Climate Emergency

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10th March 2022.

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Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The next item of business is a Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee debate on “The Road to COP27 and Beyond: Tackling the Climate Emergency in the Aftermath of COP26”. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons.

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

This is not a typical committee debate with a report to read and comment on. Instead, the committee decided to use its time to reflect on the significant progress that was made at the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—in Glasgow and, perhaps more importantly, to assess what progress is being made against climate change targets in Scotland.

My comments largely reflect the evidence that the committee has heard in the past six months on the role of local government in delivering net zero targets. We decided to conduct the inquiry because local authorities are one of the most important front-line delivery partners in this area. I thank the committee clerks and the Scottish Parliament information centre for their first-class support and for arranging a number of excellent witness sessions.

At the conclusion of COP26, Senator John Kerry said:

“As we leave Glasgow, the fundamental issue is going to be implementation, delivery and follow-through on policy commitments.”

With that in mind, I will highlight three of the biggest delivery challenges that we face in Scotland. In doing so, I remind the chamber that the most important role that committees have in the Parliament is to critically scrutinise Government policy, highlight where it might not be delivering and, ideally, provide suggested answers.

First, I will address the decarbonisation of heat, which will be one of the most difficult policies to deliver. The challenge to retrofit and install new heating systems in 1 million domestic dwellings and up to 50,000 business premises by 2030, with an estimated cost of £33 billion, is enormous. The vast majority of that funding is to come from the private sector, and all of that has to be delivered in the next eight years.

Taking a closer look at that eight-year timeframe, the reality is that the sheer scale of the physical work that is required means that the work will need to start by 2025 at the latest. In other words, it will take at least five years, if not longer, to retrofit and decarbonise 1 million homes, which equates to 200,000 conversions a year. By way of context, the current rate of installation of heat pumps in Scotland is 2,500 a year, according to SPICe. Obviously, there is quite a bit to go.

Before the physical work can begin, the required financing will have to be in place, as projects cannot start until guaranteed financing is in place. In effect, that means that the Scottish Government has only two or three years before 2025 to co-ordinate and arrange the bulk of the necessary financing. We are looking at somewhere between £10 billion and £15 billion, which is only half of the overall estimated costs.

That will clearly be a massive challenge because, if we are asking the private sector to invest between £10 billion and £15 billion, a huge amount of preparation needs to start now. First, investors will need comprehensive data on the housing stock that is being financed, on its valuation and physical condition, on historical rental income and on historical rates of rental delinquency. It is also likely that a rating from one of the rating agencies will be needed.

However, it appears that not a lot of work is being done in that area. For example, Patrick Harvie, the minister who is in charge of the heat in buildings policy, replied to my parliamentary question by saying:

“The breakdown of numbers of dwellings that will require upgrades in different periods and across different tenures”—[

Written Answers

, 1 March 2022; S6W-06421.]

is not currently available. In its evidence to the committee, the Phoenix Group, one of the largest potential sources of private investment funds in the area, told us that

“there is a lack of comparable data, which is a big challenge.”—[

Official Report, Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee,

25 January 2022; c 43.]

There is also the challenge of scale. Local authorities will need to combine their housing stock assets in order to meet the scale of investment that is required from private investors. Susan Aitken, the head of Glasgow City Council, told the committee:

“In terms of financing, we need to be able to engage with the private sector at a level and scale that has never been done before in local government”.—[

Official Report, Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee,

11 January 2022; c 10.]

She said that local authorities in Scotland are not able to offer that “on their own”. Again, it is not clear to me how much groundwork is being done to look at how we can scale up such projects, and we need the data to be in place before we can do that.

Even when all that groundwork has been done, it will take time for a market for the financial investments to develop. It is not realistic to expect to be able to raise between £10 billion to £15 billion in a few months.

If the 2030 targets are to be feasible, the urgent question is: what is being done to progress that essential work, and who will take it forward? We know that it cannot be local authorities, because they have told the committee that they do not have the capacity, the requisite skills or the expertise to deliver the targets, and we know that it will not be the Scottish National Investment Bank. The reality is that the work can be led and progressed only by the Scottish Government.

In the committee, I had a constructive exchange with the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport on that question. I believe that his position is that most of the work will be undertaken by the new national energy agency, but I continue to have concerns that what has been set out will not nearly be enough to address the challenges that I have outlined. The new body will be a virtual agency with no additional resource, budget or staff, and it will become operational only by 2025, the year when the physical work will have to start.

Given all the challenges that have been highlighted to the committee, it is hard to see, as things stand, how the 2030 targets to decarbonise heat in buildings will be met. I look forward to the cabinet secretary addressing in his remarks some of the concerns that I have raised.

I will briefly highlight two other challenges relating to delivery on which the committee has taken evidence. In the transport sector, the roll-out of public electric vehicle charging points will be vital in reducing emissions. However, we are also falling behind our targets in that area. The United Kingdom Climate Change Committee has said that we need 30,000 public charging points by 2030. We currently have only about 2,100, which means that we need to install about 4,000 a year between now and 2030, and we are not anywhere close to that rate. Although local authorities are the delivery agents, they need much more help from the Scottish Government to reach the target, achieve economies of scale and ensure that technology is used consistently throughout Scotland.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I am interested in the points that Dean Lockhart has made. In relation to the charging network, does he agree that it is not just a numbers game but about getting the right chargers in the right places and ensuring that there is on-going maintenance of the charging points in order to secure the public confidence that is needed for the transition to happen?

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

Yes, I absolutely agree. It is about consistency of technology and ensuring that the charging points use the same technology across all 32 local authority areas. It is also about economies of scale. There is no point in individual local authorities procuring different charging points at higher costs when, I hope, the work can be done on a national basis to save costs. Perhaps that is being done; I will leave it to the cabinet secretary to inform us on whether that is the case.

I will wrap up on the third and final challenge that we need to address, which is the significant skills and expertise gap that we face across the public and private sectors. I do not have time to present the detailed evidence that was given to the committee on the matter, but that issue was raised throughout the sessions.

One of the Scottish Government’s key policies to address the skills gap is the green jobs workforce academy, but the committee heard evidence that, in effect, that is just a website that aggregates existing information and, frankly, is not in any sense a skills academy as one would expect that to be.

Policies such as those have caused the United Kingdom Climate Change Committee to call into question “the credibility” of the Scottish climate change framework—those are its words, not mine.

In conclusion, we need much more robust measures to be taken across the areas of challenge that I have highlighted. I look forward to the cabinet secretary’s response.

The Presiding Officer:

I call Finlay Carson to speak on behalf of the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee.

Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate, and I thank my committee clerks and SPICe for their support in the work that we undertook on the topic.

To coincide with COP26, the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee held a series of evidence sessions on the climate and nature emergencies, and I will use my time today to highlight some of the points from that evidence.

In particular, I will explore the idea of a just transition and a full-systems approach to finding policy solutions to those challenges.

The solutions must emphasise the importance of understanding the structure and relationships between different parts of the environment.

In Scotland, our wealth of natural assets often masks the underlying biodiversity loss that is happening under our noses. Scotland’s marine environment, which is rich in animal and plant life, is one of our greatest assets. However, witnesses to the committee outlined the impact that climate change is having on fishing stocks, notably the increasing temperatures that are encouraging species to move further north or into deeper waters.

Although witnesses emphasised that fisheries management over the past 20 years has resulted in recovery in many native species—cod being the notable exception—those changes in temperature have impacted growth rates in juvenile fish stocks. That reduces yields, so people have to catch more of those smaller fish in order to make up their quota, which takes more fish out of the ecosystem. That tells us that we need proper data to drive decision making when it comes to fisheries and environmental management, to ensure that we align policy to meet the challenges of a changing marine environment.

Aquaculture is a significant contributor to our rural economy because it provides jobs in some of Scotland’s most remote communities, but we also need to balance environmental interests. Everyone will be aware of the independent review of how fish farms are regulated, and the committee will consider the review’s findings in due course.

It is clear that we need to support those industries to transition responsibly, and that sentiment is echoed by many of the farmers whom we spoke to. As custodians of the land, many farmers understand far better than most of us the need to transition to more sustainable farming practices, and many have been doing so for some time.

In evidence, the Nature Friendly Farming Network welcomed policies that support wildlife and climate-friendly farming and nature-based solutions, but also emphasised the need for a full-systems approach, which includes more constructive engagement with the private sector. That perspective is shared by many stakeholders who have engaged with the committee’s inquiry into the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill. They emphasise the interconnected nature of the food system.

