In Scotland, we are already seeing the impact of the global climate crisis in warmer temperatures, more extreme weather events, rising sea levels and the subsequent impact on the health and prosperity of our society and economy. That will only increase if temperatures continue to rise. It is estimated that every degree of warming in Scotland will cost us 1 per cent of our gross domestic product—in effect, eliminating the prospect of growing our economy.
I will lay out the groundwork for the next five years of the Scottish Government’s approach to tackling the climate crisis, I will acknowledge what Scotland has achieved to date, and I will set out the significant opportunities in delivering a green recovery and a fairer, more sustainable future. I want to be absolutely clear on the challenges that the nation faces in achieving our goal and in the critical decisions that we must take together.
Scotland has taken a world-leading, distinctive and ambitious approach to tackling the twin crises of climate change and ecological decline by putting in place legislation, targets and governance for reducing emissions, building our climate resilience and protecting our environment—and, what is critical, doing so in a just and fair way. We recognise that climate change is not just an environmental and economic issue, but an opportunity to drive greater social justice. That is why a just transition to net zero is enshrined in law and why we have put people at the heart of our international climate action.
Scotland can be proud that we have already halved our greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. As the United Kingdom Climate Change Committee stated, Scotland
“has decarbonised more quickly than ... any G20 economy since 2008.”
We have already shifted almost 100 per cent of our electricity use to renewable sources, and our funding for energy efficiency has benefited more than 150,000 households since 2013. Drivers in Scotland benefit from 25 per cent more public charging points per person than there are in England and from double the public access that there is in Wales and Northern Ireland, thanks to the £45 million that we have invested to date in our electric vehicle infrastructure. Over the past two years, Scotland has created more than 22,000 hectares of new woodland, which is approximately 80 per cent of UK woodland creation. Our forestry industries are now supporting about 25,000 jobs and are generating £1 billion for our economy every year.
However, it is already clear that the second half of the journey to net zero will be far more challenging. We must achieve in the next 10 years what it has taken more than the past 30 years to achieve. This will be a decisive and defining decade for us all. Our climate change plan update puts Scotland on a pathway to meeting its world-leading targets over the next decade, bringing together nearly 150 policies to drive our delivery. It includes a bold and credible package of measures to reduce emissions, such as our commitment to reduce car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030 by encouraging more active travel and use of public transport. That is tied to the development of 20-minute neighbourhoods, which will allow people to access key services close to where they live.
Alongside reducing our emissions to net zero, we, as a nation, must build our resilience to the impacts of global climate change that have already been locked in. Our climate change adaptation programme sets out more than 170 policies and proposals on how we respond to the main climate risks for Scotland over the period to 2024. Our response to climate risks includes our ambitious 10-year programme for £250 million of investment in peatland restoration, which will deliver co-benefits for climate change, biodiversity, flood management and water quality. The funding has already helped to restore more than 25,000 hectares of degraded Scottish peatland—an area almost the size of Edinburgh.
The journey to net zero will transform every aspect of our lives, including how we live, how we work and how we travel. I want Scotland to seize the opportunity that becoming a net zero society presents. We want to grow our economy and enhance our natural environment so that we can improve health and wellbeing for all in our society. We need to ensure that we have a just transition and that, in responding to a changing climate, the journey is fair and creates a better future for everyone, regardless of where they live, what they do and who they are. By capitalising on Scotland’s strengths in energy, natural capital and innovation and on our skilled workforce, we can be at the forefront of growing global low-carbon markets in the future.
Opening applications for local authorities to develop the first green growth accelerator projects is one of the key steps that we are taking to unlock additional investment from emission-reducing infrastructure that supports our transition. Supported by £1 million this year, the green growth accelerator will speed up the delivery of low-carbon infrastructure projects across Scotland and will provide extra resources and technical support to local authorities to get projects off the ground more quickly. Once it is fully opened, the programme will unlock £200 million of public sector investment to drive our transition to net zero.
The inward investment plan, which was recently published by the Scottish Government, identified energy transition and the decarbonisation of transport as two areas of competitive strength here, in Scotland. The way that we heat our homes is a perfect example of that. We estimate that 24,000 jobs could be supported each year by the roll-out of zero-emission heating. Scotland must move quickly from new heat technologies being a niche concern to their rapid deployment, doubling installations year on year. I want to see green jobs and skills as part of a burgeoning clean heat sector, as well as greener and more efficient homes and workplaces across Scotland.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that Glasgow plans to deliver electric buses but that it has been suggested that those buses will use as much energy as would be required to heat 10,000 homes. Will the cabinet secretary outline the Scottish Government’s plans to develop a network that can deliver that level of energy resourcing?
That is a good point. I visited the Caledonian depot just last week for the launch of the installation of the bus charging points. Three parties have taken forward that programme: the Scottish Government, First Bus and Scottish Power Energy Networks. The programme will ensure that we capitalise on the capacity within the network so that we can support the transition to using electric vehicles. It is similar to the programme in south Lanarkshire and to the one that is run in the west Highlands with Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks, both of which capitalise on the capacity within the network. We must ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to support those programmes.
Regulation plays a key part in unlocking the transformation of domestic heating. Although we will maximise our efforts in devolved areas, we need the UK Government to take urgent decisions on the future of the gas network so that long-term planning and delivery can be unlocked. We also need a UK-wide approach to reforming our energy markets that puts consumers first and aligns with our shared objective of reaching net zero.
Although the Government and Parliament have a clear role to play in our just transition to net zero, any decisions about how the benefits and the costs are equally distributed must be taken here, in Scotland. It is imperative that we use all the levers that are available to us—including regulation—such as the UK emissions trading scheme and incentives such as those offered by the Scottish National Investment Bank and other business supports.
Our ambitions and the actions that we take as a Government will mean little if we do not bring people with us. The UK Climate Change Committee estimates that more than 60 per cent of the necessary changes will require at least some element of individual or societal change in behaviour. Many habits and behaviours are ingrained over long periods of time, so behavioural change and demand management, alongside technological solutions, will be required.
To meet our targets and harness the opportunities, we must ensure that decisions and changes benefit the many rather than the few. That will require collective leadership and cross-sector collaboration. We have seen how unplanned structural change in Scotland’s past left intergenerational scarring and caused deprivation. The opportunities that arose from recent rapid economic growth, globalisation and digitalisation have left many people behind. The costs and benefits of those shifts have been unequally distributed, often leading to the exacerbation of inequality.
The scale of the economic and social transformation that is necessitated by our transition to a net zero society requires us to tackle persistent inequalities such as child and fuel poverty. Delivering a just transition means maximising economic, environmental and societal opportunities while mitigating the risks that arise from vast system changes. We must address that.
My mission, and that of the Scottish Government, and my challenge to this Parliament is to deliver lasting action that will take us towards our net zero future. That is of paramount importance as we move towards COP26 and as we set ourselves the same levels of ambition and action as other global leaders do.
The mission was set out in our commitments for the Government’s first 100 days, alongside my appointment and that of Richard Lochhead as the Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work. The actions and commitments that I have set out here are just a small example of where the Scottish Government has lowered emissions and where it will continue to do that, support the creation of jobs and develop new skills while fostering a culture of innovation to lead us into a net zero future.
I look forward to working with colleagues across the Parliament to provide collective leadership and clear support for actions towards a greener future, delivered through a just transition to net zero emissions both here and internationally.
That the Parliament agrees that addressing the twin climate and biodiversity crises remains a critical priority; recognises that the Scottish Government will continue to deliver action to support a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring a just transition to net zero and a climate-resilient Scotland; agrees that this must be a shared and national endeavour by all sectors of the economy and society as a whole, and commits to working together, Scotland prepares to welcome the world to Glasgow for COP26 and beyond, to restore nature and become a net zero nation.
Few things are as urgent as tackling the climate emergency and preventing its disastrous consequences for people all over the world. The motion, which the Conservatives shall vote for, describes it as “a critical priority” and is correct to do so. Of course, both the UK and Scotland have among the most ambitious climate change targets, but it is way beyond time that we focused on delivery. I know that the cabinet secretary agrees with me on that.
Throughout the debate, my colleagues will cover specific areas of progress on the journey to net zero. Maurice Golden will talk about the long-awaited circular economy bill, Brian Whittle will talk of the role of the private sector in driving technological change, and Sharon Dowey, in her maiden speech, will look particularly at roads and associated emissions.
For my part, I wish to explore three principal areas. First, I was interested in the motion’s specific reference to the need to “restore nature”. That is laudable, but on that, too, we must start delivering. The cabinet secretary talked about biodiversity, but Scotland signed up in 2011 to the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets. When NatureScot recently assessed Scotland against the 20 targets, it concluded that insufficient progress had been made and that only nine of the targets had been met in full.
In our manifesto, we committed to introducing a nature bill to strengthen environmental protections on land, in rivers and at sea. Those protections would include new nature corridors that would allow species to move between habitats; a commitment to redevelop derelict sites in towns and cities into green spaces; piloting of new highly protected marine areas; and increasing new tree planting to 18,000 hectares a year by 2024. We are convinced that those ideas still hold true, so I hope that the cabinet secretary will meet me in short order to discuss bringing some, if not all, of those measures forward.
Secondly, we know from a Friends of the Earth Scotland briefing that transport is the largest sector that is creating climate change emissions. We also know that there was an increase in car use across Scotland before the pandemic—it was up 7.7 per cent for the five years to 2018-19. This week, Department for Transport figures suggest that British traffic is now nearly at pre-pandemic levels, while public transport use remains at around half to two thirds of its previous level. However, electric vehicles account for less than 6 per cent of the 3 million licensed vehicles on Scotland’s roads.
That is why I was pleased to see that central to the UK’s industrial decarbonisation plan for a £12 billion green industrial revolution is more green transport. We could be on the cusp of exponential growth in electric car use, but range anxiety, limited recharging networks and high purchase costs are holding it back. That is why I agree with the cabinet secretary about increases in infrastructure and why we must accelerate the programme by ChargePlace Scotland to install a charging network. That will be helped by Ofgem’s announcement of £48 million of funding to support 23 projects, including more electric vehicle charging points. In addition, Shell’s purchase of Ubitricity and BP’s purchase of Chargemaster will, among other outcomes, help to integrate EV charging in existing forecourts.
In light of the cabinet secretary’s comments on delivery, perhaps the Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform could set out in her closing speech her view on our manifesto promises to develop a new action plan to deliver a complete national charging infrastructure by 2025 and to subsidise the installation of charging points in homes and workplaces.
