Mr Golden’s speech, because he pointed out that the reliance in the Tory motion on UN agreements will undoubtedly allow the UK to weaken environmental protection—just the type of agreement that the Tories seem to want. Mark Ruskell pointed out, if members want proof of it, the damage that has been done by the Tories to the renewables infrastructure since they decided to start reducing the subsidies.
If we are looking for evidence of what the Tory position on the environment will be on Brexit, we can see it already. It is a desire to weaken standards.
I would have liked to have heard Liam McArthur support that. This is the first time that he has taken part in one of these debates, as he said, and he opened very strongly. He said that Brexit was not in the Scottish or the Orkney community’s interest and that EU membership was profoundly in the interest of this country and his constituents. However, the logic of that position would surely put him in support of ensuring that all the options are considered for the future. Until the Scottish Liberal Democrats are prepared to consider all the options then, alas, they are not being true to that objective.
Neither Mr McArthur nor his constituents are being asked to make that choice at the present moment. Mr McArthur is being asked to be part of considering the options for the future. Unfortunately, by refusing to consider all the options, he is not taking the issue forward rationally.
Kate Forbes made an important contribution on natural capital. It is worth observing that Scotland is the first country to have a natural capital asset register. I will refer to another contribution that immediately followed on from her speech. Mr Burnett, having talked about making a success of Brexit, then, unfortunately, said something about the Scottish referendum in 2014 that must be corrected. He said that he had understood that those who had voted to remain would have had the knowledge that they would be voting to leave the EU. I have to say that not everyone did have that knowledge. I refer the member to the statement:
“No means we stay in, we are members of the European Union.”
Ruth Davidson said that in September 2014.
I will make a correction for the record. I said that when people voted in the Scottish referendum they did so in the awareness that there was going to be another referendum, although not of what the result was going to be.
I repeat what the member’s leader said:
“No means we stay in, we are members of the European Union.”
People were, unfortunately, misled by a number of people, including by the leader of the Scottish Tories.
I was delighted to know that Stewart Stevenson was the species champion for the spiny lobster; I was also delighted to have his testimony, which this chamber has heard, that there was always a lack of support from the UK Government on climate change. That should make us even more nervous going forward.
John Scott made a reasoned speech; I disagreed with it. There was an alarming indication in it about what a future Tory tactic would be. John Scott was demanding that this Government addresses and funds every possible application under pillar 2. The tactic now seems to be that the Scottish Government, having been criticised over many years for not replacing every cut from Westminster, is now to be criticised if we cannot replace every funding shortfall from Europe. That would be unreasonable. I hope that Mr Scott, who is not an unreasonable man, will reflect on that.
I will address Gillian Martin’s points on the wider issues regarding research. It is vital that we look at every issue in the Brexit debate not simply as a self-contained devolution issue; we must reflect on the wider issues. The wider issues of freedom of movement and funding for research depend on us being part of and engaging with the EU. The problems that we will have in researching the environment will grow enormously unless we are engaged fully with Europe.
Mr Lindhurst summed up in what I would describe as a calm manner. He said that it is important that we do more and that we have more engagement, but he did not explain how. I got a little bit confused by his contribution. It appeared to me as though he was saying that we should give up the European Union birds directive that protects, for example—if I may mention it again—the corncrake, but that we should sign up to the CITES convention that protects elephants. Those are not mutually exclusive, but it seems rather confusing to prefer elephants to corncrakes and to use that as a reason for leaving the EU.
Finally, I cite Gillian Martin. She said to the Tories very memorably—it was the most memorable line in the debate—that if they do not like hearing about grievances they should stop causing them. That is the reality of the Brexit situation. The Tories have put us in this situation; they should stop making it worse. They should come to the table with ideas and debate it sensibly. We have not heard that so far, and Scotland and the chamber are the losers.