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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 Claudia Beamish Claudia Beamish Labour

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.”—[

Official Report

,

House of Commons

,

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.