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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 Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

I declare an interest as a member of NFU Scotland and as a partner in a former farming business.

I am pleased to be closing for the Scottish Conservatives in the final stages of what I believe to be the most important bill that the Parliament will pass this session. I believe that, now that the bill has been strengthened through committee amendments at stage 2 and through today’s stage 3 amendments, the legislation will be the springboard that ensures that Scotland continues to lead the way on tackling climate change, now and in the future. It is also important that the bill recognises, and goes some way towards addressing, the pressures that the targets will place on individuals and businesses across Scotland.

Despite the narrative from some climate change activists, I can say, as a member of the ECCLR Committee, that we have been listening and continue to listen. We are listening to a broad spectrum of experts, organisations and intergenerational panels to understand the measures that we need to and are able to take.

The committee took almost 25 hours of evidence and spent 20 hours deliberating on its reports. All that was long before the Government declared a climate emergency. I can assure members that the committee has taken its responsibilities very seriously. On that note, I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the committee clerks, the Scottish Parliament information centre and my fellow committee members, past and present—in particular my colleague John Scott—for the commitment that they have shown in ensuring that the bill is fit for purpose. The bill will ensure that Government policies must now start to deliver.

The Committee on Climate Change outlined how Scotland can go faster and further in achieving net zero emissions. I support the principle that we need to go further and faster, for the good of both the economy and the global environment, so I fully understand the demands from many organisations, and indeed from some MSPs, to set interim targets of 80 per cent for 2030, but we must not ignore the importance of an evidence-based and realistic approach. That realistic approach favours an emissions reduction target that is 75 per cent lower than the baseline over the next decade. We cannot and should not set targets for emissions reductions that are not achievable, not sustainable and not believable. It is research and science that have shown us that there is indeed a climate emergency, and it must be research and science that lead us to the right policies to address that emergency.

Let me be clear: by setting a more ambitious interim target for 2030, we have not thrown our agriculture industry under a bus. Solutions to deliver the more ambitious 75 per cent target will be focused across a combination of all sectors, including industry and transport, each doing what it can.

As Stewart Stevenson touched on earlier, the impact of agriculture on the environment has been badly misrepresented. Most concerningly, much of that misrepresentation has emanated from our mainstream media sources, which have seriously misrepresented the IPCC report by naively and somewhat lazily applying its findings almost exclusively to the UK, rather than on a global basis, as was intended.

I can assure you that the best way for us, as a meat-eating nation, to address global climate change is not to introduce policies to put our livestock farmers out of business. It is important to be aware that Scotland is not self-sufficient in beef, so it is crucial that we do not displace meat production to countries with poor environmental credentials, but that we ensure that we eat meat that is always high-quality, grass-reared Scotch beef and lamb. Throughout the process, John Scott and I have continually reinforced that message, and I am delighted to see that, with amendments such as that on a nitrogen balance sheet, we now have the opportunity to recognise the hugely significant contribution that Scottish farmers make to tackling climate change right here, right now. With improved knowledge transfer and support, that contribution can be further improved in the future.

Over the years, the agriculture industry has faced many challenges, and I know that it will rise to this pressing challenge of climate change. My colleague Maurice Golden’s amendment calling for the creation of an agricultural modernisation fund will do exactly that for our farming sector, through knowledge transfer, the adoption of new technology and targeted support, which will allow farmers to enhance their underreported efforts in tackling climate change.

As an MSP with children in their 20s and also a four-month-old daughter, I have had future generations firmly in my thoughts as the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill has made its way through my committee and, ultimately, to the chamber where we will vote. This generation needs to get it right, and get it right right now for future generations.

The Scottish Conservatives and Unionists welcome the fact that the bill has been strengthened as it has progressed through the legislative process, and we are confident that it lays the foundations for a climate change plan that will support innovation, create jobs and use technology, as well as addressing the undeniable climate change emergency that we face.