I will stay with transport. There is much to be done on rail. I was pleased to see that, although it accounts for only 1.1 per cent of emissions, ScotRail reckons that it is on track for net zero emissions by 2035. Part of that will be about electrification, but given that only 25 per cent of the network is currently electrified and that £33 million has been cut from this year’s rail infrastructure budget, electrification cannot be the whole solution. Part of the solution might be hydrogen trains. I am very pleased by the progress of the Scottish hydrogen train project at Bo’ness, and I hope to present soon a paper to the cabinet secretary on the possibilities of using hydrogen trains.
Those are all incremental changes in which innovation, entrepreneurialism and collaborative working between the public, private and academic sectors drive the changes that we need. Of course, nowhere is that more apparent than in the energy sector. No one—least of all the energy industry itself—denies that there is an issue. Extracting oil and gas from the UK continental shelf is directly responsible for about 3.5 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, but the industry’s response has been to set targets to cut emissions by 50 per cent by 2030.
By the end of 2020, 10 out of 15 oil and gas majors had announced net zero emissions pledges, backed by a 34 per cent increase in capital investment in the energy transition. The industry is working with the University of Aberdeen to set up the centre for energy transition. The industry is making changes to such an extent that a recent study by the Robert Gordon University concludes that, 10 years from now, most of the UK’s offshore energy jobs will be in the low-carbon energy industry. That is, of course, supported by the UK Government’s commitment to a 40GW offshore wind target, which is projected to help to unleash about £20 billion of private investment in renewable energy by 2030.
That is all evidence of the motion’s call for a commitment “to working together”, as is the UK Government’s transformative North Sea transition deal, which will invest up to £16 billion to reduce emissions and secure 40,000 jobs across the supply chain.
That is an important point. The more that agencies come forward and say, “Yes, we need to be talking net zero, and we need to be driving net zero”, the better. There is something in that. That was a reasonable intervention.
Earlier this week, Lorna Slater was right: I am worried about the Greens. Like workers, families and businesses across the north-east of Scotland, I am terrified of the consequences of the Greens and their knee-jerk cliff-edge intentions ever getting near the levers of power. Last year, workers heard Lorna Slater say that her ambition is to shut down the oil and gas sector in two to five years, despite the fact that the sector still provides 100,000 jobs and three-quarters of the UK’s energy needs, having met 70 per cent of demand last year.
Members will recall that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published in October 2018 a special report on achieving a global warming limit of 1.5°C. The report states that carbon capture utilisation and storage are important tools for emissions reductions and meeting the Paris agreement goals. SSE Thermal says that it could capture 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 annually. I know from his answer to my written question yesterday that the cabinet secretary agrees, because he said that it is “proven technology”. The Committee on Climate Change describes CCUS
“as a necessity not an option.”
What is the Green Party’s view? Page 16 of its 2021 manifesto says that the party opposes
“public investment in carbon capture and storage ... as it is unproven”.
Members may have heard of OGTC Ltd, which opened in 2017 with £180 million of support from the UK and Scottish Governments. Its mission is
“to accelerate the oil and gas industry to a net-zero future, developing and deploying technology to make the energy transition affordable ... decarbonising of hydrocarbon production, unlock investment in carbon capture and storage, develop a low-carbon hydrogen economy and secure sustainable high-skilled jobs.”
That is great stuff. What is the Green Party’s view? Page 17 of its manifesto specifically singles out by name OGTC to demand that we do not support it.
I am in my last minute, Mr Ruskell.
The Green Party’s policy of absolute zero emissions is neither realistic nor practical, and nor is it in line with either the UK or Scottish Governments’ policies. The Greens’ policy would put the economy of Scotland—especially that of the north-east—and our genuine net zero ambitions at risk.
There are several ways to approach the extraordinary challenges that we face. Ironically, some MSPs prefer the slash-and-burn approach based on dogma and ideology, which is a sure-fire route to economic and social chaos.
However, there is an ambitious forward-thinking and collaborative approach in which the public, private and academic sectors work together to address the greatest challenge that we face, and in which they support and lead innovation and technology in Scotland to create a new net zero economy, not destroy the existing one. If the cabinet secretary wants to take that option, he will find a willing partner in the Scottish Conservatives. We will support the motion today.
I move amendment S6M-00278.2, to insert at end:
“; recognises the importance of Scotland’s energy sector in delivering the transition; welcomes the UK Government’s North Sea Transition Deal, and calls on the Scottish Government to work collaboratively and constructively with the sector to support businesses through the transition.”
Climate change and nature loss are undeniably the greatest global threats that we face, so we welcome the debate, which is my first as Scottish Labour’s net zero, energy and transport spokesperson. Labour members will miss the passion for, knowledge of and dedication to the environmental movement that Claudia Beamish brought to her parliamentary work. Claudia’s leaving is a loss to the chamber, although we know that her commitment to tackling the climate and nature crises will continue.
I am grateful to Sarah Boyack for her leadership on those vital issues, and I am pleased that we will hear from her later in the debate. I also looking forward to hearing from my new colleague Mercedes Villalba, who will be making her first speech in Parliament. Of course, I wish all new members the very best.
Scottish Labour will support the motion at decision time. We fully share the concerns about, and ambitions to address, the climate and biodiversity crises, and we strongly agree that we need a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Although our words and votes in the chamber matter, our actions outside the chamber matter more. We need to act fast, and we cannot afford any more missed opportunities. In a few months, the eyes of the world will fall on Scotland when we welcome the COP26 conference to Glasgow. That will be a crucial milestone, as it commences the decade in which the Paris agreement measures take effect and in which significant emissions cuts are required in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
Scottish Labour would like the Scottish Government to lead by example and will support every endeavour towards that. We agree with the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund. It has made really important points to think about ahead of COP26, including that we must confront deep carbon inequality, because those who have done least to cause the climate crisis are suffering most. With the right action, Glasgow and Scotland can help to put the world on the road to a recovery that is green, just and fair.
That takes me to our amendment. We need action, which is why our amendment refers to the need to prioritise a circular economy bill. As colleagues will know, Friends of the Earth Scotland has said that
“a circular economy would save Scotland 11 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050—a quarter of our current total.”
The bill must include targets to reduce material footprints and carbon footprints, including emissions that are embedded in imported goods and services.
It will not surprise the cabinet secretary to hear me raise the issue of incinerators, because we had a discussion about them earlier today in the chamber. Building new incinerators will lock us into years of wasting resources by burning them instead of reducing, reusing and recycling. In a members’ business debate in the previous session of Parliament, I urged the Government not to turn us into an ash-heap nation. However, worryingly, large-scale incinerators continue to be proposed in my region and across Scotland. In Central Scotland, the Dovesdale Action Group has campaigned tirelessly on the issue. Although the commitment to review the role of incineration in the waste hierarchy is welcome, without a moratorium on building new incinerators, it will simply be too late.
I agree—that figure is horrifying. Although we can all do more to tackle our throwaway culture, we also need big system change, which is why regulation is important. I confess that I might have lobbied Maurice Golden to set up a cross-party group on the circular economy, and now the whole Parliament knows about that. Anyone who wants to volunteer to provide the secretariat should get in touch with me or Maurice Golden.
On the throwaway culture, we need faster action, including on fast fashion. I want to name-check a business called Bag the Dress in my area of North Lanarkshire, which specialises in selling pre-loved occasion wear, including bridal dresses and so on. That is really interesting, but we all need to do more—not just to encourage lifestyle changes, but to get the big system change that Maurice Golden talked about. With COP26 just around the corner, Scotland can lead the way in tackling the pollution and waste that are created by the fashion and textiles industry. We all want to see progress being made on a bill that enables us to do that.
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of the Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland. One of the guest speakers was the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, Professor David Boyd. He was really interesting, but the real stars of the event were the young people from the Children’s Parliament. Looking back, we can see that tackling climate crisis has been a key issue for the Children’s Parliament since its inception 25 years ago. Its work has included its ecocity project and, more recently, its investigation for the Climate Assembly UK. Some of its ideas are brilliant and would be so simple to implement—for example, the idea of a national tree planting day, which is, as the oak champion in the previous session of Parliament, close to my heart, and its proposal to ban use of plastic packaging and single-use plastics.
I have also met young campaigners from Teach the Future who are fighting for climate justice. Their research and passion have convinced me that we need to embed climate justice in the heart of the curriculum. That is why in our amendment we ask the Government and the Parliament to agree to that. Although I recognise that the Government has made progress, we need to do more to embed climate education in our classrooms. That is a cause that should unite us all.
Beyond embedding climate justice in education for our young people, we must embed climate solutions in people’s everyday lives and take a joined-up approach across Government, business and all of society. We need greater investment in public transport and active travel to reduce emissions, and we cannot allow rhetoric to triumph over reality. In my area, the loss of the X1 bus service—which was a crucial link between Hamilton and Glasgow—has been devastating, so I would welcome a meeting with the Minister for Transport on that, if he can find the time.
More broadly, the Scottish Trades Union Congress is right when it talks about the need for a people’s recovery and investment in a green new deal. We need serious investment in infrastructure and renewable technology—
There will be lots that we agree on today, so I hope that Parliament will support our amendment.
I move amendment S6M-00278.1, to insert at end:
“; agrees that progressing a Circular Economy Bill must be an urgent priority; commends children and young people in Scotland who have raised awareness about these twin crises and campaigned positively for the shift to net zero, and supports their calls for the embedment of climate justice education throughout the curriculum as part of learners’ entitlement to Learning for Sustainability.”
Like so many people across Scotland and around the world, I have been deeply inspired and moved by the school climate strikes, and I feel ashamed—in particular, as a father—of the burden on future generations that we are set to leave.
However, at the same time, I am really hopeful and positive that a greener, fairer future is possible, and I think that we have all the tools in the box to tackle the climate and nature emergencies. We just need the political will to break from business as usual and drive that transformational change.
It is fair to say that, so far, we have enjoyed a fairly leisurely pace of change. An early retiral of coal-fired power stations, a first wave of onshore wind development and the recycling of household waste have all helped to halve emissions over the past 30 years, but halving them again in the next nine years demands an absolute step change. Tokenism just will not deliver. Deep system change will be needed to tackle climate change.
I think that that will be a real test for the Parliament, our committees and the political culture that we create here. It will mean making hard decisions that will not please everyone in the short term. It will be a case of seeing those decisions through and making the transition work so that no one is left behind, and it will mean sharing thinking and ownership of the solutions and taking some political risks. That is a challenge for everyone and every party in the Parliament, including the Greens.
If we look at the climate change plan, which is our only real route map to net zero in this Parliament, we can see that there are major challenges in there. For example, we all know that the 20 per cent reduction in vehicle mileage target is attempting to reverse a trend of traffic growth that has been relentless for the best part of 70 years.
Like many in the chamber, I grew up with access to a family car and I benefited from that, as have my children. However, our overdependence on the private car is not only killing the planet but ruining our health and wellbeing and dominating the public space that is needed for economic regeneration in our towns, while excluding many people because of their age, disability or income.