That all points to a worrying picture, but committee members have been heartened by the range of work that is already being carried out in Scotland to reverse some of those trends. The seawilding project, which is based in Craignish, is one example. The community-led project is working to reverse trends in biodiversity loss by reintroducing or bolstering key species such as oysters and seagrass. Importantly, the project uses a range of low-cost methods that it believes could be easily replicated in other communities. I would like more to be done to help those kinds of initiatives, so that they can be copied across Scotland. The seawilding project exemplifies the need for us all to be better custodians of the natural environment.

That is reflected in the evidence that we heard from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which emphasised the need to move away from a mass transaction approach, whereby regulators simply encourage polluters to improve their environmental performance, and towards that full-systems approach. SEPA gave an example of the regulation of the whisky sector and barley growers. Rather than dealing with individual businesses, SEPA looked at the wider challenges that face rural communities with respect to climate change, one of which is water scarcity. SEPA adopted a more holistic approach by sitting down with the whisky industry and barley growers to ask how the agency could help them to reduce water use in their supply chain. That full-systems approach aids regulators, producers and communities in tackling multiple challenges simultaneously while making domestic production more resilient.

That again speaks to the need for a more integrated and holistic approach to policy making that adequately values natural assets in a sustainable way—something that is well defined through the notion of natural capital. The committee had the pleasure of speaking to Professor Dieter Helm from the University of Oxford, who is an expert in that area. He described why natural capital is a helpful way of thinking about the great environmental challenges that we face, because it forces us to see the environment as a key input into the economy, ending the tension between economic growth and protecting and enhancing the environment.

Scotland is not immune from the impact of climate change, but some good work is already being done to mitigate the effects. Scotland has its part to play in addressing the global challenges. Key industries need to be supported to make a just transition and policy makers need to take a full-systems approach to finding policy solutions to the challenges.

That strongly links to the remit of the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee and the significant developments, post-European Union exit, for fisheries and agriculture policy. Last week, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands told the committee about the fisheries and marine strategies that are under development, and agricultural reform is due in 2023. Together, those offer us an unprecedented opportunity to reconsider our relationship with the natural environment and how we can use and benefit from new policies. The committee looks forward to scrutinising the policies in the course of this session of Parliament.

I thank the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee for holding this important debate and for giving me, as convener of the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee, the opportunity to set out our priorities in this important area.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I thank the NZET Committee for bringing to the chamber this important debate on the road to COP27, following on from COP26, which took place in Glasgow last year.

Tackling the climate crisis is the most urgent issue of our time. COP26 was not only one of the largest events ever to be held in Scotland, but was one of the most important. We can be proud of the contribution that Scotland made to its successful outcome.

The summit concluded with the adoption of the Glasgow climate pact, under which countries committed to increased ambition and action. The pact means that the need to cap temperature increases at 1.5°C is no longer questioned; that it has been agreed that action on adaptation and finance is critical; and that, for the first time, there will be discussions on helping developing countries to pay for loss and damage.

The pact represents progress on many important issues and provides a basis for further action, but we know that it did not deliver all the asks of every country. To keep the 1.5°C target alive, the commitments that were made at COP26 must be delivered and COP27 must see that progress has been made on those aims. Issues of fairness and equity were at the forefront of discussions during COP26, and it was recognised that it is required that more be done to adapt to an already changing climate, and to make progress on the loss and damage agenda.

We can be proud of the significant progress that Scotland has made in decarbonising the economy while strengthening it. Our 2019 data shows that we have reduced our emissions by 51.5 per cent from the 1990 baseline figures. Since 2008, we have decarbonised faster than any country in the G20. For example, the quantity of renewable energy that was produced in Scotland in 2020 was equivalent to almost 99 per cent of our gross electricity consumption. As recently as 2010, the figure stood at only 50 per cent.

I am proud of our progress and of the level of ambition that we have set out, but it is clear that we must go further if we are to meet our highly ambitious targets. I have no doubt that challenges lie ahead. It took 30 years to halve our emissions; we need to do the same again over just the next nine years.

Last year, we finalised the updated climate change plan, which included commitments to invest at least £1.8 billion over this session of Parliament in decarbonising heat, and a £250 million package to restore 250,000 hectares of degraded peatland by 2030.

We continue to raise our ambitions. During COP26, we published our “Draft Hydrogen Action Plan”, which is backed by more than £100 million of funding, and we announced a new £55 million multiyear commitment to the nature restoration fund to transform, protect and drive forward nature’s recovery.

Since COP26, we have published a route map for our commitment to reduce car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030 and, from 31 January this year, all under-22s who are resident in Scotland have had access to free bus travel.

I noted with interest the results of the recent survey by Renewables UK, which showed that Scots “overwhelmingly support” political parties that support renewable power generation. That aligns with our research that indicates that public backing for wind energy is at a record high.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I need to make progress, but I will take a brief intervention.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I will be brief. The public also appear to support nuclear generation in Scotland. Does the minister concede that?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I recognise that there are some people in Scotland who support nuclear generation, but we are committed to making sure that we deliver on renewables, which offer a much cheaper form of electricity that helps, unlike nuclear power, to reduce bills.

Furthermore, in response to Russia’s horrifying and appalling invasion of Ukraine, the European Commission has outlined plans to enable independence from Russian gas. It proposes to

“speed up the renewable roll-out, improve energy efficiency and replace gas in heating and power”, with the aim of reducing demand for Russian gas by two thirds before the end of the year.

The executive vice-president of the European green deal, Frans Timmermans, highlighted that renewables are a

“cheap, clean, and potentially endless source of energy and instead of funding the fossil fuel industry elsewhere, they create jobs here.”

The commission’s views on fossil fuels chime with ours, in that we reject unlimited extraction.

Scotland’s energy sector can be a key part of a solution that seeks to ensure energy security amid the on-going economic and geopolitical turbulence. Our focus is on achieving the fastest possible just transition for the oil and gas sector. We are currently updating our energy strategy and our just transition plan, and setting out how the economic and social impacts of the energy transition can be managed.

Our commitments do not stop at our borders. Scotland led by example at COP26 by becoming the first developed country in the world to support, through the world’s first climate justice fund, countries that are experiencing loss and damage. We intend to build on that in the years to come.

As we move towards COP27, we are establishing a COP27 programme that will build on our achievements at COP26, and will ensure that we play our part in delivering the Glasgow climate pact and attracting investment and jobs, as part of the transition here, in Scotland.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I am very pleased to speak in this committee debate about the road from COP26 to COP27. For all that its members have different views and different routes to possible solutions, the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee is a very effective committee. It adopts an informed and in-depth approach, and its members are prepared to listen to one another’s points of view. Such evidence-based collaborative working will be very important on the road to COP27. I will return to that theme shortly.

As the cabinet secretary said, COP26 did, indeed, set us on that road. It kept alive the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, it sounded the death knell for coal power and a pledge was made to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. More than 100 countries signed a pledge to reverse deforestation.

The United Kingdom—the second-highest performing country in the climate change performance index—sets the example. Between 1990 and 2019, while the UK’s emissions decreased by 44 per cent, which was the fastest decrease in the G7, we grew the economy by 78 per cent. That shows that it can be done.

The UK is the world’s biggest producer of offshore wind energy. We have doubled our international climate finance to help developing nations.

The cabinet secretary was right to say that we must do more. That means that we need substance, not soundbites. When Mark Ruskell writes, as he did in Saturday’s

The Herald, that renewables can replace oil and gas, he must back that up with a firm evidence-based answer to the question when that will happen.

Just two days ago, I asked the cabinet secretary to project in what year his ramped-up renewables would ensure that we had no further need for oil and gas. He did not even attempt to answer. Instead, he resorted to weasel words, as he did just now, saying that

“the equivalent of Scotland’s domestic electricity supply—some 98 per cent of it—now comes from renewable sources.”—[

Official Report

, 8 March 2022; c 7.]

The reality is that, in 2020, 56 per cent of the electricity that was consumed in Scotland came from renewable sources. My point is that, if we are to have any chance, we must deal in reality, not in spin.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Does Liam Kerr recognise that there is a commitment from the Scottish Government to consider what our energy needs are, how quickly we can make the transition away from oil and gas and how quickly we can deploy renewables as a replacement? Those are not easy questions to answer, but that is being done—the Government is doing that work.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I recognise the commitment, but my point is that a Government that hides behind selective data and pats itself on the back for mediocrity gives false confidence that the problem is being addressed.

