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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 Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

Before I start my speech, I declare that I am the parliamentary liaison officer for the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform.

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 had to take a wee moment to calm myself, remembering how former Tory chancellor George Osborne swept aside the CCS projects and diverted the money elsewhere.

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.