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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 Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

There is no greater political cause than climate change, and there is nothing in which there is more urgent need for action. In that context, the bill is to be welcomed. It is vital that our action on tackling climate change be put on a legal footing, with clear and practical steps towards achievement of our goals.

We cannot ignore the tenor of the debate and the calls to go further, although I understand the Government’s caution. We all know how the political game works: the Government sets a target, the Opposition parties chase to demonstrate that it was not achieved, and the Government comes back with claims that it was. Things cannot be like that in this case, because it is not a normal target. It is much more important. That is why we must set targets that are based not on what we think we can achieve, but on what we must achieve to save the planet.

The science could not be clearer. Just today, more reports have been put before the UN that demonstrate what will happen and what has been happening: ocean temperatures have been continually rising since 1970 and there has been accelerated loss of polar ice and glaciers. The consequence will be rising oceans and the possibility of a catastrophic snowball effect with warming, thawing and the release of more greenhouse gases, which would lead to irrevocable climate change. That is why we need a challenging target, even if we do not know how to deal with it or measure up to it.

I will draw a parallel, because other political projects have presented such challenges. In 1962, John F Kennedy gave a groundbreaking speech setting out the seemingly impossible objective of landing human beings on the moon, but just seven years later, it was achieved. Ever since, politicians have butchered quotes from that speech to their own ends, and I will do exactly the same now. We choose to tackle climate change not because it is hard, but because it is essential. Net zero must be treated as our moon shot. We have a decade to reshape our economy and save our environment and planet. We must treat that with the same urgency, imperative and collective effort, because failure is not an option.

When I was thinking about and preparing for the debate, Greta Thunberg’s words rang in my ears. To the politicians assembled at the UN, she said:

“You all come to us young people for hope. How dare you?”

Although I understand that being cautious and pragmatic is how government must be done in normal times for normal issues, that cannot be how we approach climate change. We have to listen to people. We must not only strive for a 75 per cent reduction by 2030, or even for 80 per cent: we must also listen to the calls that we must achieve net zero emissions by 2030, and set ourselves the challenge of doing everything that we can towards that target.

That is the tenor that the remarks in the chamber this afternoon should have. Criticisms and observations should not be taken by the Government as rebukes. They are not political points. I regard them as collective criticisms and collective observations of our collective failure to do what is required to tackle climate change.

That is our imperative, and we must play our part. As the nation of coal and steel, and of the locomotives and ships that ushered in the first wave of globalisation on this planet, we have moral responsibility to do our bit to tackle the climate change that they set in motion. We must take the practical steps to ensure that investment is made, so that what we achieve in Scotland is an example to the rest of the world.