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Environment and Climate Change (European Union Referendum)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 27th October 2016.

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Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

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.