We cannot have ministers telling people to install micro energy generation when only 22 per cent of Government buildings have solar panels, or telling people to cut their energy use while spending more than £4 million of public money on energy-guzzling electronic billboards, or telling us all to drive electric vehicles when less than a fifth of the vehicles that are owned by public bodies are zero-emissions vehicles.

Doing more means moving away from silo thinking. The Government should not implement a car park tax to force us on to public transport while cutting 250 rail services and presiding over a £640 million black hole in the funding for decarbonising buses. Patrick Harvie should examine his having a blanket opposition to road building while he wilfully ignores a report that shows that lorries on single carriageway trunk roads emit almost 2 tonnes more CO2 every day than they would on a dual carriageway. He tells us that his solution to cutting emissions and saving the planet is to ban drive-throughs. He tells the people of Aberdeen that the way to decarbonise their granite houses is to put in solid wall insulation, but he does that without bothering to find out how much that costs or how long the disruption would last.

My second point was illustrated by both Mark Ruskell and the cabinet secretary in their contributions to

The Herald

. Rather than acknowledge the role of the UK Government’s contracts for difference scheme in Scotland or the fact that, thanks to its being part of the UK, Scotland will get two free ports, backed by up to £52 million of UK funding, or the UK Government’s £110 million investment in offshore wind manufacturing in Ross-shire, alongside huge investment in Scotland’s tidal power, both writers pivoted to denigrating the UK.

That is extraordinary when we consider that this Government has, for example, failed to hit its own legal emissions target and its renewable heat target, and has pushed back its flagship commitment to banning biodegradable landfill waste. That desperation for deflection risks potholes on the road to COP27.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The member is about to conclude.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

That is a facile and simplistic approach to policy-making that owes more to fomenting grievance and division than it does to confronting seriously the very real climate emergency.

If we truly want to proceed on the road to COP27, we must travel together. The Scottish Government must look to our committee and observe how people with fundamentally different views work productively together. Let us have less spin, fewer soundbites, more substance and much more collaborative and collegiate working between Scotland’s two Governments

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

It is more than 100 days since Scotland welcomed the world to COP26. The generation-defining decisions that were made there barely keep alive the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C that was agreed in Paris a decade ago.

The task for the Glasgow summit was to set out credible plans to deliver a 50 per cent cut in global emissions by 2030. Although it made modest progress, it was largely a missed opportunity, with climate delay when we really needed climate delivery.

Even if the 2030 commitments from Glasgow are implemented, they represent less than 25 per cent of the required ambition. Rather than a destructive but manageable 1.5°C increase, they put us on track for a devastating 2.4°C increase. That is why, according to the secretary general of the United Nations, the 1.5°C goal is on “life support.” The job of all Governments, including our two, is to deliver intensive care, and that starts with being honest about what happened in Glasgow. There were some positives, but COP26 was spin over substance. There was too much praise of inadequate net zero plans, with the Prime Minister describing minor commitments as transformational. That emboldened the big emitters, who clubbed together to gut the main deal’s wording on coal.

There is still no sign of the overdue $100 billion of climate finance being delivered, with developing countries still having to argue for it at COP26, 10 years after it was agreed. That has damaged trust and broken the coalition between the most vulnerable developing countries and developed countries that was the foundation of the landmark Paris agreement in 2015 and maximised pressure on the world’s big emitters. It is tragic that we did not see a repeat of that in Glasgow.

The question now is what will be different in the next year, in the run-up to COP27. As president of COP26, the UK Government needs to lead on urgently rebuilding the Paris climate coalition and, with it, the trust of the developing world. We need to call out the big hitters far more, and at home we need to stop just talking about a just transition and start delivering one.

Transport is still the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland, being responsible for more than a third of the total, yet the Scottish Government has just hiked up rail fares by record levels and it is pressing ahead with cutting ticket offices and axing 90,000 train services a year. We are still waiting for the Government to give councils the powers to run their own local bus services, a provision that I secured in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 more than two years ago, never mind the smart ticketing that was promised more than a decade ago.

Delegates who went to COP26 in Glasgow benefited from smart integrated ticketing, but commuters going to their work do not benefit from that. It is not good enough to deliver smart ticketing for international visitors when the people of Scotland cannot have it. Nicola Sturgeon promised Scotland the saltire card in 2012. Ten years on, all that the Government has delivered is a consultation on setting up a committee.

Scotland needs Oyster card-style ticketing more than ever to make it cheaper, quicker and easier for commuters to travel on buses, trains, trams, the subway and ferries, but the Government is stuck in the slow lane when it comes to smart ticketing. When the minister sums up, I hope that she will name the date when Scotland’s commuters will stop being left behind the rest of the world and actually get a single national smart card. The Scottish Government has had 10 years to think about it, but I do not know whether I am going to get my bus pass or my smart card first. I fear that it will be the former.

However, it is not just on public transport that the Government is allowing Scotland to fall behind. It is doing the same thing with green jobs. We all remember Alex Salmond promising that Scotland would be the Saudi Arabia of renewables but, a decade on from the SNP pledging 130,000 green jobs by 2020, it has delivered less than a sixth of that, and the number is falling. That is why Scotland’s oil and gas workers simply do not trust the Government on jobs.

Just weeks after a Green minister sank plans for a publicly owned Scottish energy firm, the SNP-Green coalition leased Scotland’s sea beds on the cheap entirely to overseas-owned multinationals with questionable human rights—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

It will have to be very brief, because we do not have any time in hand.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

The member mentioned spin. On the point about oil and gas, does he agree that it is not sufficient for the Scottish Government to announce a just transition fund with a great fanfare without putting any substance underneath that? It is letting the oil and gas workers down.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I agree with that point. One of my concerns is that, in offshoring Scotland’s wind energy, the Scottish Government is offshoring the profits, but there is also a fear that it is offshoring the jobs. Scotland will get none of the billions in profits. We will get a pitiful level of rent. I ask the Government to make sure that the money that we receive—the £700 million or possibly slightly more—is invested in a Scottish renewables fund to create the jobs that we need and to invest in Scottish ports, skills and factories. It is bad enough that the profits are being offshored, but we must not let the Government also offshore the jobs. We all recognise the need for a transition to net zero, but it has to be a jobs-led and just transition.

I could say a lot more about the journey to net zero, but I appreciate that we are running out of time. In the months and years ahead, Labour will be guided by our priority to call for a just transition—a green industrial revolution—that leaves behind no worker, no family and no community. We need climate justice, but we must also have economic justice. Only by delivering both will we have a genuine just transition to net zero that is led by good, secure and unionised jobs for our people.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I thank Dean Lockhart and his committee colleagues for enabling the debate.

The circus has long since left town, but it is right that we have a cold, hard look at what was achieved at COP26, and at where we go from here. As other members have suggested, progress was made on mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage, albeit not enough. There was also a welcome, if long overdue, recognition of the role that nature and biodiversity must play in helping us to keep global warming below 1.5°C, and I hope that that will be reflected in the Government’s forthcoming biodiversity strategy and natural environment bill.

However, there is no avoiding the fact that COP26 fell short. Targets for coal were down but not out, vital climate finance was delayed again, and Climate Action Tracker has referred to a

“clear ... credibility, action and commitment gap”.

That description fits Scotland’s current situation uncomfortably well. For all the talk of world-leading legislation, the Scottish Government has repeatedly missed its emissions reduction targets. Those for 2020 might be met, but only thanks to the pandemic.

On transport, which accounts for a third of all emissions, progress remains stalled. We need an expansion of the Government’s loan scheme to help people to move to electric vehicles, and an extension of the repayment periods. We need a massive expansion of the charging network, which was referred to by Dean Lockhart, including in residential areas, along with accelerated progress in the transition to other vehicle types. We also urgently need a ferry replacement programme that can reduce emissions and protect lifeline services.

On heat, we have gone into reverse. There is much to welcome in the recently published heat in buildings strategy, but the price tag that it has placed on households and businesses was unrealistic even before the current cost of living crisis hit. We need the Government to scale up its ambition and its contribution to the national retrofit programme. We need a fabric-first approach and a presumption that all new builds are installed with zero or low carbon heating systems. For those looking to install such systems, there should be up-front vouchers rather than cashback or loans.

