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.