I am pushed for time as I have only four minutes for my opening speech. I will come back to Mr Kerr later.
Such a target will not be met without transformative change and investment. If we want our towns to move and feel like Copenhagen, we will have to act now and make non-essential car use a harder choice than public transport, walking, cycling or wheeling. Likewise, if we want communities to be reconnected to the rail network and to get freight off the roads and on to rail, it will mean diverting a big chunk of trunk road capital spending into that priority.
We will at times disagree on more challenging ideas such as workplace parking levies, but if parties in this Parliament reject the solutions, the responsibility will be on them to put forward better solutions, rather than backing a status quo that is now completely untenable.
The Green amendment mentions the 166 improvements to the climate change plan that four committees in the previous session of Parliament called for just a couple of months ago. That was a remarkable level of cross-party consensus at a time when we need ideas and action like never before. It is the responsibility of the new Administration to respond meaningfully to that will of Parliament and bring forward a revised climate change plan as early as possible in the current session.
Time is not running out; it has already run out. We need urgency, drive, innovation and a can-do attitude from all of us, and that has to start today.
I move amendment S6M-00278.3, to insert at end:
“; notes the 166 recommendations made by four parliament committees to improve the Climate Change Plan, including necessary changes to land use, transport, energy and housing policy; recognises the need for urgent and transformational change in these sectors to deliver on Scotland’s climate commitments, and calls on the Scottish Government to bring forward a revised Climate Change Plan early in the current parliamentary session, demonstrating a credible pathway to achieving the 2030 target.”
I am grateful for the chance to speak in what I hope will be a genuinely constructive debate.
As the Government’s motion sets out, tackling the climate emergency must be a shared and national endeavour, and that is why the Scottish Liberal Democrats are proud of the part that we have played in working with others to force the pace of change so far. Our 2030 target for a 75 per cent reduction in emissions, which the Scottish Liberal Democrats supported and worked hard with others to secure, is one of the most determined in the world, and experts recognise that it pushes us to the very brink of what is possible. Chris Stark, the chief executive of the UK Climate Change Committee, described it recently as “very, very stretching”.
Now, the work of making that target a reality really needs to bite, because more warm words will just make for an even warmer planet. The measure of our commitment will be ascertained not in the ambition of the targets that we set, but in the rate and reach of their achievement. My amendment speaks to the specific challenges that are presented by the transport sector, and that is what I intend to spend much of my time discussing.
We will not have a chance of meeting our climate change targets unless options for transport are truly, rapidly and radically decarbonised. The First Minister said that she recognised that in her reshuffle and arranged the portfolios accordingly. I welcome that. In 2015, transport became Scotland’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. It accounts for more than a third of our emissions. Progress has been made in other sectors, but transport has not budged. If that does not change, we will be in trouble, so that has to be one of the main missions in the current session of Parliament.
Car travel has been on the increase since the end of world war two. In 2019, 48.7 billion vehicle kilometres were travelled by road—up 10 per cent in a decade. The pandemic means that people are—understandably—nervous about getting back into the groove of using public transport, and surveys have shown that people are even more inclined to favour their cars above other forms of travel. Getting people out of their cars is one of our biggest challenges. Let us not shy away from the issue of active travel. We have, so far, failed to make Scotland a cycling nation.
My critics will point to the fact that I helped to lead a campaign that forced the City of Edinburgh Council to shelve plans for a low-traffic neighbourhood in my constituency. That is entirely true, but I opposed that scheme not because I oppose active travel—I do not; far from it—but because, had the city council bothered to ask my community, it would have discovered that it was proposing to close routes into what was largely a low-traffic area to begin with. In doing that, it would actually have compounded congestion and pollution on arterial routes.
I passionately support the principles of LTNs. I like what they have achieved in Waltham Forest, but I particularly like the five public consultations and the co-production that went into their creation there. None of that took place in my constituency, which was a great shame. As the council knows, its approach in seeking to strong-arm my constituents into permanent lifestyle change has set back the active travel agenda in our city. That is typical of the disconnect between political aspiration and delivery on the ground.
The 10 per cent target for 2020 completely failed to materialise, and last September’s statistics show that the share of car journeys that are instead being taken by bike has fallen to 1.2 per cent. Put simply, cycling needs to be made as easy as possible. Lockdown showed that when people feel that cycling is a safe option they are eager to take it up. With quieter roads, whole families were taking the opportunity to get out and get active in a safe and sustainable way. The streets of Amsterdam are not filled with bikes by accident. The Government there gave people the infrastructure and support that they needed so that both young and old could feel safe, secure and comfortable enough to get on their bikes.
There are many things that we could do in Scotland to help people to feel exactly like that. We could use planning processes to make sure that roads have space to keep everyone safe, and we could make funding available for facilities such as showers and changing rooms in workplaces. We could also get cycling proficiency training in schools back on track. At the moment, its availability is plummeting, which makes no sense at all.
Electrification must be the way forward for journeys for which active travel is not an option. Again, confidence will be key. Half of those asked say that they would consider buying an electric vehicle if they felt that the charging network was there to support them. We want to help people along the way by switching police cars and vehicles that are used by councils and the rest of the public sector to electric. That would help to motivate the roll-out of the charging network and build people’s confidence so that they can make that switch.
My amendment signs off with a challenge. Heathrow airport is already the single biggest producer of emissions in the UK. A third runway would go directly against all our green ambitions—the flights that would come to Scotland as a result would release 600,000 tonnes of emissions into our environment. Despite that, the Scottish National Party has a contract to support the building of that third runway. That flies in the face of the climate emergency and everything that we are trying to achieve. [
] I am afraid that I am in my final minute.
When the First Minister stood in Parliament and declared a climate emergency, we were told that difficult decisions would have to be made and everything would be under review—everything, it seems, except for that contract. That cannot be allowed to stand. Therefore, I urge all colleagues in the chamber to support my amendment.
I move amendment S6M-00278.4, to insert at end:
“; recognises that rapidly reducing emissions in the transport sector will be critical to Scotland meeting its 2030 and 2045 targets; considers that achieving sustainability will require the acceleration of work, including the opening of new railway lines and stations, establishing a network of well-maintained rapid chargers for electric vehicles and additional support to rapidly increase active travel, and believes that, as an indication of its commitment to sustainability, the Scottish Government should immediately withdraw from its written agreement with Heathrow Airport to support the building of a third runway, which is incompatible with the climate emergency.”
I welcome the cabinet secretary to his new role.
Climate emergency issues need to run through every portfolio as a central backbone. I agree that a green recovery must embed the just transition and that the just transition commission needs to be central to our work.
The biodiversity crisis also needs to be addressed alongside the climate emergency, and I pay tribute to Roseanna Cunningham for her work on the Edinburgh declaration. I also pay tribute to her and to Stewart Stevenson for their leadership on climate change. We all need to challenge ourselves constantly on what more we can do and how much faster we can go to make an impact.
It is 14 years since I made a speech in the chamber as a back bencher, and I want to reflect on my Linlithgow constituency, but I also want to reflect on some global and national issues. We need shared ambition, constructive accountability and an attitude that we are all leaders in this mission.
At the international level, global political leadership can no longer put off, abrogate or dilute action or responsibility. Cultural climate diplomacy matters, and the virtual miles travelled by the UK Government, as hosts of COP26, need to deliver now if the November summit, which is only months away, is to be effective.
The US’s increasing ownership of the global role may be a welcome reflection of its new President, but I hope that it is not about filling a vacuum. Although Scotland must use COP26 as a showcase to demonstrate our capabilities, at the end of day it has to be about binding decisions made by state Governments to produce action.
At the national level, this Parliament set out our ambitions on carbon reduction—and it did so collectively. Scotland’s targets might be extremely challenging, but all parties support them, so we bear collective responsibility. I warn that difficult decisions will have to be made if we are to deliver on the targets. Knee-jerk opposition and the cherry-picking of decisions that members do not like must and will be called out.
We can come together to support the Scottish Government’s proposed circular economy bill and the billion-pound national infrastructure plan to catalyse emission reductions. We can come together to support the green growth accelerator, which was announced today.
All our public bodies must contribute. The Scottish National Investment Bank is capitalised with £2 billion of investment and has a net zero core mission. Historic Environment Scotland is a world initiator, driving change—along with California—in relation to the science, technology and skills that are needed in the heritage sector, and founding the global Climate Heritage Network.
I turn to the community and constituency level. Pre-pandemic, many of my constituents commuted by car to Edinburgh and Glasgow. With hybrid working, 25-minute neighbourhoods, cycle park and ride and the planned new Winchburgh rail station, we can deliver a step change in commuter emissions.
The community in Linlithgow has driven practical change by selling community bonds in two phases. Funded by local people, the bonds allow ethical investment to enable local sports clubs, organisations and businesses to deliver community energy, including solar panels, and they provide better interest than banks provide. The initiative invests in local community energy, helps clubs to save money and has created a surplus—and it is scalable.
The Linlithgow Community Development Trust is making sure that it builds on the work that community groups and churches have done throughout the pandemic and on the many successful initiatives on transition and climate action. I support the trust’s view that communities need to be empowered and funded directly to run local energy schemes, if systemic change is to happen.
We are talking about a whole-town approach: the aim is for Linlithgow to be the first net zero town in Scotland. I ask Màiri McAllan, who will make the closing speech in the debate, to consider accepting an invitation to visit Linlithgow to hear about developments in the town and plans for the future.
Many of my constituents work at Mitsubishi, which employs more than 1,000 people and produces commercial heat pumps. Use of such technology in housing retrofits will develop skills and grow jobs.
Digital, innovation and technology are key. I am a keen supporter of hydrogen: we need not only to research and pilot projects but to implement and deliver them, following up on positive interest from Germany and elsewhere.
On industry, we cannot and must not offshore trading emissions. A careful industrial balance to prevent that will be key.
Renewable energy transmission costs in Scotland are punitive and prohibitive and must change.
We need sectoral approaches. Food and drink and tourism, for example, are already delivering on serious plans. Culture has much to offer, too.
On construction, the greenest building is one that is already built, when we consider the energy that is involved in aggregates extraction and transportation. The UK Government could take the simple and rapid measure of introducing a VAT reduction for construction work on existing buildings, to match the position for new buildings. I am pleased that the built environment is prioritised in the Scottish Government’s draft heat in buildings strategy. The issue, along with energy, must be considered in the context of the green skills academy.
On finance, our business minister yesterday welcomed—virtually—3,000 delegates from more than 100 countries to the global Ethical Finance summit, which is a staging post on the way to COP26.
With shared ambition, shared responsibility and constructive accountability when it comes to supporting and driving change, and with the attitude that we are all leaders in this place, we can serve constituency, community and country, and we might—might—have a fighting chance of helping to save humanity from itself and making an impact internationally.
