It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr McCabe. I commend all the Members who secured this important debate from the Backbench Business Committee and all those who have spoken so far. Every single person has made important points about the ambitions that we should have for COP26 and for addressing the world’s climate crisis.
COP26 in November is a critical moment for the world to deliver its most ambitious and tangible climate actions. Scotland will play its part in tackling the twin crises of climate change and ecological decline. I want to acquaint Members with a few things that Scotland has been doing to demonstrate that. Our aim is to work closely with the UK Government and our many other partners to deliver a safe, secure and successful Glasgow COP and engage, in particular, with those who have been historically sidelined in climate discussions, to ensure those most affected by the climate crisis have their voices heard.
The year 2021 is “humanity’s defining moment” in the fight against climate change, as the UN Secretary General stated. COP26 is the world’s best chance to deliver a global deal that supports the goals of the Paris agreement and delivers lasting action towards a net-zero future, in a way that is fair and just. We are delighted that the vital COP26 is taking place in Scotland. There is still so much more to be done and there is a very long way to go, but I am proud that our SNP Scottish Government were the first in the world to declare a climate emergency and one of the first to set binding net zero targets earlier than 2045. Scotland has led the way in decarbonisation, recently producing 97% of its electricity requirements renewably, and managing to reduce emissions by 31% between 2008 and 2018, faster than the rest of the UK and any G20 nation. We aim to be the world’s first net zero aviation region by 2040 and to decarbonise passenger rail by 2035.
We are also tackling a necessary and just transition to renewable energy. That is a really important issue. We saw what happened in Scotland in the ‘70s and ’80s when a Government did not care about protecting individuals and communities from the impact of economic transformations. As our First Minister said recently:
“We must not make that mistake again. Failing to plan for the transition to net zero is not an option, which is why” the SNP Government
“are working with trade unions, businesses and communities to develop just transition plans to ensure that our approach is a fair one.”
The First Minister has appointed a Just Transition Minister. The Scottish Government will implement the recommendations of the Just Transition Commission and intend to retain the commission and call on it for advice all the way through this Parliament.
The Scottish Government also created the world’s first climate justice fund—recently doubled to £24 million—which supports vulnerable communities in Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda to address the impact of climate change. Our Scottish Government have been active elsewhere on the world stage, leading the Edinburgh process on biodiversity and publishing the Edinburgh declaration, calling for increased action to tackle biodiversity loss. Scotland also serves as European co-chair of the Under2 Coalition—a group of more than 220 Governments, representing more than 1.3 billion people and 43% of the global economy.
It is vital, as I have mentioned, that COP26 engages with those who have historically been left out of climate discussions, to ensure that those most affected by climate change have their voices heard. Young people, indigenous communities and disadvantaged groups must have a say. Indigenous communities are often those most affected by the activities that contribute to climate change, such as deforestation, and are more likely to live in the areas hardest hit. Young people are those who will have to live longest with the consequences of climate change, and those from disadvantaged communities are less able to afford mitigation of its consequences. The Scottish Government have sought to include the voices of young people at COP through their youth climate programme, which will manage a series of events putting the voices of young people from around Scotland at the heart of the climate conversation, and will recruit local champions from every local authority to connect their communities in the fight against climate change.
We need to remember that it is not only states that have a stake in our future and it should not be only their voices that are heard. Although the green zone is a welcome aspect to COP26, it cannot be an excuse to separate civil society from any serious discussion taking place. Climate justice is a simple and powerful message. Poor and vulnerable communities are the first to be affected by climate change and will suffer the worst, yet have done little or nothing to cause the problem. Establishing a UK climate justice fund ahead of COP26 would be a powerful signal that justice and equality issues will be a priority at COP and that previously marginalised voices will be heard. It is also important, of course, that technology is deployed in a way that helps to facilitate the involvement of those typically unable to participate in conferences such as COP. I hope that the Minister might address both those points in her closing remarks.
The Scottish Government have been working closely with the UK Government, and partners including Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland, with the aim of delivering a safe, secure and successful COP26 in November. Our Government intend to play a full and active role at the summit, and I am particularly excited about the opportunities that there will be to showcase Scotland’s world-leading approach to tackling the climate emergency and delivering that just transition to a net zero future.
I of course also have questions regarding the priorities specifically of the UK Government in the run-up to COP, which many others are also looking for clarity on. After all, how can this Government persuade other countries to play their part if they are failing domestically to keep to their own targets? How will the Government keep to their 1.5°C commitment when research says that their own current emissions pathway suggests a factor some two times greater? What urgent actions will the Government take to keep them on track? Is all of Whitehall’s thinking on this joined up? For example, we have seen a challenge from the UK board of international trade to the news that the Chancellor is reportedly musing over a carbon border adjustment tax, although I see that the International Trade Secretary has now come out saying that she is actually up for considering it. That is an odd one, because she is the president of the UK board of international trade. It looks a little like a string leading from the Treasury has been yanked hard.
I would be interested to hear what updates the Minister can give us on the progress on the Green Jobs Taskforce, which is a very important initiative. When will we see a replacement for the green homes grant scheme, with an equivalent level of funding? I have heard it described as the only big-ticket item in the Government’s policy store cupboard that could make a real difference to carbon emissions relatively quickly. Why has its replacement not been announced?
When will the Government back a fairer charging system for renewables developers in Scotland looking to plug into the national grid? One cannot help but feel that if the Government were really serious about their commitment to net zero, they would accept that that extra levy on Scottish projects, despite Scotland being one of the best sources of renewable energy on these islands, is just plain daft, and that they would talk to Ofcom about it and do something about it.
So many questions and so little time. I look to COP with some hope but not a little trepidation, knowing how important its outcomes will be to our planet and future generations. I ask the Minister to take back some of the messages that she has heard expressed here today and persuade her Government to make the sort of rapid and serious changes to their policy approaches that this climate crisis deserves.