On renewable energy, the news is better, but that is not to say that there are no challenges there. The ScotWind announcement leaves questions about how it will be delivered and about the impact on Scottish supply chains. That point was picked up by Colin Smyth. Before the making of final decisions on contracts, I urge the cabinet secretary to speak directly to representatives of the relevant supply chains, including those in Orkney, whom I met last week. Given that wind farm jackets are being built at Methil by workers who are not from Scotland but from elsewhere in Europe, the scale of the challenge is obvious.

The appalling situation that is unfolding in Ukraine, and the steps that are rightly being taken to reduce reliance on Russian gas and oil, will also need to be factored into decisions. We do not expect immediate answers but, inevitably, those things will have an impact on the speed of transition and on the shape of our energy mix in the years ahead.

Our efforts to achieve our interim target and net zero by 2045 continue to enjoy strong cross-party support. However, after years of falling behind, Scottish ministers must spell out in much greater detail how they intend to get back on track. As the UK Climate Change Committee stated:

“Most of the key policy levers are now in the hands of the Scottish Government, but promises have not ... turned into action.”

Looking ahead to COP27, Scottish Liberal Democrats believe that the mismatch between promises and action by ministers must be urgently addressed.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

We move to the open debate. I advise members that there is no time in hand. Members have up to four minutes to make their speeches, and any interventions that they choose to take must be absorbed within those.

I call Natalie Don, who joins us remotely.

Photo of Natalie Don Natalie Don Scottish National Party

COP26 was a significant point with regard to our planet’s future. However, although much positive progress was made, we still have a long way to go.

As we have heard today, COP26 succeeded in the ambition of keeping 1.5 alive and in sight, and its importance is no longer questioned, but it will be delivered only through immediate global efforts.

Here in Scotland, we have some of the most ambitious climate targets anywhere in the world. One of the large-scale messages at COP26 was that countries in general must halve their emissions by 2030, against 1990 levels. That is why Scotland’s legally binding 2030 emissions target, of a 75 per cent reduction, is world leading in its ambition.

The Scottish budget for this year reaffirms our commitment to those targets. It provides the first £20 million of our 10-year £500 million just transition fund, £336 million for energy efficiency, low carbon and renewable heat, and £60 million for large-scale heat decarbonisation projects. Those are just some of the actions that the Scottish Government is taking to meet our climate targets.

I am extremely proud of the role that Scotland played in COP26. We led the way by becoming the first developed nation to commit funding to loss and damage, and we recently committed to trebling the world-first climate justice fund to £36 million during the current parliamentary session. I want to expand on that role.

Scotland is committed to a climate justice approach through recognising that those who are least responsible for the global emergency are being affected most severely by it. Our children did not create the mountains of plastic that we see lying in villages in Indonesia, poison our oceans or cut down the rain forests. Likewise, it is not the countries that have been worst affected by climate change that are profiting the most from it, and now leaders of the rich developed countries must go further.

I want to highlight the role of our young people in the climate crisis. They were not wholly satisfied with the outcomes of COP26. Young people have been truly inspirational, showing absolute determination and passion, and they are arguably the most environmentally focused part of our society. If we fail them, it is young people who will bear the brunt of our inaction and incompetence. It is our generation’s duty to ensure that our children have a planet to inherit.

Just a few weeks ago, the NZET Committee heard from members of the Scottish Youth Parliament and the Children’s Parliament. It was so refreshing to speak to them and hear some of the things that they wanted to focus on, such as promoting active travel, sustainable green transport and the circular economy. However, we should not just listen to young people—they must be included and play a key part in the decision-making process. Our approach to climate change will require co-operation at all levels, and our young people are drastically under-represented in the community setting, local government and national government. We need to ensure that we are welcoming and encouraging our young people to get involved.

I am therefore delighted that the £500,000 for the social enterprise Fuel Change will accelerate the programme’s expansion and enable more young people to contribute to developing low-carbon solutions to climate-related challenges.

There are many challenges ahead, some of which my colleagues have highlighted today, and the work of the NZET Committee will be crucial in working through them. The Scottish Government has taken action and, given the policies that I have outlined, it is clear that it is committed to meeting the targets that have been set. However, given the reserved nature of many key policy levers on decarbonisation, a more ambitious UK-wide approach will be critical to us achieving our goals. Although the net zero strategy affirms UK Government priorities, it does not go far enough in many of the areas in which we have repeatedly called for action.

The world’s leading nations cannot procrastinate any longer. COP26 was not job done. It did not deliver as much as global south countries, activists and campaigners rightly demanded. COP27 must see the world deliver on commitments with urgency and energy and it must ensure that the promises that were made are met and that climate action delivers for those who are on the front line of the crisis.

Photo of Tess White Tess White Conservative

COP26 and the Glasgow climate pact, which was negotiated and signed by almost 200 countries, underscored that climate change is an international crisis that requires an international response. It was a historic agreement, a testament to the UK presidency and a huge step forward in keeping 1.5 alive.

Ahead of COP27, we are facing an international crisis of a different kind. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has provoked outrage the world over and has major geopolitical implications, not least for global energy supply, security and prices, which will have a bearing on short to mid-term climate targets.

The conflict will prevent co-operation on climate change from taking place with Russia, which is a huge emitter, along with China. All of that will need to be considered carefully by the international community as Egypt assumes the mantle of the COP presidency.

The reality is that we live in an interdependent world, and the world is in a very different place from where it was in November 2021, when international representatives gathered in Glasgow. Governments must accept that and respond accordingly. That is why Michael Matheson’s response to legitimate questioning on energy supply and security by my colleague Liam Kerr earlier this week was so astonishing. It amounted to “nothing to see and nothing has changed.” There is to be no review of the Scottish Government’s position on oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, and no timeline for when Scotland will fully transition to renewables. There is scant detail on the just transition, and a flat-out refusal to consider nuclear energy options as part of Scotland’s energy mix. It is an elusive energy strategy.

I am reminded of the fable of the chicken who was so busy worrying about the sky falling in that he got eaten by the fox. The SNP-Green Government wants to turn off the taps in the North Sea, but we are years away from the transition to renewables. It will be at least 10 years before the Scottish offshore wind sector is fully up and running. Skills shortages are hampering progress—shortages that Audit Scotland has attributed directly to the Scottish Government’s lack of leadership.

The Climate Change Committee’s latest report on Scotland’s climate change plan is clear:

“Most of the key policy levers are now in the hands of the Scottish Government, but promises have not yet turned into action.”

What is happening 2,000 miles away must be a wake-up call. It is simply not tenable to turn off domestic oil and gas production at this time of profound geopolitical uncertainty, when Scotland’s energy mix cannot meet demand. To do so would be complete madness. It would mean becoming increasingly reliant on foreign imports, which would have implications for our carbon footprint and our energy security. It is madness, too, to deter investment in the North Sea with public pronouncements pandering to dogma and doctrine. At least Fergus Ewing has the gumption to disagree with the Greens. I urge Nicola Sturgeon to listen to her back benchers rather than her Extinction Rebellion colleagues.

Against the background of recent events, there is recognition by both the UK and Scottish Governments that we need to generate cheaper, cleaner power. The agreement on free ports, which will help to secure clean economic growth for Scotland, demonstrates what can be achieved when constitutional grievance is set to one side.

As we look to COP27, let us work together, as one United Kingdom, to protect the planet.

Photo of Siobhian Brown Siobhian Brown Scottish National Party

It was not long ago that Glasgow showed the world some Scottish hospitality as leaders gathered to address the climate crisis. As we have heard, COP26 provided an opportunity to make real, positive changes in global policies to keep the goal of 1.5 alive.

The Glasgow climate pact did not go as far as many countries had hoped it would, and it was disappointing that there was watering down in the last moments of the summit. I am sure that we can agree that some progress was made, but there is so much more to do. It is imperative that we continue to work at an international level to find solutions with other countries around the globe to achieve a green transition from the pandemic.

That is not an easy task. We must all step up, rise to the challenge and do our bit, no matter how small. Every bit helps us on this journey. All elected members in the Parliament have a responsibility to decide which path Scotland will take in our role against climate change.

