UN Climate Summit

Earlier this week the United Nations Climate Change Conference got underway in Durban.  The aim of the conference is to agree a framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires next year.

The Scottish Government’s Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson is at the conference as part of the UK delegation and ahead of their departure the Parliament held a debate on climate change.

I used my speech to highlight disappointment from all interested parties at the failure to reach a global deal at the Copenhagen Summit in 2009 and to stress the importance of securing a global agreement.

These negotiations are not simply an academic exercise and will have wide-ranging implications for some of the poorest countries in the world.  I reflected on my experiences in Bangladesh – about the extreme weather they are increasingly facing to the fact that much of the country is already below sea level.  For the people of Bangladesh, an agreement in Durban could be the difference between being a farmer or being a climate refugee.

Against the backdrop of these important discussions, I am concerned at the lack of progress being shown by the Scottish Government.  Some bold claims have been made by the Scottish Government but they don’t seem to be backed up by the facts.

For example, the Scottish Government have repeatedly claimed that their Climate Challenge Fund has helped communities to reduce their emissions by 700,000 tonnes when in reality the figure was 125,886 tonnes.

When they came to power in 2007, the Scottish Government promised to introduce annual carbon emission targets of three per cent but the reality is that the target for this year is 0.5% and next year is even less at 0.3%.

When the Scottish Government claims to have met its targets we need to be able to believe them.  Our targets will be more powerful if we can be seen to implement them.  I want to see the Scottish Government focus on practical, cost-effective action that they can take in the early years.  As we try to emerge out of recession we need to see low-carbon growth and the promotion of green jobs.  Progress on electricity from renewable energy sources is important but isn’t sufficient.   There needs to be action on sustainable transport and energy efficient housing too.

I’m particularly keen that the Scottish Government uses its budget and public procurement to source low carbon services.   Last Friday I spoke at the ICARB conference where a range of academics, experts and government officials debated progress in developing standards which will ensure that we can have more confidence when government departments and businesses make claims that they have reduced carbon emissions. 

This agenda needs commitment not just from the current Scottish Government but from future governments, local authorities, businesses and the people of Scotland.    The challenges we have in Scotland are not unique – but having set ambitious targets – the Scottish Government needs to lead by example.