I thank each and every person who voted for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party in the south of Scotland, and I thank everyone who helped me in my campaign.
I also pay tribute to John Scott, who served in this place for 21 years. He has helped thousands of constituents and made a huge difference in his community. I thank him personally for all his encouragement, wish him well, and hope that he can now enjoy a well-earned rest and spend more time with his wife, Sheila, and their family. [
I am not a career politician—I am a lassie from Maybole. I have worked since I was 14, and for the past 35 years in retail. I entered politics because I want to make a difference.
I have the honour and privilege of being able to represent the area where I was born and grew up—Carrick, Cumnock and Doon valley—and the area that is now my home, Ayr. I feel lucky to live in one of the most beautiful and diverse parts of Scotland. Other members might have said that of their areas, but I intend to use my time here to change their mind.
I was born in Girvan, which is now famous for its palace—the gin palace, that is, at Grant’s distillery, the home of Hendrick’s gin and Grant’s whisky, among others. For those wanting a taste of Ayrshire, we can offer more than gin, however. The south-west of Scotland has the potential to be a premier tourist destination within the UK, because of Robert Burns, Culzean castle, Dumfries house, Heads of Ayr farm park, Craig Tara, a dark skies park and observatory and superb golf courses, including Turnberry—which is even more famous than its celebrity owner. That is not forgetting that it includes the main route to the port of Cairnryan, the link to Ireland. We boast nationally and internationally renowned businesses: Nestlé, McCulloch Rail in Ballantrae, Begg’s in Ayr, Emergency One, EGGER and the many aerospace companies at Prestwick airport. We have colleges and a university, an airport and a talented local workforce.
Yet, with all that in our favour, we are being left behind by a lack of investment in our forgotten corner of Scotland. Some 27 per cent of children in Ayrshire live in poverty, compared with 23 per cent in Scotland as a whole. The unemployment rate for 18 to 24-year-olds is 12.8 per cent, compared with 8.3 per cent nationally. Last week, as I listened to speeches from other members, I was encouraged to hear Kate Forbes say:
“We know that, to achieve a successful recovery, we must ensure that no one is left behind.”—[
, 2 June 2021; c 19.]
Well, it is time for the Scottish Government to put its money where its mouth is. Ayrshire is being left behind and I challenge the Scottish Government to change that.
The Ayrshire growth deal—a collaboration between the UK Government, the Scottish Government and the three Ayrshire councils—will bring a much-needed boost, but investment barely goes further south than Prestwick airport. To encourage investment and growth further south, we badly need investment in our infrastructure. Dualling of the A77 is a priority, but currently there is no plan for where it would be routed, let alone how it would be funded. The A70 is also badly in need of an upgrade, as it deals with traffic en route to the port of Cairnryan. South Ayrshire would be in prime position for a free port if we were not being let down so badly by the poor quality of local roads. On top of all that, countless people have been affected by the unnecessary crashes that regularly occur on those two roads, and emissions continue to blight town centres such as the one in Girvan.
That brings to mind comments that Fergus Ewing made last week. He noted that
“one key element of a vibrant economy is good, safe and reliable transport links”.
He went on to say:
“it may not be widely known, but the risk of serious head-on collisions is far greater on non-dualled roads because there is no crash barrier” and
“we are not anti-roads; we are anti-emissions.”
That was echoed by the Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise, Ivan McKee, who said:
“I will ensure that my colleague the Minister for Transport takes on board his point about the dualling of transport links”.—[
, 2 June 2021; c 34, 65.]
Of course, I am delighted that we have achieved cross-party consensus so soon, and I look forward to sitting down with the Scottish Government at the nearest opportunity to discuss its plans to upgrade South Ayrshire’s roads.
In this debate about addressing the climate emergency, I cannot finish without mentioning the environmental ticking time bomb that is Tarbolton Moss landfill site. The landfill was closed three years ago and, since then, has reportedly been seeping pollution and gases into the environment. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Scottish Government are well aware of the situation, yet we are still waiting for action to be taken. Given the recent report on the quality of bathing water at Ayr beach, questions need to be raised as to whether the two issues are connected. In a new study of the UK beaches with the dirtiest water, seven of the top 10 were in Scotland, and three of them were in South Ayrshire. That is simply not good enough. We have a right to know the truth, and the statements and answers that we hear should reflect that.
To conclude, I have three asks of the Government: stop hiding and delaying reports to members and start to use the knowledge and expertise in this place to fix them; stop talking about what you are going to do and start delivering; and stop the division and start rebuilding.
We all know what the targets are, and now we need the action and system change to deliver on them. There is a lot in the motion to cover, but I want to concentrate on one element of it: just transition.
I have spoken about the issue many times, as it is affecting my constituents right now. A just transition is essential for people who work in high-carbon industries. In Aberdeenshire’s case, that is those who work directly in oil and gas as well as the people who rely on the supply chain for their living. The economic health of the communities in which those workers live will also be adversely impacted if this is not done right.
In the past couple of years, I have lost count of the number of friends and neighbours who are trying—unsuccessfully—to exit the oil and gas sector with a view to working in the renewable energy sector in particular. We are talking about highly skilled and experienced people. One of my friends was a project manager in the drilling sector, and he could not even secure a job as a delivery driver once he lost his job. Out of sheer necessity, he has now gone to work in the middle east without his family.
Off the back of hearing that anecdotal evidence of difficulty, when I was re-elected I launched a survey for oil and gas workers so that I could get on the record their experiences of transitioning. I have had an incredible response, and the survey will remain open during the summer to give people the time to complete it.
As many members will know—because I have mentioned it a few times—my parents moved from Clydebank to Aberdeenshire in the 1970s because there was no just transition for those who had been working in heavy engineering. It is fair to say that my parents were the lucky ones. Moving gave my dad a new career in oil and gas, and gave my family a secure future. However, many of his friends in Clydebank never worked again, with some of them even moving to Canada to avoid unemployment.
We cannot have a repeat of what happened to Scottish mining, steel and shipbuilding communities in the 1980s, but it is not enough just to say so. We need to find out what the issues are and how to work with the sector to address them as quickly as possible.
The funding that my colleague Fiona Hyslop delivered for the north-east last year was hugely welcome, as was the young persons guarantee and green jobs fund. However, there are other structural and regulatory difficulties that need to be looked at, although they are not all directly in the hands of the Scottish Government.
I am grateful to the member for taking an intervention, and I must say that I am enjoying her comments today.
Eleven years ago, the SNP predicted that there would be 28,000 jobs in offshore wind by 2020, but there are only 1,400 today. Can the member detail any action that is being taken to reassure the workforce that she is, rightly, talking about?
I am glad that Liam Kerr mentioned that. One of the reasons why there is not the number of jobs that we predicted is that there is a regulatory issue. The number of jobs in renewables comes up time and time again, and Liam Kerr has led me beautifully on to that part of my speech.
Last week, I submitted a topical question on one of those blockers to fulfilling our potential in renewables. The question was not chosen, so I will refer to it now; the minister might want to pick up on it during her closing remarks. A report by RenewableUK highlights that the transmission charges for Scotland’s electricity are dramatically higher than others in the UK market, specifically that in the south of England. Power generators that are located in the north of Scotland pay 16 times more for using the transmission system than many EU countries that export electricity into our grid. Might our home-grown renewables sector potential be limited because of those unfair charges? What potential for jobs are we losing out on?
As I said in my intervention in Liam Kerr’s speech, Ofgem has recently indicated that it is considering a full review of locational charging within the significant code review. However, Ofgem is not currently required to regulate for the delivery of net zero and therefore has no legal basis for making changes to the charging regime to reflect that policy objective and make electricity from renewables more competitive. I think that the majority of people in Scotland would like to have their electricity come from renewables. I would like the minister to outline what representations are being made to the UK Government and Ofgem on those points.
I am going to use the rest of my time to deliver direct quotes from some of the respondents to my survey, as a bit of a teaser for when we put them into a report. They pinpoint other things that need addressing as we put the just transition and the green jobs plan into place. A female chemical engineer with 10 years’ experience in oil and gas said:
“There should be an accessible framework that allows people to clearly see where their core skills can be transferred into existing roles within the renewable sector. Tangible pathways to identify a route and role destination in the renewable sector” are essential.
A male oil and gas worker with 21 years’ experience said:
“I have been made redundant and cannot find full-time work. The cost of Global Wind Organisation certificates can be prohibitive.”
A male oil and gas worker with more than 30 years’ experience said:
A female engineer with more than 20 years’ experience said:
“Is there professional training that could be offered part time, in the evenings, that” oil and gas
“professionals like me could undertake whilst still in employment? This would encourage my active transition, instead of waiting until I am made redundant or have no choice.”
I look forward to formalising more of the testimony that those people have provided me with in a report in late summer, which I will send to the cabinet secretary and industry bodies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer, and congratulations on your role.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in today’s debate on the climate emergency, because it is an issue that I care deeply about and one that is especially relevant to people in the north-east. North East Scotland is, of course, the region that I was elected to represent by people who entrusted Scottish Labour with their vote.
I stood for Scottish Labour because Labour in Parliament is the political wing of the wider labour movement. That is important, because workers in my region and in the rest of Scotland need parliamentarians who will be on their side, who will fight for them and who will fight for the planet. I make the link between people and planet because tackling the climate emergency and improving workers’ rights go hand in hand, because climate justice is inextricably linked to economic and social justice.
There are two fundamental challenges facing us: the class inequality that still blights our society and smothers the potential of millions and the climate emergency that threatens life on earth. For too many, work is defined by low pay, zero-hours contracts and unsafe conditions—all in order to maximise profits for those who already have more than enough. At the same time, those at the top are fuelling climate catastrophe by destroying habitats, polluting our air and poisoning our oceans.
The root cause of insecure, low-paying work and disasters such as the pandemic is our economy. The capitalist system has consistently prioritised short-term profit over long-term sustainability and quality of life. Why are people homeless while properties lie empty? Because it makes someone money. Why are people forced to choose between heating and eating, even though we have ample food and limitless potential for renewable energy? Because it makes someone money. Why are people in poorer countries priced out of life-saving vaccines? Because it makes someone money and because, for too long, Governments have been in thrall to the idea that privatisation leads to better services.
Climate change, public health and unemployment are all intrinsically linked by our economic system, and that has done great damage to our society and our planet. The great opportunity that we have is that we can tackle both by implementing a socialist green new deal with democratic public ownership at its heart. Energy, water, transport, mail, and telecommunications are natural monopolies that should serve the people, not profit. More than that, they are also our tools in the work of building a healthy society and planet.
