In the first week back after the October recess, the Scottish Government’s new Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse had to give a statement to Parliament explaining why annual climate change targets had been missed.
Back in 2009, the Scottish Parliament passed legislation setting the ambitious but achievable target of reducing carbon emissions by 42% on 1990 levels by 2020.
In passing the Act we required the Scottish Government to report back to Parliament on progress against agreed annual targets. We wanted to make sure that every year there was a proper focus on progress made.
In debates on the legislation it was clear that the early years were important because there are so many relatively straightforward changes that we could make which would be good for our economy and good on social justice grounds – such as better use of energy and resources generally. The general expectation is that moving towards the 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 will require harder political choices so we should get going on the easy stuff now.
Due to the complex calculations involved, this latest statement related to emissions for 2010. At the time as Labour’s spokesperson on Climate Change I criticised the Scottish Government’s lack of ambition when they were setting their targets. That’s why I’m so disappointed that we’ve missed this early target.
During his statement, the Minister offered the cold weather in 2010 among the excuses for not delivering on the targets. Granted, the winter conditions in 2010 will have had an impact on increased emissions but that does not disguise the fact that not enough has been done to make serious inroads into our emissions. It is simply not credible to hope that the weather will be good! Moreover one of the concerns about climate change is that we are likely to see more weather extremes – so we’ll have to plan for weather that has not been the norm in Scotland.
As we try to emerge out of recession we need to see low-carbon growth and the promotion of green jobs. There needs to be action on areas like sustainable energy and transport and on energy efficient housing. I’m particularly keen that the Scottish Government uses its budget and public procurement to source low carbon services.
The Scottish Government have frequently lauded Scotland’s world leading climate change targets and, on this occasion, the Minister described them as an inspiration to many. However, our targets will only live up to their billing if we can demonstrate that they are being consistently delivered. Failure to do so will not just make life tougher for people in Scotland and the UK but will be immensely costly in less developed countries on the front line of climate change such as those in sub-Saharan Africa and those prone to widespread coastal inundation such as Bangladesh.
Two days after the statement I joined with campaigners from the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland group to demand the step change that is needed. I want to see the Scottish Government focus on practical, cost-effective action that they can take to make up ground on targets moving forward.