Discussing climate change and international development

Event PanelOver the weekend I welcomed constituents to the LifeCare centre in Stockbridge to discuss the issues of climate change and international development and report back on my work in the Scottish Parliament.

I was hosting the event along with Mark Lazarowicz, MP for Edinburgh North and Leith and we were delighted to be joined by Rushanara Ali MP, a Labour Shadow Minister for International Development. 

The event attracted over 120 constituents who engaged the panel in a lively discussion about a range of issues tied to the central themes of climate change and international development.

The topics discussed ranged from the very local concerns about how we as individuals can take action to tackle climate change up to the very large-scale issues like the UK’s commitments to overseas aid and fair trade.

On climate change, the lead off point for discussion was Scotland’s Climate Change Act.  The act, passed in 2009 set ambitious targets to cut carbon emissions by 42% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050.

Since the passing of the act there has been considerable concern raised, not least by some of the organisations represented at the event, about the gap between the Scottish Government’s rhetoric and action on climate change.

Last year, the Scottish Government revealed that they had missed the first annual target for emission reductions.  Furthermore, their own Director of Energy and Climate Change has admitted that they are on course to fail to meet their targets even if they fully implemented the proposals and policies they had set out in 2010.

The Scottish Government recently published a draft of its second report on proposals and policies, setting out the initiatives it is planning or proposing to implement to bring down emissions.  This is currently being scrutinised by Parliament and I will be raising concerns that it fails to deliver the step-change needed to get Scotland back on track to meeting its targets. 

The issues of climate change and international development are closely linked.  Many countries in the developing world are already beginning to see the consequences with more extreme weather, pressures on water resources, damage to local, predominantly agricultural, industry and increasing incidence of particular diseases.

When I visited Bangladesh as a Parliamentary volunteer for VSO I saw the impact that these issues have on widening inequalities, impacting on people’s health and preventing sustainable development.   Against this backdrop, Scotland’s climate change act should provide an opportunity to take the lead, to share expertise and provide support to developing countries.  However, continued failure to meet targets would seriously undermine this goal.   That’s why it’s vital that the Scottish Government delivers on its commitments.   We all have the potential – whether as citizens, trade union members, businesses, consumers and faith groups to use our influence to bring about the change that is needed.

In the context of tackling inequalities, the issue of international aid is hugely important.  Labour has long held a commitment to meet the UN’s target that 0.7% of national income should be spent on international aid. Rushanara said she was pleased that the Tory led coalition had recently committed to continuing progress. However, she was clear that this commitment needed to be given backing by legislation.

There was a lengthy discussion about what outcomes are delivered through international aid.   As many people at the event on Saturday highlighted, it is not enough to simply provide money without monitoring how it is spent.  There is a real challenge in tackling corruption to ensure that aid money does not simply line the pockets of officials at the expense of the general population.

The Millennium Development Goals are an important part of this work, highlighting a series of definable and measurable goals in key areas like poverty, child health and education and women’s equality.

The delivery of these goals cannot be achieved by nations acting in isolation.  It is only through international cooperation and action.

Although the UK Government takes the lead on international development, which is reserved to Westminster, the Scottish Parliament has a potential role to play through support for training for health and educational professionals and through the Climate Justice Fund.

When Parliament returns from recess next week the Cross Party Group on International Development will be discussing the Scottish Government’s priorities when Scottish minister Humza Yussaf attends our next meeting.    

There are also a series of close relationships fostered between Scotland and other nations, most notably in Malawi, where we have strong civic ties at all levels of society. In March this year we’ll see the celebration of the bicentenary of the birth of Scottish explorer David Livingston.

The idea of Scotland playing its part was recently articulated very well by the ‘Enough Food for Everyone If’ campaign. The campaign, launched in January by a coalition of 100 leading development charities and faith groups, has published a report showing that hunger and malnutrition in childhood will trap almost a billion young people in poverty by 2025.

As part of the launch, the campaign has produced a manifesto highlighting how Scotland can play its part in the international effort to end world hunger.  I’m hoping that the motion I’ve laid on the subject will be debated in the Scottish Parliament.

What campaigns like this highlight is that responsibility for tackling the problems facing the developing world rest with us all – from small individual actions, through the work of local and national government, through the dedication of NGOs and through the work of the international community.

I’m delighted to see that so many people are engaged in these issues as evidenced by the fantastic turn out for the event.  I encouraged everyone in attendance to continue to lobby their elected representatives to call for further action to ensure that these issues are pushed up the political agenda.