We will need to retrofit our homes to reduce carbon emissions and end fuel poverty. That means job creation. We will need electrified and expanded public transport to boost our city centres, connect communities, and reduce car use and pollution. That means job creation. We will also need to green our public spaces, creating active travel routes, biodiverse, green corridors, and accessible parks. That means job creation—but not just any jobs. We must strengthen trade unions and promote worker ownership so that, when we create those jobs, we build an economy that is resilient and fair for all.
We can do that by ensuring a just transition from carbon-intensive sectors through a streamlined retraining programme and the guarantee of unionised pay, as well as by using public procurement to promote decarbonisation, restore the environment and guarantee fair work both at home and further afield through international supply chains.
Our green new deal must be global. Unless we cancel debt and freely share technology and resources, we condemn those who are least responsible for climate change to bearing the brunt of its effects. If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that we are all connected. A pandemic that began thousands of miles away has wreaked havoc on society right here. The choices that we make in Scotland on our environment and our economy are equally momentous.
We must choose a sustainable and fair economy, we must choose to empower workers and we must choose to create a society that values people and planet over profit. We must do so because, in the end, there really is no other choice.
As I am keen on co-operative and consensus-building politics, I was very pleased to read a copy of the cross-party committee recommendations on tackling the climate emergency that were produced during the previous session of Parliament. Those are the 166 recommendations that are mentioned in Mark Ruskell’s amendment. They represent 166 actions that this Parliament has already agreed are necessary to tackle the climate crisis, and they can be the basis for a credible pathway to meeting the ambitious targets that have been set by this Parliament.
Targets are all very well, but now let us have action. A report from the International Energy Agency last month said that, for the rise in global temperatures to stay within 1.5°C, there must be no new investment in fossil fuel projects. However, the UK Tory Government has refused to rule out new licences for exploration and production of oil and gas in the North Sea. According to a survey that came out yesterday, barely one in four people—only 27 per cent—support that. Most people in the UK—63 per cent—want the UK Government to switch billions of pounds of public money away from North Sea oil and gas towards funding low-carbon industries instead.
As I mentioned last week, I am deeply sceptical of the UK’s North Sea transition deal, because its entire premise is that the UK Government intends to give yet more money to oil and gas companies to allow them to extract and burn yet more fossil fuels, in the hope that they can invent and implement new carbon capture technologies quickly enough to still meet our climate targets. They cannot. It is not possible. That is a fantasy. Carbon capture is needed to absorb out of the atmosphere the carbon that is already in it. It is not a free pass to keep burning the stuff; it is needed to keep us from reaching 3.5°C of global warming.
Liam Kerr will be delighted that the entire manifesto was written by and adopted by the party, and is not up to me to say, so we will be going with what is in the manifesto.
According to the survey, almost two thirds of Scots support the creation of a concrete plan to wind down the existing extraction of oil and gas in the North Sea and other waters around the UK. The approach of winding down the industry therefore has wide public support. I am more than happy to talk about a specific timeline that would make Liam Kerr happy.
Fortunately, within the 166 cross-party recommendations from the previous session of Parliament, I see plenty of good news on jobs, which I know is an issue of concern to the Scottish Conservatives, particularly when it comes to the North Sea. The recommendations include the proactive consideration of future workforce needs, support to get people into green jobs and the collection of better data to monitor trends in jobs to ensure that the support goes where it is needed. There will be a lot of jobs to be had in forestry and peatland restoration if we invest in those things. I see that there is cross-party support for funding for retraining and job guarantees for young people—of course, we would like to see a jobs guarantee for oil and gas workers, too—and I see lots of support for the growing rural talent initiative for rural jobs. I also see recommendations for investing in the green jobs fund and more.
Those are things that we have already agreed on. That is a great start. Let us do the work to join up those practical recommendations to create the jobs that we need to recover from the pandemic and allow a planned phase-out of oil and gas extraction.
Worldwide, we are in the midst of a climate and biodiversity emergency. It is the actions of leaders across the world that will determine the future of our world for future generations.
We know that the science is real. Climate change is real and human activities are the main cause of it. Scientifically, we are now firmly in the Anthropocene, a period of unstable global warming in which global temperature has risen by 1.1°C in the past 100 years. That temperature increase has caused immense damage, but it is not too late to act.
I grew up watching Sir David Attenborough and have witnessed his shift to being more protectionist with regard to our environment and biodiversity. At the age of 95, Sir David stated that he cannot just stand by, and I agree with him. In his latest television show, he said:
“We are at a unique stage in our history. Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet, and never before have we had the power to do something about that ... The future of humanity and indeed, all life on earth, now depends on us.”
Those are powerful words, which we must all heed.
What we have learned during the pandemic is that society is able to come together to take radical action for the common good and, as we head into recovery from Covid-19, we must keep that spirit alive to build a sustainable recovery.
In Scotland, we are already delivering to address the climate and the biodiversity emergencies. In government, the SNP has made Scotland the first country in the world to declare a climate emergency and has since passed legislation for the world’s most ambitious emissions reduction targets, which aim to bring us to net zero emissions by 2045. We have already halved our greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 and we are world renowned for having underpinned our net zero targets with a legislative commitment to a just transition, ensuring that no one is left behind. We have committed to a green recovery from Covid-19 and have announced a £62 million investment in an energy transition fund. Further, we have been active on the world stage, leading the Edinburgh process on biodiversity and publishing the Edinburgh declaration, which calls for increased action to tackle biodiversity loss.
Scotland is playing its part, but we must have an international approach as well as a local approach that takes our communities and citizens with us on this vital journey.
Scotland is leading the way in the UK on tree planting, with 82 per cent of UK woodland being in Scotland. In 2019-20, we planted 11,050 hectares of new woodland, exceeding our annual 10,000 hectares target. That is extremely welcome. However, if we are to be truly serious about addressing the climate and biodiversity emergency, we will have to change land use as we currently understand it and focus on forest and woodland, peatland and renewable energy.
I have been contacted by some constituents who have concerns about proposed forestry, woodland and wind farm developments across the south of Scotland. Those concerns range from the percentage of Sitka spruce compared to the percentage of native broadleaf species that are planted, to the visual impact of offshore and onshore wind farm development. I am interested in pursuing thorough community engagement so that offshore wind farming could be created if it were to bring good green jobs and much-needed community benefit—especially to Wigtownshire in my region of South Scotland.
I am pleased to see the commitment from the Government in the revised climate change plan to hold
“early engagement, consistent communication, and genuine dialogue between different groups and communities.”
I ask the cabinet secretary to outline how that engagement will be done, and whether local authority planning frameworks will be changed to enable development, given the urgent need.
The Government has funded the restoration of more than 25,000 hectares of degraded Scottish peatland. Some of that funding has come direct to the Crichton Carbon Centre and the Galloway Fisheries Trust in Dumfries and Galloway, where peatland expert Dr Emily Taylor and the team are restoring more than 17,000 hectares of peat in the River Luce catchment area. That is important work, as peatlands are capable of absorbing and storing 50 per cent more carbon than some of our trees can.
When I visited a peatland restoration project with Dr Taylor, at Carsegowan Moss near Wigtown, we measured the peat bog at 6m deep. That is good, because deep peat is normally measured at 40 cm. One issue that Dr Taylor raised with me was that there is currently no international agreed definition of deep peat. Given that peatlands have a proven ability to sequester carbon, I ask the cabinet secretary to pursue an international agreement on peat level definitions, so that carbon sequestration can be calculated more efficiently.
I welcome the debate and the progress that is being made on the climate and biodiversity crises in Scotland, but I repeat the need for international co-operation and for bringing people with us on the journey.
The Parliament is agreed that we need to achieve net zero, but the past five years have seen the SNP Government presiding over a catalogue of failure to meet its own targets. If we are to create a circular economy, improve biodiversity and truly tackle climate change, we will need a step change in approach.
Plastic pollution is a growing threat and runs the risk of accelerating climate change. If we do not change, there will be more plastic in the seas, by weight, than fish. Moreover, the light-absorbing properties of microplastics pose a risk to the arctic regions, potentially speeding up the melting of ice caps. Microplastics also contribute to biodiversity loss. They weaken ecosystems, damage economies and impact on human health, either through the ingestion of contaminated seafood or through airborne particles that lower the air quality in our towns and cities.
Plastic pollution is right on our doorstep. From its survey of Scottish waters between 2014 and 2020, Marine Scotland revealed a worrying picture. In five of the areas studied, concentrations of microplastics were comparable to the North Atlantic and North Pacific—areas of open ocean that are infamous for their vast patches of rubbish. Some efforts have been made to tackle the problem—for example, by banning some single-use plastics, such as small cosmetic beads. However, such sorts of plastic account for just 2 per cent of seaborne plastic pollution, according to research from the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.
Both the Marine Scotland and Galway-Mayo studies found that fragments of larger plastic items caused the most pollution. In fact, fragments of tyres, road markings and synthetic fibres account for a staggering 70 per cent of seaborne microplastics, according to the Galway-Mayo research. We need to establish a plastic pollution baseline for Scotland, with a dedicated survey vessel, to properly inform future policies.
We should launch a public awareness campaign to remind drivers to keep tyres properly inflated. That would reduce abrasion and thus reduce microplastic fragments. It would be a simple measure, but it could have a long-lasting impact.
About one third of plastic pollution is from textiles, yet the SNP cancelled Zero Waste Scotland’s textiles programme and pulled out of the Love Your Clothes campaign. Meanwhile, around 50 per cent of textiles are still going to landfill, in addition to those that cause sea pollution. Moreover, just 2 per cent of our plastic waste is recycled here in Scotland, yet the SNP has still not committed to a new plastic recycling facility or microrecycling facilities and waste hubs for rural communities, all of which I have been calling for since 2017. The overall household recycling rate is now worse than it was in 2016, and the SNP has still not met its 2013 household waste recycling target.
Progress is really concerning in key areas. SNP-run Dundee City Council recycles less than 35 per cent of its waste, while SNP-run Glasgow City Council cannot even manage 25 per cent. What an absolute embarrassment! That is in stark contrast with areas where Conservatives are in power, such as Angus, which recycles almost 60 per cent of its waste, and Perth and Kinross, which recycles 52.7 per cent.
The SNP failed to deliver its 2021 landfill ban on biodegradable waste, so it has decided to burn waste instead, with incineration capacity skyrocketing by 400 per cent. What a terrible message to send out as the world arrives in Scotland for COP26: Scotland, the ashtray of Europe. Instead, we should introduce a moratorium on new incineration capacity, as my colleague Monica Lennon said.
Yes, I would. If I had been in the cabinet secretary’s position over the past five years, I would have helped the SNP to meet all its targets.
Such issues could be dealt with in a circular economy bill, which was promised before the pandemic but is now missing in action.
Also missing is any serious deterrence to illegal waste dumping. Last year, there were only 17 convictions in Scotland for fly-tipping. That is an abysmal figure that makes a mockery of the law. Is it not now time to hand prosecution powers to SEPA?