We already have so much to celebrate. Renewable energy makes up 97.4 per cent of our energy source. My constituency, Ayr, has played an integral part in meeting that demand. I recently visited the port of Ayr to see first hand the work that is done there and the plans for the future of the port as we move to net zero. Many of Scotland’s wind-turbine blades currently come through the port before being assembled elsewhere in Scotland. A few weeks ago, just up the road in Troon, I was joined by the Minister for Environment and Land Reform on a visit to Glennon Brothers timber company—another business in my constituency that is thriving. It produces timber sustainably from Scottish spruce to make Scottish homes, and it uses the by-products of that process to generate all its own heat and energy. Furthermore, the timberlink service, which is supported by the Scottish Government, led to 52,500 tonnes of timber being shipped directly into Troon harbour in 2021, taking the equivalent of 2,100 lorry movements off the road. We need to use our ports, and the fantastic timberlink initiative, more, and remove more lorries from our roads.

It is clear that climate-friendly policies can be business-friendly policies—the two are not opposed to each other. While we should recognise the work that has already been done, we must not be complacent. There is still a long journey ahead and we need to be ambitious in order to preserve Scotland’s beauty, and our planet, for future generations.

Members may have watched the recent BBC “Panorama” documentary that showed the extent of illegal waste dumping in Scotland. It was shocking, to say the least. Those illegal practices by criminals have a massive effect on our environment and communities, and on taxpayers. I am pleased to hear that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans is well aware of that and is ensuring that those criminals are held accountable for their actions.

However, we need to work on the recycling process in Scotland. Many everyday household items are put into recycling bins, in the well-intentioned belief that they are recyclable. However, most people are not aware that items such as crisp packets, medicine blister packs, contact-lens containers, bread bags, sweetie, biscuit and snack wrappings, toothpaste tubes and milk-bottle tops, to name but a few things, cannot be recycled. That is because they are classed as too hard to recycle and are usually taken in only by specialist schemes that are run by committed volunteers. One of those volunteers is Betty McDonald from Prestwick, who set up the town’s recycle Saturday initiative. Every month, Betty and a team of volunteers collect boxes that are full of those hard-to-recycle items, which are then sent to specialist recycling facilities. Betty is going above and beyond for her community.

However, expansion of those schemes is severely limited. If we want to properly fix that problem, we need much larger action at a higher level. We need to educate people on the items that can and cannot be recycled in order to stop our landfill sites from growing ever larger.

Each and every one of us has been blessed with a country, and a planet, of outstanding natural beauty. We would do ourselves, our children and our children’s children a monumental disservice if we were not to protect and preserve those things. That goes far beyond party politics, so let us come together to work towards a just and fair transition to net zero for the benefit of Scotland and the world.

Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

It is a privilege to serve as a member of the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, and I invite colleagues and the public to tune in on a Tuesday morning and follow our debates.

I do not know what I was expecting from today’s debate. I know that it is a challenge when there is so much that we can say and so many topics to cover. I feel that members have tried, but we have heard a few soundbites and a bit of spin. I will try hard to avoid that, because on the committee we are really collaborative. There is a lot of different experience among the committee members—we have a former cabinet secretary, and former and sitting councillors, and we try to leave our party politics at the door.

To be honest, in the crisis that we face around the world, with the climate and nature emergency, none of us can afford to be proud—we have to take good ideas wherever we find them. Just yesterday, we saw the youngest-ever petitioner to the Scottish Parliament, who is seven years old. He came here with a brilliant idea—I think that he met the First Minister as well—and he put a smile on people’s faces.

We should be proud that we are, I think, an open and listening Parliament. Whether you are seven or 77, if you have a good idea, you can drop the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee clerks a line. I am sure that they will thank me for saying that, but we genuinely want to hear good ideas.

We also want to work with Government, whether that is the Scottish Government, the UK Government or local government. The committee currently has a big inquiry that is looking at the role of local government in achieving net zero, particularly in relation to finance. I was going to intervene on my colleague Liam Kerr when he talked about the two Governments and say that we must not forget local government, which is really important to net zero. We need to hear more from our colleagues across Scotland’s local authorities.

That is not what I had written down in my notes at all—those are just my reflections on what I have heard so far. When you are on the back benches, you get a bit looser in your style of speaking.

I do not think that any of us are under any illusion about the scale of the challenge that we face. It was a real privilege to play a very small part in COP26 and to attend it with colleagues. Some progress has been made, but we know that it is not enough. Colleagues who were involved in the final day of the COP26 deliberations said that COP27 has already started. That is what we try to do in the committees: we try to look to the future.

I go back to local government, because I want to talk about energy. When Liam Kerr was speaking earlier on, I was going to suggest that we need to look more closely at what is happening in local government. Just last week—I am checking my notes—I read some really encouraging news from North Ayrshire Council about its plans relating to solar farms and other renewable projects. It says that its solar and wind turbine projects could potentially generate 277 per cent of North Ayrshire’s future energy demand. That would make North Ayrshire a net exporter of excess renewable energy to help to decarbonise electricity.

Some really good, innovative stuff is happening out there, but we have heard from local government in our inquiry so far that resources are an issue. We are therefore looking at what other means of finance exist for local government. We all need to be open minded on that.

I commend to members a really good report by Unison, about decarbonising our public services, which was published during COP26. We need to look at that, too.

When I spoke for Scottish Labour on the front bench just before COP26, I said in an amendment that we must

“take all necessary steps to secure a just transition to net zero in Scotland, ensuring that no individual, family or community is left behind.”

That is a good note to end on.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

I thank the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee for bringing this debate to the chamber. I am grateful, because I intend to give a speech that highlights the exciting opportunities that my East Lothian constituency has in relation to Scotland’s net zero ambitions and our journey towards a just transition.

In November 2021, the long-awaited COP26 climate summit in Glasgow ended, having made important progress in a number of areas. The importance of capping temperature increases at 1.5°C is now no longer questioned and, as a nation, Scotland needs to deliver on our commitments.

Given how significant the emission rates from the built environment alone are, it is clear that Scotland will struggle to reach net zero by 2045 without accelerated change. East Lothian has already initiated a retrofitting East Lothian steering group, which has already met and is liaising with East Lothian Council, local businesses and Scottish Government agencies to look at opportunities. Partnership working that includes the Scottish Government, local government, local businesses and non-governmental organisations will help us to deliver solutions that are tailored to meet local circumstances. As MSPs, we need to lead, not just grumble.

Local authorities will be particularly important in ensuring a just transition to net zero. My East Lothian constituency has huge opportunities as we move towards our just transition. The former site of Cockenzie power station and the current Torness power station both have unique grid connection access points.

In December last year, Scottish Government ministers approved the marine licence application for the 36-turbine Seagreen 1A offshore wind proposal, which was brought forward by SSE Renewables and TotalEnergies. That decision followed unanimous support for the Seagreen 1A onshore proposals at Cockenzie among East Lothian councillors in August 2021. National and local government are working together to deliver the kind of change that we need to see happen if we are serious about reaching net zero by 2045.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

I am short of time. I am sorry.

The Seagreen project will be capable of generating around 5,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy a year. To put that into context, that will be enough clean and sustainable electricity to power more than 1.6 million homes and to save around 1.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually. The Cockenzie substation can create numerous opportunities not only in the construction but in the fabrication of the component parts. We are already engaging with the company in that regard. Local people and businesses will benefit from opportunities such as the provision of plant and materials and other services such as the provision of accommodation and food for the site operatives. Again, discussions on that are under way. Those are the opportunities for one project in East Lothian alone.

Next Friday, along with Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Engineering, local colleges and East Lothian Council, I will host an East Lothian energy meeting with the likes of Total, SSE, EDF, Scottish Power, Scottish Gas and Inchcape Offshore Ltd. All the companies that I have mentioned are engaging in projects in East Lothian. The focus of the meeting will be on developing and maximising opportunities for sustainable long-term employment, including local apprenticeship opportunities. We will explore supply chain development and manufacturing development.

As Torness moves towards being decommissioned, we must ensure that the transition to renewable sources of energy is managed and provides opportunities for many years to come for the highly skilled workforce. A just transition must be just that.

I am committed and dedicated to working with the renewables industry, national Governments and local government to ensure that East Lothian becomes a renewable energy hub in terms of grid connection, a highly skilled workforce and a strong supply chain and manufacturing base.

Innovative storage technology companies such as Sunamp in my constituency offer up new possibilities, and carbon capture and hydrogen opportunities offer exciting opportunities in East Lothian. Scotland is already a world leader in renewables. We must build on that.

