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Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 25th September 2019.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat


At stage 1, I quoted Jessie Dodman, a young constituent from Papa Westray in Orkney, who wrote to me saying:

“The ... Climate Change bill offers a good first step but needs to be delivered more quickly and effectively before the predicted deadlines for irreversible change in 2030.”

Jessie’s plea, which has been echoed by young people from across Scotland and beyond in recent weeks and months, stems from an understanding that urgent action over the next decade is essential if we are to have any realistic prospect of averting the catastrophic consequences of climate change, if we are to hit our net zero emissions target by 2045 and if we are to deliver an appropriate response to the IPCC’s latest report.

I am delighted, therefore, that Parliament has voted today to increase the interim target to 75 per cent by 2030. I again congratulate Claudia Beamish on lodging the amendment, which I was happy to co-sign, that has enabled that highly significant change to be made to the bill. Some have argued that we should be going further and faster, and those debates have been happening within as well as between parties.

I am conscious, though, of what the chair of the UKCCC said to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee on target setting. Lord Deben cautioned that

“It is not sensible to espouse a target without being clear about what it really means.”

He added:

“You can have any old target, but it will not work if you cannot come down to the terms for how you will get there.”—[

Official Report, Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee

, 23 October 2018; c 33.]

We need to be ambitious, challenging and resolute, and we need to adapt as the evidence and opportunities that are available change. Ultimately, though, the public must have confidence in the basis on which we set legislation.

I think that the more ambitious 75 per cent target for 2030 strikes the right balance for now in terms of ambition, urgency and achievability. Meeting it will not be easy. It will require greater effort and more resources and it will involve many difficult decisions. We will need to change our cars, retrofit our homes and industry and plant more trees than ever before, and we will still rely on technology that does not even exist yet, but it is the right thing to do.

It is right, too, that we are taking steps in the bill to better reflect the principle of equity and climate justice. As a developed nation, Scotland bears a larger responsibility for global warming, so it should be doing more in response. The Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, Mercy Corps, Tearfund and others are right to remind us that those in the global south, who have contributed the least to the creation of climate change but are already experiencing its worst impacts, have a right to expect us to step up to the plate.

As with the 2009 act, the process of scrutinising the bill has genuinely been a cross-party effort. I thank colleagues for their efforts and constructive engagement, as I thank the many external stakeholders and members of the public who have engaged so passionately and enthusiastically over recent months. I am pleased to have been able to help to strengthen the bill in areas such as international aviation, public procurement of low-emission vehicles and the use of district heating schemes. Others will point to their own successes, among which I warmly welcome the addition of a climate assembly. Overall, however, as in 2009, it has been a collective effort, and that is one of the bill’s strengths.

Of course, as with any piece of legislation, passing it is the easy part. Delivering on the commitments in the bill—and delivering them on time—will be enormously challenging. However, the clear and present threat that is posed by climate change here and internationally has been laid bare by the IPCC. The expectation of the public—Jessie Dodman and millions like her—could not be clearer. Scottish Liberal Democrats are determined to make sure that we rise to that challenge, and we look forward to supporting this historic bill at decision time.