Added to all those failures, we have a biodiversity crisis, with one in nine species threatened with extinction. However, the SNP has not published a biodiversity strategy since 2013, and fewer than half of public bodies are failing to comply with the duty to publish reports on biodiversity compliance.
The SNP’s catalogue of inaction and missed targets, including the legal emissions targets for the past two years—it has even reduced Zero Waste Scotland’s operating budget—makes it difficult to believe that it can deal with the growing problem of climate change.
I will end on a consensual note. The SNP must now work across the chamber with MSPs who have the knowledge and expertise to deliver our climate change targets, create a circular economy and establish Scotland as a plastic-neutral nation.
Last night, I watched one of my favourite television programmes, “Yes Minister”. Sir Humphrey said that the problem with politicians is that they start to believe their own speeches. As I look back at the number of speeches that have been made in the Parliament on this subject, I suggest that we need to get past the speeches, to clear action across all areas. I welcome the cabinet secretary to his new post, because it means that there is an opportunity to try to make that happen.
My understanding is that all the amendments that have been lodged will, in the interests of consensus, be accepted. The amendments mention issues that we should have tackled by now. They should have been tackled during the past 14 years of SNP Government, which has failed, but successive Governments since 1999 have also failed to tackle some of the issues.
Michael Matheson made the point that, if we are to succeed, we need to take people with us and build a movement of change that wants to tackle climate change in this country and across the world.
Mark Ruskell’s amendment for the Green Party mentions housing policy. We, in this country, could make a major investment in housing infrastructure now. I find it difficult to accept that more than 24 per cent of households in Scotland live in fuel poverty and that 12.4 per cent of households live in extreme fuel poverty. That means that more than 300,000 households in Scotland live in extreme fuel poverty, despite all the speeches made in the Parliament in the seven years that I have been here. The figures are incredible.
We could set out a clear plan to bring forward the targets to end fuel poverty. We are talking about real people. Helping those who are in fuel poverty would be a massive boon for them, but we should link things up and also talk about joined-up Government. Those who live in fuel poverty will access NHS services more often because of their poor health, which is caused by the dampness and condensation and the conditions in which they are expected to live. There is a clear, factual, evidenced correlation there. There is also poor, inadequate and substandard private rented housing. This is one area where we could start immediately to tackle some of the issues that we are talking about, as well as some of the big problems that people are living with.
The Government motion talks about a just transition. I am from Fife. I have seen shipyards compete and compete to try to get work. I have seen windmill jackets being transported halfway around the world while the yards sit empty. Although I have welcomed the investment that has gone in, we must see far more if we are truly to take advantage of the jobs that will come with that transition. If that does not happen, we will not take people with us. If we end up as a low-wage, low-skill economy, we will never take people with us. That is the danger. We can have a low-wage, low-skill economy, or we can invest in research and development and work with the private as well as the public sector to get the jobs that will come.
The Liberal Democrat amendment mentions electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It is fine for Michael Matheson to say that we are doing better than England, Wales and Ireland, but we are still not doing very well. There are mixed messages. Fife Council, before the pandemic broke, put a paper to a committee on the introduction of a range of charges for the electric vehicle charging network. Again, it is the poorest who suffer. Someone who lives in the north-east of Fife would find it cheaper to nip across and charge their car in Dundee than in Fife. Someone who owns a house, however, with a driveway and so on, will charge their car at their house. That is a lot more difficult for people like me, who live in flats, and it is usually poorer people who live in areas where they cannot just drive their car into their garden.
I do not know whether anyone has looked into how much electric cars cost, but there is a cost barrier there. Someone who is wealthy can run about in an electric car and do their bit for the environment; someone who is poorer will be priced out. Many of us here probably do not use buses, but members would be amazed, if they got on a bus, to see what it costs. Trains are the same. I have complained before, when Michael Matheson was the transport minister, that people cannot afford to use the trains. Poorer people are paying the price.
If we are serious about taking people with us, we must look at all those issues. There is a lot that we can do now. We could have an ambitious programme to tackle some of the big issues in Scotland and, at the same time, work on the environment while taking people with us.
I welcome Mr Matheson and Ms McAllan to their new roles, and I congratulate Sharon Dowey and Mercedes Villalba on their maiden speeches, both of which were passionate. I look forward to working with them going forward.
It was also lovely to hear Ms Hyslop being able to concentrate on her local constituency and speak about some of the work that is going on there. It reminded me of some of the things in my constituency, which I will tell members about and encourage them to visit. In my constituency, we have the Building Research Establishment innovation park for house building, which has retrofitted houses that show how existing Wheatley-style houses can be adapted to be more energy efficient as well as examples of energy-efficient new-build housing. It is an interesting place to visit. I also have in my area Greenhead Moss community nature park, which is on the site of a former coal mine and in which we have protected peatland. The park is also the home of the small pearl-bordered fritillary, of which I am the species champion—so there is another champion in the chamber this afternoon.
I thought, almost to the last moment, that this was going to be a consensual debate, but Mr Golden might have soured it a little.
“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!”
We sometimes become insular in this place, but it is interesting see the world’s view of what we are trying to achieve in Scotland at the moment. At the United Nations climate action summit in New York in 2019, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Professor Espinosa, said in a tweet:
“Congratulations, Scotland, for demonstrating bold leadership on #ClimateAction ... This is an inspiring example of the level of ambition we need globally to achieve the #ParisAgreement.”
We have the most ambitious legal framework for emissions reduction in the world. Although the targets are, indeed, challenging for us as individuals and communities—as has been discussed in the debate—as well as for the economy and our environment, the climate and biodiversity crisis must be a critical priority for all of us in the chamber. The aim is a 75 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2045. We have the policies to achieve those things and, with the appointment of the first-ever Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work, we have the leadership to implement those policies.
I will highlight just a few of our policies: investing £120 million in zero-emission buses, driving forward a decarbonised future for Scotland’s bus fleet; a new £180 million emerging energy technologies fund to support the development of hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, and to add impetus to the development of negative-emission technologies; and the cashback scheme for householders, which will provide eligible households with access to up to £7,500 towards the cost of renewable heating systems and a further £6,000 for energy-efficiency measures. It is such policies that will help us achieve the targets.
In this parliamentary session, we have all signed up to the climate target agreement, for which there was unanimous agreement in the Parliament. It is incumbent on us all to look to how we can achieve the target. I want to look to the future and the policies that are coming that will help us to reach that target.
Mr Ruskell and other members have talked about younger people, and Monica Lennon mentioned the Children’s Parliament. During the election campaign, I was written to by some primary 4 pupils from Calderbridge primary school, in my constituency, about their concern for their futures—it was all to do with the climate crisis as they saw it and their worries for the future. One pupil raised the issue of wildfires in Australia and their terrible impact on the wildlife there, including on endangered species. Another pupil was concerned about the destruction of the rainforest and the possibility that that could lead to food shortages in the future. Another pupil was concerned about litter in his community and about the wider impact of plastics in our oceans, which was mentioned by Mr Golden. Another pupil expressed concerns for bees and wildlife, the impact of the loss of habitat and the use of insecticides.
One child wondered whether there would be polar bears when he grew up to be my age, and one young lady said that, having persuaded her parents to get her a puppy, she was sure that she could persuade the adults she knows to do the right thing and change their behaviour and habits to prevent damage to the environment. I say to Ms Lennon that I directed that young lady to the Children’s Parliament, and I am sure that we will see her here one day.
As the saying goes, “from the mouths of babes”. I was absolutely blown away by the knowledge and interpretation of those young people, as well as by the fact that they knew that the issues are all interlinked. We have talked about many of the issues today, including participatory planning for communities and the fact that our skills and development must meet the aspirations of what we are doing. That is why I am delighted that BRE works so closely with New College Lanarkshire on the skills that are needed for retrofitting, using the builds that are on site.
Those young people understand the threads that link everything and build our environment and the sustainability of our world. I was absolutely blown away by their knowledge and understanding—they get it. As Mark Ruskell said, it is incumbent on us to do the right thing by them and ensure that we live up to the targets that we all signed up to in the previous session of Parliament.
The debate has been excellent, and there were first-class first speeches from both Sharon Dowey and Mercedes Villalba. It is great to have them among us, and I look forward to their further contributions.
We have so much to do—if nothing else, today’s debate has shown us that. We need to plant millions of trees and heat our homes and all our buildings without burning fossil fuels, as we do at the moment. We should have whole towns running on renewables, using ground-source and air-source heat pumps and district heating systems. We need to switch from millions of polluting cars to electric vehicles and get the charging networks in place. Liam Kerr spoke very well on that topic. He also talked about the need for carbon capture and storage, and I absolutely agree that it is part of the solution. CCS works, but it is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, and it must be done in tandem with a radical overhaul of how we all live our lives. He talked extensively about the quandary of the north-east. It is a quandary, because we cannot just pull the plug there. We need a just transition, and Gillian Martin was right to address that point.
As a critical part of our endeavour, we need to restore nature around us and recognise the inexorable link between the nature emergency and the climate emergency—they are deeply intertwined. Both the cabinet secretary and Lorna Slater mentioned the need to restore our peatlands. Some members may know that, in the previous parliamentary session, I was the RSPB Scotland species champion for the rusty sphagnum bog moss—they called me “the moss boss”. Members may laugh, but the proliferation of bog moss is key to Scotland’s efforts to reduce our emissions. If the moss is sufficiently irrigated, it grows on peat, and it is one of the best absorbers of CO2 that grows in Scotland. When we dry and cut peat, we release huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. That is why restoring our peatlands is important, and I will continue to campaign for it even if I am not the moss boss in this session.
Monica Lennon articulated well the need to deal with the waste products of the various industries in our society. That theme was picked up by Maurice Golden when he talked about addressing the massive problem of plastic pollution. We need to get rid of all single-use plastics. In Scotland, an estimated 300 million plastic straws, 276 million pieces of plastic cutlery, 50 million plastic plates and 66 million polystyrene food containers are used annually. At a beach clean-up in South Queensferry, in my constituency, we pulled from the beach 174 single-use wet wipes that had been flushed away and had not degraded in the sea.
I am sure that, during the election campaign, every member in the chamber felt the public will for change. All parties were elected on promises of a greener and fairer future. In her spellbinding first speech, Mercedes Villalba really captured the point about a fairer future. She reminded us of the substantial barrier to progress that profit creates in existing business practices. She also reminded us that climate injustice and poverty are inexorably linked. Alex Rowley was right to say that it is easier for someone to go green if they have money to do so.