East Lothian is incredibly well placed to play its part in the challenges that we face as we move towards COP27. There are significant opportunities for Scotland to lead the way globally in finding solutions. East Lothian will play its part.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

There are eight months to go until COP27, and keeping 1.5 alive has never looked more fragile. With the cost of living crisis fuelled by soaring oil and gas prices and war, it has never been more important to deliver safe and stable energy supplies and a safe climate.

Over the past 100 days, we have instead seen a doubling down on maximum economic recovery from fossil fuels, with dependence building even further at a time when the just transition needs to accelerate. Despite investors walking away from Cambo, there has been a disastrous expansion of oil and gas licences in the North Sea. Remember that that is happening in the face of what the International Energy Agency said before COP26, which was that

“there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal”.

It has not changed its position on that.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I am really short of time, but I will take Brian Whittle’s intervention.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

I agree with Mark Ruskell that the IEA said that there can be no more oil and gas, but that was before Europe and the world decided that they no longer want to take oil and gas from Russia. As we transition to renewable energy, we will still require oil and gas, which has to come from somewhere. Why should it not come from Scotland?

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

We already have more oil and gas in the North Sea than we can afford to burn. If we look at the response of Governments across Europe, we see that they are recognising that their dependence on oil and gas is a problem. They are not looking for other sources; they are looking to reduce their dependence on oil and gas for the sake of the climate and for energy security.

In recent months, there has been a rejection of a windfall tax in the United Kingdom, even though oil and gas companies in the North Sea are making £44,000 in profits a second. The very companies that have benefited from billions of tax subsidies in previous years are now looking to deepen our dependence on oil and gas while ordinary people shiver in fuel poverty.

Last week, we had the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which was described as an “atlas of human suffering” by the secretary general of the UN. That is exactly where we are heading unless we can decisively turn the corner now.

To stop the Glasgow agreement withering away, we need more progress on finance from the UK presidency. So far, the $100 billion fund for loss and damage that was first floated at Paris remains undelivered. That is a stain on all our consciences, and I hope that the first COP to be held in Africa will focus the agenda on how we repay our debt.

There is much in the Scottish Government’s climate programmes that has already put us on a faster route to net zero, pushing beyond the UK Climate Change Committee’s pathways, from an ambitious heat in buildings strategy to reducing vehicle mileage, a surge in tree planting and wind power targets. The challenge for the Scottish Government now is to flesh out the detail of programme delivery and financing, which is a point that Dean Lockhart made.

Let me make it clear—I agree with Monica Lennon on this—that there are no comfort zones for any Government to sit in. The UK CCC and Scotland’s Climate Assembly have both highlighted areas for faster and more radical change, including in the areas of aviation, peatland restoration and diet change. The Climate Assembly in particular has given the Scottish Government a mandate to go further and ministers should grasp that. The introduction of carbon food labelling, an action plan for reducing air miles and stronger support for peatland restoration and blue carbon are all needed. However, it is clear that business as usual will lead us down a road of no return. It is the Parliament’s job to challenge Governments to get on the best pathway to real zero and I look forward to working with the NZET Committee on that mission.

Photo of Stephanie Callaghan Stephanie Callaghan Scottish National Party

It is only nine months until COP27, when the goals set in Glasgow will be revisited and the baton will be handed to Egypt. The road to COP27 requires leadership, partnership and investment—I will touch on each of them.

Throughout COP26, Scotland led the way in amplifying the voices of our green generation. The Scottish Government was a bridge between the voiceless and decision makers. The powerful might have left Glasgow, but Scotland is still that bridge and we must use the respect that we garnered in Glasgow to ensure that commitments are delivered.

Scotland was praised for its leadership in dedicating £2 million to a loss and damage fund and committing to a world-first £36 million climate justice fund. There are still people who ask why we should send money to the other side of the world when we are dealing with a cost of living crisis at home, but let us not forget the unifying message that we heard in Glasgow: we are all in this together. From Bellshill to Bangladesh, from Uddingston to Uganda, none of us is safe until we are all safe. Climate justice means acknowledging that our fellow humans are just that—they are human like you and me, Presiding Officer—and leadership means setting aside arbitrary borders and acting as one planet.

That brings me on to partnership. Covid has illustrated well the real power of partnership, with scientists around the globe harnessing their astonishing talents to create vaccines to a previously unimaginable timescale. That is the kind of dynamism and urgency that we need ahead of COP27.

Global partnership must be matched by local partnership. The building blocks to Scotland’s climate response exist in our own communities. Local people need to understand the causes and impacts of climate change and how they can work individually and collectively to be part of the solution.

Local businesses also have much to offer. ACS Clothing Ltd is a real climate champion. It is reshaping the fashion industry, which is the second-biggest polluter on earth; it is bringing big brands into the circular economy through resale and reuse. ACS already operates a carbon-neutral business and aims to be net zero by 2025. Its innovation, initiative and ideas convince me that it will succeed at that. Such businesses show us a yellow-brick road to COP27 and we must learn from them, nurture them and widely share their innovation and success.

Partnership is also about listening. Now more than ever, every voice is valid and every innovation is transferable. As we seek to address the climate emergency together, it is critical to include our young people—those who will need to live longest with any decisions that we make. I look forward to joining high school students from my Uddingston and Bellshill constituency next week for our first sustainability forum. I will listen to their views, concerns and ideas, which will shape my actions in the chamber and local government.

On investment, we must learn from history as we transform our economy to protect our planet. Thatcherism devastated coal mining communities such as those in Lanarkshire in the 1980s and 1990s. The underemployment and health inequalities still linger. However, the Scottish Government is not repeating those mistakes and I applaud it for working in concert with businesses and unions to invest in skilled, green jobs.

The task ahead can feel overwhelming, especially with the pandemic, the horrors of war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis at home. Those are all pressing and urgent matters for Government, but they cannot steer us off the path to COP27. The science is clear: 2020 was Europe’s hottest year on record and Australia has recorded its warmest day ever. Only if we accelerate climate action can COP26 be judged a success. We need leadership, partnership and investment.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

In truth, it will be some time before we are in a position to fully appreciate the implications of COP26 for Scotland and for the transition towards a greener globe. However, the signs are promising. Despite the ever-growing challenges of Covid and the inevitable geopolitical tensions—especially in Europe—which always seem to play a role in such events, countries around the world agreed deals on methane, coal and deforestation to name but a few.

In the few minutes that I have, I will focus on a couple of issues. First, I will talk about education and skills. We, on the Conservative benches, are keen to see Scotland develop a position in the renewables sector that is as substantial as what we have for oil and gas, if not more so. That means leading not only in technological innovation but in the scaling up and manufacturing of those technologies. As Dean Lockhart highlighted, we are yet to see the education system reflect that opportunity and need.

The SNP and the Greens are quick to talk about how many homes they want to move to heat pumps in the coming years, which would mean not only making the pumps more affordable but dramatically increasing the number of engineers who are qualified to install and maintain them. As Dean Lockhart said, let us not forget that 200,000 pumps a year are required in order to hit the target. That is an attainment gap that the Scottish Government is just not closing.

Secondly, I will highlight food production, processing, consumption and waste. I have spoken many times about the high quality of food that our farmers produce, which should be making a short journey to plates in schools, hospitals, prisons and every council canteen. It can be done: East Ayrshire is an exemplar. There are no excuses. Instead, we import far too many products that are often inferior, and we send our produce out of the country to be processed, which contributes to the distances that are travelled, with a significant carbon footprint.

What is more, the food that we waste globally contributes four times as much greenhouse gas as the entire global aviation industry. If that were a country, it would be the third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the USA.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I thank the member for giving way. I recognise that he is passionate about reducing food waste, but would he also reflect on the UK Climate Change Committee’s recommendations that we need a 20 per cent reduction in meat and dairy consumption in order to have any chance of meeting our climate targets? That seems to be a real elephant in the room.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

I have to be honest with the member. We blame our farmers for pollution, but that pales into insignificance when we require a land mass the size of China to produce the amount of food that we waste. We could definitely do something about that right now, instead of listening to a noisy minority.

This must be a Parliament that starts to deliver if we are to have any hope of reaching the targets for 2030 and 2045. We must give the public confidence that the changes that they face are not only necessary but have been thought through and are practical. However, Government minister Patrick Harvie has given us a pronouncement on the need to ban drive-through fast-food outlets to reduce emissions. Aside from the fact that the carbon reduction resulting from that is astonishingly marginal, I fail to see how making it harder to buy a McFlurry will encourage the public to buy into the Government’s plans to tackle climate change.

