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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 Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

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.