The message from young people, in particular, is clear. I am glad that the Labour amendment refers to the work of the Teach the Future campaign, which my party fully supports. Young people have already had an incredible impact on the conversation around the climate emergency, and the school strikes of 2019 made a huge difference. When young people marched down the Royal Mile and knocked on the Parliament’s door, I was with them, along with my teenage son Finn.
The declaration of a climate emergency finally followed, along with our new emissions reduction targets, but we cannot make progress only when we have people knocking on the door of the Parliament, demanding it. Where sensible policies are implemented, real systemic change can happen. The plastic bag charge is one example of that, but we need more such measures.
There are many promising policies in the realm of the circular economy, such as the deposit return scheme, which the Scottish Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for. Likewise, a latte levy would help people to get back into the habit of taking their reusable cups with them. I am concerned that the strictures of the pandemic have caused us to lose our way and have reversed some of the progress that people had made on reusable options.
Of course, those are all problems on which we need to work together. Mark Ruskell talked about cross-party consensus. I have worked with him before, and I look forward to working with him in this session to find that consensus.
We need to work together internationally as well, because we need countries to come together and companies to change their ways and methods of production if we are to realise the phase shift that we have defined in the debate. COP26 gives us the opportunity for new international thinking. It is a chance to show Scotland and the UK at their best and to prove that we are ready to play our part on the international stage. However, it will not be easy. We need politicians to be constructive and to work together. Such events are no place for divisive and toxic discourse between Governments, and the Scottish and UK Governments really need to step up.
We need to be completely focused on recovery from the pandemic and recovery for the planet. Every delay reduces the chance of our avoiding catastrophic climate change and temperature increase, as well as species loss. Every delay will cause more pain for the countries that are already living with the impacts of climate change and that are most at risk of the worst damage. Alex Rowley is absolutely right that we need to get past making well-meaning speeches. Distractions could be fatal.
I welcome the minister and the cabinet secretary to their new posts, and I welcome the many members who have given their first speeches in the Parliament this afternoon. I was particularly struck by Mercedes Villalba’s points about the transformative role of the state in investing in solutions and the importance of a green new deal that involves the unions and workers in the transition.
I have been looking at what is happening in the US under Biden’s Administration, with the absolutely transformative investments in new technology and industries there. That is not just about fixing markets; it is about creating new markets, so these are exciting times.
I say to Labour colleagues that, if the Parliament had more borrowing powers and powers over electricity regulation, we could fix things such as the unfair transmission charges. However, this is a consensual debate, so let us hope that, in this year of COP26, we can achieve a new spirit of co-operation with the UK Government and that it will understand that Scotland’s contribution to tackling the climate emergency is absolutely critical. The UK Government needs to allow Scotland and our industries to thrive.
It is important that we define what a just transition is. Claudia Beamish, who used to sit near me in the chamber, was absolutely pivotal in getting measures on a just transition into legislation, and I miss her work greatly. I absolutely get that the transition has to be just and that nobody should be left behind. That is why, in the Greens’ manifesto, we proposed extending the jobs guarantee to workers in the oil and gas industry.
Over the past five years, Gillian Martin and I have had a lot of conversations about a just transition, and I am struck by the strong work that she is now doing to survey workers in the north-east and to find out where the skills gaps are. It is hugely important that we learn the lessons from the 1980s, when coal mining communities across Scotland were absolutely decimated. In recent years, we had the closure of Longannet with no transition for the 360 workers there. Rather than involve those workers in a conversation before the closure, everything that was done to secure their employment happened after the event.
I say to Liam Kerr and other members that, although the transition has to be just, it also has to be a transition. It is not a transition from the current estimated level of extraction of oil and gas resources from the North Sea—around 5 billion barrels—by licensing for 20 billion barrels to be extracted. Well, it is a transition—it is a transition to the extraction of four times that level of resource, which is simply incompatible with the Paris climate change agreement.
To answer Mr Kerr’s question about where we draw the line and how much time there is left for the oil and gas industry to transition, we must start with the science of climate. We must look at what the carbon budget is under the Paris agreement and work back from that. As a lawyer, surely Mr Kerr understands the importance of international legal agreements. We must stick with that.
There are even signs that the UK Government now understands that. In its North Sea transition plan, it is starting to question the policy of maximum economic recovery. It is starting to turn the corner. It is not doing so quickly enough, but we can get there. I say to Mr Kerr that, if the UK Government turns that corner, it will join other Governments that are dangerous: the Governments of Ireland, New Zealand—New Zealand has Greens in Government, too—Denmark, which is now Europe’s largest oil and gas producer, and France are all drawing a line under licensing and moving on.
Carbon capture and storage is the wrong priority at this point. Even the Tories on the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee agreed that we cannot meet the target of a 25 per cent reduction in emissions using CCS. Therefore, we must move on, work collaboratively together and test one another’s arguments to destruction. There are some inconvenient truths that need to be addressed, and in today’s debate we have just started to uncover and examine those.
I agree with other members that it has been an excellent debate. Our challenge is what comes next in this session of Parliament, because this is the one that really matters.
I welcome the range of excellent briefings that we all received from organisations across the environmental movement in the run-up to today’s debate. We have also had some excellent meetings, such as the nature champions meeting and this week’s climate emergency meeting. The focus must be on ensuring that we have a joined-up approach, so that, when we tackle our current health crisis, we do so alongside tackling our nature and climate emergencies. That was argued powerfully yesterday.
As we work to build our recovery from Covid and address our climate crisis, we need a global and a joined-up approach. As others have said, this year’s COP26 in Glasgow gives us an unprecedented opportunity to lead by example and to deliver the success that we need for our world’s future. As Fiona Hyslop said, we need to bear collective responsibility for the task that we face—it is up to all of us. That means providing leadership nationally and locally across Scotland.
In our amendment, we call for climate justice to be included in the curriculum. That has been called for by young people, who understand the vital need for urgency in tackling our climate emergency. By the time we reach 2045, today’s secondary school students will be in their 40s, but the tipping point for action in their lives will be during this session of Parliament. Therefore, we need to act. I am okay about us disagreeing on different issues, as long as we come together on the big issues and push hard to move further forward.
In replying to what has been said in the debate, I would like to welcome the first speeches that have been made. In particular, I congratulate my colleague Mercedes Villalba on her excellent first speech. She will be a powerful voice for Scottish Labour and for Scotland on the environment and biodiversity.
It is time that the climate and biodiversity emergency is taken seriously across Scotland. Last week in our capital city, we saw the publication of the City of Edinburgh Council’s draft climate strategy for 2030, which will give people across the city the chance to give their views on how we can reduce our climate emissions. Across Scotland, people and communities must be involved in the development of plans that lead to action in areas such as low-carbon heat networks and the creation of new green jobs, alongside action to tackle fuel poverty. Such joined-up thinking of the kind that is promoted by the UN’s sustainable development goals is what we need.
I want to pick up on the issue of heat networks. Scottish Renewables has identified 46 heat networks across Scotland’s seven cities. Following the Parliament’s passing of the Heat Networks (Scotland) Bill just a few weeks ago, those networks could help us to make much-needed progress towards our heat decarbonisation targets.
Section 15 of the Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Act 2020, created by my amendment, gives the Scottish Government the capacity to incentivise investment to enable communities, councils and co-operatives to develop new heat networks that are currently unaffordable due to high rates. That is the kind of practical action and progress that we need.
The cabinet secretary—I welcome him and his team to their new jobs—said that we can create 24,000 jobs from action on climate change, but the truth is that we need urgent action for that to happen, and it will require strong leadership from the Scottish Government. We cannot afford to have the problems that we have seen at BiFab and other companies across the country. As Gillian Martin said in an incredibly powerful speech, having a just transition will require support for climate action and jobs in Scotland now.
The Scottish Government needs to work much harder with the renewables industry to make sure that we get a green recovery such that communities that are impacted by the energy transition are supported to retain their prosperity. Communities across the country need local apprenticeships and training and co-operative renewable energy schemes.
Scottish Renewables said last week that the renewable energy industry is already supporting more than 22,000 jobs and significant output of more than £5 billion a year in Scotland, but we can see from the statistics that there is a lot of scope for new investment in renewables jobs, as Monica Lennon said. The Government must take urgent action on that. I recommend the report that the STUC has produced, which takes us through what would change the outputs.
There are some key areas where the Scottish Government needs to act urgently. Mark Ruskell and others mentioned the need for another climate change plan update. We should not have to wait several years for that. We had cross-party agreement on the subject—from all parties—at the end of the previous session of Parliament, so I urge the new team in the Scottish Government to pick up the recommendations and get going on them.
We also need to look at the work of the just transition commission, which has closed, having produced a fantastic report in March. Could it be restarted so that businesses, trade unions, environmental groups and the Government can work together? The commission’s report was excellent, but it needs to be followed up and acted on, and we need pressure on the Scottish Government, not just from the Parliament but from groups outside it.
Let us see more action on Scottish Government procurement so that we shift to a greener and fairer set of contracts. That would be a game changer.
I strongly agree with Maurice Golden’s comment that it is time for a circular economy. Let us see the timetable for the circular economy bill and get going on it now. It is not just that we need to stop incinerating waste; we are still exporting waste to lower-income countries that have no choice but to accept our plastic waste, which is creating a climate crisis in other countries. We need to take responsibility across the parties in this Parliament, to move more quickly and to ensure that our councils are part of this work as well. It is not just a national issue; it is also a local one.
We need our councils to be able to act on locally owned bus companies, such as the one that we have in Lothian, in order to address the points that Monica Lennon made about the loss of bus services.
We have radical targets in Scotland, but if we pull together what all the speakers have said today, we can see that we need practical action on the ground, with strong leadership and investment to deliver transformational change, and it has to happen now. Let us work together and ensure that members in the next session of Parliament do not need to have a lovely debate like this one because we will have made progress—and let us do that now.
I am delighted to close this extremely important debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives.
I congratulate those who made their first speeches today. Mercedes Villalba made an impassioned speech and I look forward to hearing more from her over the next five years. We also heard a really excellent first speech from my colleague Sharon Dowey. I am delighted that she took the opportunity to raise the on-going issue of the Tarbolton Moss landfill site and that she has joined those of us who continually put pressure on the Scottish Government to recognise the south-west and invest in our infrastructure.
The view that we need to address the effects of climate change and take action to move towards a more sustainable future is one that we all share. Scotland’s aim to reach net zero by 2045 is certainly ambitious, and it is world leading. Plenty of speakers in the debate used that language. The aim is laudable, and the SNP is never slow to commend itself for it. However, as Liam Kerr pointed out, announcing the aim to achieve such an ambitious target is one thing and delivering it is quite another.
That brings me to an excellent speech by Maurice Golden, that guru of the circular economy. He reminded us that setting targets is not enough and that the Scottish Government has continually missed its targets, year on year. Members could do a lot worse than to listen to some of Maurice Golden’s expertise. If we are to succeed in achieving net zero, we cannot allow every debate on the issue to become a competition in political and policy radicalism.