Amid all the target setting and grand pledges on climate change, we should remember that no amount of rhetoric will reduce our emissions. If making self-congratulatory statements about world-leading targets were a carbon-negative activity, Patrick Harvie and Michael Matheson would have already single-handedly decarbonised most of the developed world. We can have all the targets that we want, but the only ones that matter are the ones that have a route map to achieving them. That is what is lacking in all the Scottish Government’s crowing.

Photo of Mercedes Villalba Mercedes Villalba Labour

The debate has rightly focused on the further action that is needed to tackle the climate emergency following COP26 as we look ahead to COP27 later this year. My colleague Colin Smyth pointed out that we need to reduce emissions in sectors of the economy, such as domestic transport, where they remain stubbornly high.

Tess White spoke about concerns about the pace of the transition away from fossil fuels. We, in the Labour Party, believe that we need investment in both the production and the distribution of renewable energy through the creation of an asset-owning, publicly owned energy company.

We have heard from Paul McLennan that we need members of the Scottish Parliament who take action and do not just grumble. We also need ministers who act and who will not crumble under pressure from industry lobbying. That means working with trade unions that represent workers in carbon-intensive sectors to create well-paid, secure, green jobs.

I represent offshore oil and gas workers in the north-east, so I understand the importance of delivering those well-paid and secure green jobs as part of a worker-led transition. Those workers are left in a position that sees their transferable skills go unrecognised. At great personal expense, they are often asked to duplicate skills and qualifications that they already have.

The sector’s major training bodies have failed to agree common standards, which has led to the development of rival standards, training modules and qualifications. That market failure cannot continue to go unchallenged by the Government at the expense of workers, which is why I have been working with Friends of the Earth Scotland and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—the RMT—to push the Scottish Government to commit to supporting an offshore training passport, at least in principle.

The First Minister welcomed the idea of an offshore training passport as a constructive proposal when I first raised it with her back in September, yet, despite repeated questioning and correspondence, ministers have refused to commit to supporting an offshore training passport, even in principle. They have continued to avoid responsibility to address the issue of skills transferability in the offshore energy sector, suggesting that it is an issue to be resolved by industry.

However, that position completely ignores the current market failure, which is preventing oil and gas workers from transitioning into greener jobs. When I asked the Scottish Government whether it had engaged with the UK Government and other international parties on the issue of skills transferability at COP26, I was told that no specific conversations on the issue had taken place. I cannot think of a better time than COP26 to have tried to make progress on an issue so vital to delivering a just transition.

In the wake of COP26, SNP MPs at Westminster were given the opportunity to vote in favour of action on skills transferability for oil and gas workers, but they abstained. The Scottish Government’s warm words on the need for a just transition are not matched by any practical actions.

I was due to meet the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity last week to discuss that issue. It was not an easy meeting to secure, yet it was postponed with just a day’s notice. The postponement was apparently due to the minister’s awaiting a significant update and wanting to share substantial progress. The minister is here today. Would she like to share any of that progress with us?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Excuse me—hang on a second. The member is about to conclude; she has two seconds left.

Photo of Mercedes Villalba Mercedes Villalba Labour

Okay. I will be happy to hear from the minister at another time.

I would also like, finally, to get a commitment to s upport for an offshore training passport, at least in principle, because in the wake of COP26 and as we head towards COP27, we have an opportunity to demonstrate Scotland’s climate justice, underpinned by social and economic justice—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Ms Villalba. You are over your time.

Photo of Mercedes Villalba Mercedes Villalba Labour

The time for a green industrial revolution is now.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Ms Villalba—please take your seat. Thank you.

I call Graham Simpson to wind up on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives for up to five minutes, please.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I hear what you are saying, Presiding Officer.

It has been an odd debate in some ways. There is no motion and no committee report on which to base the debate—even its title changed at one point—but we know that it is about climate change. We have had some really good contributions from across the chamber, and I will try to cover as many as possible.

I will start with Brian Whittle, who mentioned the need to upskill the workforce and said, quite rightly, that we do not have enough engineers to install some of the new technologies. He also spoke about something that he is really passionate about: food and food waste, and his belief that local is best. He is absolutely right about that.

Speaking of waste, Siobhian Brown mentioned fly-tipping and recycling, which are really good topics to mention. I say to her that she might want to get behind calls to have a moratorium on incinerators, which is something that I know Monica Lennon is passionate about.

COP26 should be remembered for what was actually achieved. There were some major steps forward on the basket of key climate issues. More than 100 countries signed a pledge to halt and reverse deforestation and at least 40 countries agreed to stop using coal, while leaders signed a pledge to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.

That all sounds good, and, as Colin Smyth said, that is all very well, but we need to see delivery and substance over spin, and I agree with him. Although the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C is alive, it is only just alive and it will depend not just on us but on what countries around the world do.

Some members mentioned the transport sector, which is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. I think that the SNP-Green Government’s approach to the sector is disappointing, because it is more stick than carrot. The Government seems to have declared war on drivers and does not seem to want to deliver what is actually needed, which is better public transport. I see the minister, Lorna Slater, shaking her head. If she disagrees with that, perhaps she could bring forward the provisions in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, which Colin Smyth mentioned and which would allow councils to run municipal bus services in their own patch. I think that that would deliver a step change in public transport and get people out of cars, which I assume that Lorna Slater wants. However, for some reason, the Government is dithering on that point.

In his excellent, wide-ranging speech, Liam Kerr spoke about the oil and gas sector. He said that, if we want to end our reliance on oil and gas, we need to say how and when we will achieve that. So far, the SNP and its partners in the Government have not answered that point.

Tess White made exactly the same point; she spoke of the folly of turning our backs on the North Sea. Given her background, we would expect her to say that. Mr Kerr, rightly, also mentioned some of the contradictions in Government policy.

In another excellent contribution as the committee convener, Finlay Carson spoke about agriculture and aquaculture. We probably do not speak about those matters often enough in the chamber.

I will rattle through some of the other contributions. Monica Lennon wants us all to work together, which would be great. She spoke about the need to resource local government properly. Like me, she knows, as a former councillor, that it is not properly resourced. We need more resources for local government.

Paul McLennan spoke about work in his area and rightly so, because it sounds like some good stuff is happening there.

Unfortunately, my good friend Mark Ruskell is in denial with regard to the oil and gas sector.

Stephanie Callaghan, who was speaking remotely, spoke about the fashion industry and the need to reuse materials. She is quite right. I have been buying second-hand clothes all my life, but we now have apps such as Depop, which a lot of young people are using, and I recommend it to members.

All in all, it has been a good debate, but we need to do a lot of work to deliver on the actions that were agreed at COP26.

Photo of Lorna Slater Lorna Slater Green

I am pleased and honoured to close the debate on behalf of the Scottish Government, and I thank all colleagues for their contributions.

I think that we can all agree with the members, including Colin Smyth, Liam McArthur and Monica Lennon, who said that the outcome of COP26 was not what the world needed. I remember that Alok Sharma delivered his closing speech in tears, and island nation leaders were devastated by the future that will see their nations submerged. Colin Smyth was quite right to challenge the world to achieve the dream of keeping 1.5 alive.

Liam McArthur was right to hold the Scottish Government to account on our missed targets, as was Liam Kerr. We are concerned about that and as recently as last October we put together a plan for exactly how we will catch up on those targets.

Liam Kerr asked a very sensible question about how much energy we need, from where and from what sources it will come, and how much demand can be reduced through insulation and other efficiency savings. The answer will come from our updated energy strategy, which is a comprehensive review that will answer those questions in further detail for all of us.

Natalie Don was quite right to emphasise that the people who suffer most from climate change are those who have done the least to cause it. She is also right to highlight that young people have been leading the way on such matters. I take this moment to thank the climate strikers, the stop Cambo protesters and all the young people who have powerfully made their voices heard. Keep it up—the world needs you.

Tess White will be interested in a study that came out today and that shows that insulation and heat pumps can deliver UK energy security more quickly than domestic gas fields. I encourage her to read that study.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I ask the minister the same question that I put to her colleague Mark Ruskell and to the cabinet secretary: when does she envisage that renewables will cover demand so that we do not need oil and gas, whether imported or domestic?