Reaching net zero will mean change for us all, but to deliver that change we must bring society with us, not impose change on it. The cabinet secretary agrees with me, I think, on that point. Moving Scotland towards a greener and cleaner future should not be seen by anyone as an exercise in martyrdom. Smaller, imperfect steps that we can all take together will do more to get us to net zero than grandiose impractical gestures that many of the public come to resent or reject.
Liam Kerr spoke at length on the need for a just transition from oil and gas. Calls to eliminate oil and gas jobs and create new green jobs are all well and good, but a majority of the people in that work will not find themselves suddenly in green jobs. Gillian Martin made that point well in her speech, but I say to her that, in looking at the potential for jobs in that sector, we must surely look at the fact that Scotland imports much of that infrastructure and technology instead of utilising our own people.
That leads me to education and skills. Whether we are eliminating fossil fuel combustion heating systems or phasing out petrol and diesel, we will still need qualified heating engineers and mechanics. Are we doing enough to ensure that our young people are being trained on both today’s and tomorrow’s technology? Furthermore, what opportunities are there for people already working in those fields to update their skills? We want old technologies to become obsolete, not the people whose jobs rely on them.
Transport is an area in which particular conflicts seem to arise. Saying no to new roads is certainly headline grabbing, but it misses the point that it is not roads that impact climate change so much as the fuel sources of the vehicles that use them. We are already committed to moving away from petrol and diesel towards electric vehicles, be they powered by batteries or hydrogen cell fuel.
In South Scotland, we have trunk roads such as the A77, A75 and A76, all of which need substantial improvement to support the economy, reduce congestion and improve safety. They could have a positive impact on the environment. Why are we not investing in those roads with an eye to the future by installing infrastructure for fast charging points and hydrogen fuel stations and making cycle routes part of the development? The reality is that personal private transport cannot, in all circumstances, credibly be replaced by any form of public transport, particularly in rural areas.
We must encourage the aviation industry to decarbonise, but at the same time we must avoid denying people the opportunity to travel, work and explore the world. The industry is already looking at hybrid aviation engines and that is where we need to be—it is about the fastest change versus the most sustainable for the long term. The objective is not just to reach net zero, but to reach it in a way that is environmentally sustainable and economically viable, as well as just. The process of change must be as sustainable as the outcome and many of the changes that we need to make are not so much about changing our daily lives and routines as about changing the tools and technology that we use.
It would not be a speech from me if I did not bring the discussion around to health. The health of people and the planet are inextricably linked. In many cases, efforts to make one healthier will benefit the other, whether by encouraging a more balanced and healthy diet using locally processed and procured food or by providing cycle lanes for active travel, greater access to green spaces and warm, well-insulated homes.
There is often a suspicion that the proposals from some members around climate change are made as much, if not more, for their ability to drive a particular political agenda as for their environmental impact. Business and the private sector are not the enemy. Many companies that were historically associated with fossil fuel production are leading the way in finding alternative fuel sources. The Greens might prefer the nuclear option of restricting our ability to work and travel and private enterprise’s ability to innovate, but the Scottish Conservatives prefer to work with businesses to support them in reducing their carbon footprint, stressing the long-term economic benefits of those green measures.
A bigger question is why so much of the wind farm industry is imported into this country. Why are we not doing it on our own? BiFab was supposed to do that. Ferguson Marine was supposed to get involved in the development of the technology. We import the technology; why are we not developing our infrastructure and workforce so that we can deliver it?
Economic growth and private investment have driven technological innovations that have helped to make Scotland greener and cleaner. As we look to the future, we need the same kind of private sector-driven innovation and invention to deliver the technology that will help us to reach net zero. We need more collaboration, so that we enable and encourage the private sector to invest in innovation for the long term.
Big announcements, grand targets and ambitious goals have their place, but they are irrelevant without a credible, achievable plan for delivery, and all too often the Scottish National Party’s approach to any challenge that faces Scotland—be it climate change, education, the economy or health—is to make announcements that give the impression of action, without solving the problem. [
We will push for sensible, practical and pragmatic policies that protect Scotland’s environment and move us towards net zero. We recognise that the only credible approach to delivering on those aims is to put in place policies that benefit our economy and move people’s living standards on.
As a new member of Parliament, it has been great for me to hear the tributes that have been paid to former members who would, I know, have made massive contributions to this debate. As Sharon Dowey did, I pay tribute to John Scott; as Monica Lennon did, I pay tribute to Claudia Beamish; and, as Fiona Hyslop did, I pay tribute to Roseanna Cunningham, whose contribution in the Parliament to climate progress was enormous, as was her contribution to my experience in this building.
I thank members across the Parliament for their speeches this afternoon, and I congratulate Sharon Dowey and Mercedes Villalba on having made their first speeches.
Before I forget, I must say to Fiona Hyslop that I would love to join her in Linlithgow and to learn from her vast knowledge as I take on the new role that I have been given.
Today’s speeches have shown the determination across Parliament to address the twin crises of climate change and ecological decline and to capture the opportunities that the transition to net zero presents. There has also been important recognition that we are unlikely to achieve any of that without fundamental and transformational whole-systems change and without working together—as Sarah Boyack and others said eloquently.
When the First Minister declared a climate emergency and when Parliament voted to enshrine in legislation the world’s most ambitious targets, all underpinned by a just transition commitment, we showed that we understood the risk of inaction. As the cabinet secretary and other members have made clear, substantial progress has been made, but we must now go further and faster than ever.
It is incumbent on all of us to rise to the challenges that face Scotland and the world, because Scotland is watching. Young people, who have, as Clare Adamson pointed out, driven the cause of climate action, are watching. With that in mind, and as the youngest member of Scotland’s Government—I think—I ask all members to consider, in all the work that we do in the years to come, the future that we want to leave for the generations to come.
Together, we can tackle climate change, restore our natural environment and support a green economic recovery, and we can do all that in a way that promotes greater resilience, especially for climate-vulnerable communities. That green recovery is always accompanied by our commitment to a just transition and includes our energy sector, as it includes all the parts of our economy that will be impacted.
Yes, I think so. The Scottish Government will publish an updated draft strategy next spring.
In his speech, Liam Kerr sought comments on rail decarbonisation. Scotland’s commitment is to decarbonise the rail network by 2035—the only such target in the UK.
On electric vehicles, Scotland has one of the most developed charging networks in the UK, as the cabinet secretary pointed out. On Alex Rowley’s concerns about affordability, we are the only nation of the UK with a loan scheme that facilitates purchase of second-hand EVs.
Gillian Martin’s well-made point about transmission charges was absolutely right—they are anticompetitive and unfair. They are the UK Government’s responsibility, and we have been calling on it for years to make a different—
As the minister will be aware, TNUOS—transmission network use of system—charging works by balancing costs between generators and consumers. If the SNP is looking to subsidise multinational energy-generation companies, that will mean consumers will pay more. Given the SNP’s failure to eradicate fuel poverty as it promised to do, how will increasing consumer bills help?
We are not looking for any special treatment; we are looking for fairness. That is what this Government is calling for.
I reiterate our commitment to introducing a bill on the circular economy, although that commitment had to be paused because of Covid. In the meantime, we are taking action outside primary legislation. That includes our pioneering deposit return scheme and our banning of harmful plastics, including beads and buds, which have been mentioned. We are also consulting on other harmful plastics, including plates and packaging. I just hope that the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 will not hold us back in making the environmental progress that we are determined to make. Maurice Golden should reflect on that.
I reassure Sarah Boyack that we are entirely committed to the just transition commission. In our manifesto, we pledged to implement its recommendations in full, and we will maintain the commission to advise us throughout this parliamentary session.
I mentioned that young people have been central to the climate movement. Like Monica Lennon, I have huge admiration for the Teach the Future group. The young people in it are so inspiring and their knowledge is sometimes quite astounding. However, we cannot allow this burden to fall to Teach the Future. They need more than our admiration—they need action. The group met the Deputy First Minister in September last year and is now engaging with the Scottish Government and education agencies to explore how we might strengthen learning for sustainability and how we might further embed climate education—although I have to point out that Scotland’s curriculum is not prescribed.
It is not only for Scotland’s future generations that we need to act; we need also to demonstrate leadership for young people throughout the world. Vulnerable communities at home and overseas are often the first to be affected by climate change and can suffer most, despite having done little or nothing to cause the problems. That is why, in the year of COP26, we are committed to doubling our world-first climate justice fund to facilitate that much-needed global action.
We are also developing the Glasgow dialogue, in which stakeholders from the global south, as well as Scottish and international organisations, will share experiences and pathways to a just transition, to adaptation and to resilience. That goes to the heart of our theme, for COP 26, of people, through which we are determined to elevate the voices of those who are too infrequently heard, including women, young people and people from the global south.
We are committed to publishing, ahead of COP26, Scotland’s contribution to the Paris agreement: an indicative nationally determined contribution—NDC—that will highlight our actions towards our world-leading ambition. That ambition is set out in our climate change plan update. I hear Mark Ruskell’s call to move quickly on a new plan, and I share his desire for progress, but I am sure that he will agree that progress must be considered and meaningful.
We need to work together on that, just as we did on the update, through the sustainable renewal advisory group, on which representatives from every part of the chamber sat for many weeks. We went through all the sectors in the climate change plan update in great detail. The inclusivity of that group shows clearly the shared responsibility of which Fiona Hyslop spoke. Scotland’s Climate Assembly is another key example of that.
Another thing that has come through today is, on one hand, the magnitude of the challenge that we face and, on the other, the scale of the opportunity that can be unlocked. Our journey to net zero can deliver for our planet, but it must also deliver for our people. Good green jobs, better air quality, and warmer energy-efficient homes are just some examples of ways that we can—
No—I am sorry, but I must make progress.
We will build our economy based on wellbeing and sustainability for people and planet. Our young persons guarantee is a key example of that, and is something that I am very passionate about.
We are building on that, and we will also work with schools and employers, through our youth employment strategy and the developing the young workforce initiative, to help to ensure a legacy for COP26. That will include identifying climate heroes from industry to support school leaders and young people.
Presiding Officer, I have no idea how long I have been talking, because I cannot see the clock, so I will close.
I opened my remarks by looking back and paying tribute to former members and thinking of all that we have already achieved on Scotland’s journey. I want to close by looking forward and, as the youngest member of Scotland’s Government, by speaking directly to young people throughout Scotland who might be watching today. I ask them all to take heart from the progress that we have made, to take note of the commitments that they have heard from across the chamber today, and to take time in the years ahead to hold all of us in Government and Parliament to account for the contributions that we make now that can help to deliver a fairer and more sustainable future for them and for generations to come.