Photo of Lorna Slater Lorna Slater Green

As I said just a minute ago, Mr Kerr asks a very sensible question. That question will be answered by our updated energy strategy. We need to assess the matter. The work is under way, and I look forward to seeing it as much as he does.

As I said, Tess White will be interested in the study that I mentioned, but I am slightly concerned that she is in favour of the extinction of the human race. I remind her of the context—[

Interruption

.] Well, if you are against Extinction Rebellion—[

Interruption

.]

The context of global heating is that, at 6°C of warming, it is estimated that 95 per cent of life on earth will be extinct. Only a transition away from fossil fuels and urgent action to remove carbon that is already in the atmosphere will save us from that fate.

Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

Will the minister tell the chamber why Greenpeace does not get Scotland?

Photo of Lorna Slater Lorna Slater Green

I am not familiar with the incident to which the member refers.

Mark Ruskell is correct that there can be no more oil and gas exploration. There are European colleagues who are reacting to the situation in Ukraine and the dangers to our energy security posed by Russian gas by accelerating the decarbonisation of their energy systems.

I agree with Siobhian Brown that climate friendly is business friendly. There are exciting opportunities in the circular economy to reduce business costs through reducing waste and recognising the value of materials that we currently throw away.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I am genuinely grateful to the minister for taking another intervention. Last month, it was announced that the Treasury would review the Solvency II regime in relation to low-carbon infrastructure investments following Brexit. Does the minister welcome that review?

Photo of Lorna Slater Lorna Slater Green

I do not have an answer to that question right now. I am not familiar with that review.

I will press on. Both Siobhian Brown and Stephanie Callaghan will be excited to hear about my work in the Scottish Government on the extended producer responsibility scheme. I have been corresponding with the UK Government on that this week, working towards a scheme that would incentivise producers to use more easily recyclable materials in their packaging and get them to contribute financially to the reduction of waste. That is a significant initiative that we will see coming through in the next few years.

I say to Monica Lennon and Paul McLennan that I am very keen to support local government, particularly in implementing circular economy measures. I was excited to hear from both of them about local energy generation and storage projects in their areas.

I am concerned about running out of time, so I will jump ahead to Ms Villalba’s point. I thank her for it and agree with her on that important issue. I am very sorry that I delayed our meeting. I did so because work is being done in that area by OPITO, which I have met—although not during COP26, when I was very busy and also had Covid.

I delayed our meeting because this month I am expecting a report from OPITO on significant progress towards an offshore passport. Although that is not OPITO’s language, it is progress towards a communication of standards to allow the transferability of workers. As soon as I have that report, I will share it with Ms Villalba so that we can discuss it and she can see whether she is satisfied with the progress.

Photo of Lorna Slater Lorna Slater Green

I think I am out of time—I am very sorry.

I will jump ahead to my final remarks. The Scottish Government will continue our focus on the delivery of our ambitious climate policies. From implementing our recently published hydrogen action plan to updating our energy strategy, all our policies will carry the theme of a fair and just transition while also looking ahead to the next full climate change plan. We have committed to bringing forward a draft of that plan in the first half of this session of Parliament.

The Presiding Officer:

I call Fiona Hyslop to wind up the debate on behalf of the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

It has been a bit of a mixed debate, which has gone from the global to the very local. We have heard about the fact that imperfect progress was made at COP26, as Colin Smyth set out, but although success was not a foregone conclusion, positive steps were taken. Science was firmly placed on the agenda, and many countries agreed plurilateral initiatives to accelerate action on coal, methane reduction, stopping fossil fuel finance, stopping deforestation and phasing out vehicles that have internal combustion engines.

For the first time, as Liam McArthur pointed out, the final text at a conference of the parties recognised nature’s critical role in tackling the climate emergency and the joint crisis of climate and biodiversity.

Although that is all welcome, focus must now be placed on delivery and implementation. As Malini Mehra stated in the committee’s post-COP26 evidence session on 16 November:

“The two weeks saw a barrage of pledges and pacts being made to address the nature and climate emergencies. They are welcome, but they will remain paper tigers unless Parliaments such as the Scottish Parliament enact laws to bring them into the purview of national legislation.”—[

Official Report, Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee

, 16 November 2021; c 4.]

To paraphrase what Professor Jim Skea said in evidence to the committee, this Parliament has agreed on world-beating targets, so we now need world-beating action to deliver them. The focus now must be on implementation and delivery.

Opposition members including Liam Kerr are right to challenge, but they must do so constructively. The Opposition, as well as the Government, must stretch itself out of its comfort zone when it comes to the climate emergency.

Monica Lennon was right to stress the public’s expectation that we in Parliament will co-operate—including with local government—in order to deliver. Paul McLennan spoke about the need for all MSPs to lead.

Scotland can and must lead by example, by sharing our knowledge and expertise, and our successes and failures. No Government in the world has done enough, and time is not on our side. The climate emergency has begun: the world is already burning and flooding, and humanity is on red alert.

During COP26, I met Marinel Ubbo, who is a youth climate justice advocate from the Philippines. In November, in a debate in the chamber on the conclusions of the Glasgow climate dialogues communiqué, I spoke about Marinel’s harrowing experience of supertyphoon Haiyan in 2013, when she sadly lost relatives and friends and was left without food or water. Only weeks after COP26, another devastating supertyphoon, typhoon Rai, hit the Philippines. In an email to me, Marinel said:

“From the communities to the national level, we are crying for funding for loss and damage, and this typhoon just showed how urgent it is already for our global leaders to already put loss and damage on the priority agenda.”

Therefore, climate change is here—it is happening now.

Natalie Don mentioned Scotland’s commitment to treble its world-first climate justice fund to £36 million, with £2 million being set aside for loss and damage. At COP26, UN secretary general António Guterres said:

“Scotland is one of the first international actors that has determined money for loss and damage. That is a very important point for developing countries, so I would like to start by saying how much I appreciate the Scottish effort in this regard.”

Loss and damage is expected to be a COP27 focus; it must be, as the cabinet secretary said.

There needs to be improvement when it comes to climate change funding. A target of $100 billion was set 10 years ago but, as Mark Ruskell said, that funding has not been delivered to the global south. The majority of funding that is coming through is in the form of loans.

At COP26, there was a last-minute watering down of the language of the coal pledge, when India backed China to change the pledge from “phasing out” of unabated coal to “phasing down”. India was widely blamed for that, but, as Malini Mehra made evident to the committee in our post-COP session, many people failed to see the inequality of a situation in which intense pressure is placed on countries such as India that have not had the benefits of oil and gas to reduce their reliance on coal. That is not fair, equal or just. It was made clear by almost all the expert witnesses who gave evidence to the committee that India is trying to achieve equity by adopting a more nuanced approach through that language change. It was a way of trying to encourage support from developed countries, which are largely responsible for the climate emergency.

On private finance, at COP26, Mark Carney, who chairs the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, which gathers together 450 organisations that control 40 per cent of global assets, announced the mobilisation of £95 trillion.

There can be no place for false offsets and double accounting. We do not want just the assurance that there will be a reduction in emissions; we must see and know that it is actually taking place. Global reporting standards are key.

Tackling the climate emergency will hurt. It will be uncomfortable. We must have a whole-system, whole-world, whole-sector response. Finlay Carson, in what I thought was an exemplary speech from a committee convener, focused on the full-system approach that is needed. The dial of the world’s systems must shift permanently, or there will be no clear prospect of a permanent future for humanity in many parts of the world. The impatience and passion of the climate change activists on the streets of Glasgow reflected that.

The frustrations that have been caused by COP26 bring a heightened focus and urgency to COP27 in Egypt later this year. As the UN’s secretary general said in his closing speech in Glasgow, “COP27 starts now.”

John Kerry launched the US-Egypt climate working group when he visited Egypt in February, ahead of COP27. It is pertinent that the committee convener and I both quote John Kerry, rather than the current COP president Alok Sharma. In February, John Kerry asked:

“Will we live up to our most basic responsibility: to leave behind a world better than we found it?”

The jury is still out on that. We have yet to provide concrete evidence that we will, but we must look to COP27 with hope and determination.

The Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee will ensure that the Scottish Parliament keeps the climate emergency firmly at the top of the agenda.

The Presiding Officer:

That concludes the debate on “The Road to COP27 and Beyond: Tackling the Climate Emergency in the Aftermath of COP26”.