We have seen some real messages of solidarity coming from the annual United Nations’ climate talks in Bonn this week, with delegations of senior US politicians and captains of industry defiantly declaring that much of America still supports the Paris Agreement.
Over the next week both the First Minister and myself will be joining these discussions, as part of Scotland’s commitment to contain global temperature rises to well below two degrees Celsius, and to pursue efforts to limit the rise even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Sadly the need for action on climate change is greater now than ever. Over the past week we have heard from world-leading experts that concentrations of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere surged to a record high in 2016.
The BBC’s boundary-pushing Blue Planet 2 series showed us in graphic detail how marine life across the globe is struggling with the damage caused to their habitats by changing climates. Closer to home, new research published last week warned that our important cod, herring and haddock stocks could disappear from Scotland’s west coast by 2100 as a direct result of warming sea temperatures.
That is why the Scottish Government is committed to taking action and staying at the forefront of the global fight against climate change through our draft Climate Change Bill and recent Programme for Government, which has been described as our "greenest” yet.
Our climate targets are already the most ambitious in the UK and our proposals for the new Climate Change Bill will set long-term targets in direct response to the Paris Agreement. We received almost 20,000 responses to our bill consultation and are currently considering those responses. We are also finalising our Climate Change Plan.
The draft plan set out a package of transformational measures and interventions across transport, heat, electricity generation and energy efficiency to help us build on our world-leading climate change ambitions and reduce emissions by 66 per cent by 2032.
The finalised version will be strengthened by the bold new low-carbon commitments, which were set out in the 2017 Programme for Government – including phasing out the need for new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032. These commitments are all geared towards transformation. We have signalled a step change in our ambition towards a low carbon economy by announcing low emission zones in Scotland’s four biggest cities by 2020.
And, through Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Programme, we are investing £500 million, over the four years to 2021, into energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation measures. This will help make people’s homes and businesses more energy efficient.
By acting on climate change, Scotland is also benefitting from the investment, growth and trade of the low carbon transition, with almost 60,000 low carbon jobs across the country. As well as our climate leadership through domestic action, Scotland plays an active role internationally. EU membership has been significant for our environmental ambitions.
Despite Brexit we will continue to work to ensure Scotland continues to benefit from the EU’s powerful voice. We are supporting the Under2 Coalition, a commitment by almost 200 progressive states and cities, covering more than 1.2 billion people to reduce their greenhouse gas emission towards net-zero by 2050.
I am pleased that one of Scotland’s first engagements will be a meeting of the Under2 Coalition hosted by the governor of California Edmund G Brown, where we will follow up on the next steps of our Co-operation Agreement signed by the First Minister and the governor earlier in the year.
Both Scotland and California have committed to the Under2MoU which delivers ambitious domestic measures to reduce carbon emissions and provide leadership in the spirit of the historic Paris Agreement. In fact, earlier this week it was fantastic to meet young members of Friends of the Earth Scotland and hear about their own experience of attending COP23 and taking part in the climate march.
It was inspiring to hear how passionate they are, and how they have been promoting Scotland’s interests to international audiences. And from 19-21 November in Edinburgh, the Scottish Government will host our first-ever Arctic Circle Forum – a break-out event of the international co-operation network the Arctic Circle Assembly, which the First Minister spoke at in Iceland last month As well as contributions by ministers from Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, the forum will include a keynote address by Lord Deben, chairman of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, the independent body that advises the UK and devolved administrations on tackling and preparing for climate change.
Titled Scotland and the New North, the forum will see attendance by business interests, academics, governments, charities and NGOs from around the world. Focusing on innovation, science and sustainable development, co-operation among northern nations in response to climate change will be a central theme and there’s still time to register attendance by going to www.arcticcirclescotland.com Making sure everyone understands the role they play in tackling climate change is part of the challenge.
While the concept of global warming can seem worlds away from our everyday lives in Scotland, everyone can play a part. The reality is that individuals, making small changes like turning down a thermostat, or recycling more household waste, or cycling instead of taking the car, cumulatively can have a big impact on safeguarding our environment.
Sadly the most damaging effects of climate change are in developing nations and fall disproportionately on the very young, the very old and the very poor. That’s why Scotland was the first national government in the world to establish a Climate Justice Fund, which now supports 11 projects in some of the planet’s poorest communities in four sub-Saharan African countries.
That’s just one of many commitments Scotland has made to ensure that we remain an open, outward-looking country that works to strengthen our partnerships around the world. At UN level, support for the Paris Agreement has been almost universal and looks to be unstoppable. The need for that international cooperation is greater than ever and will be vital if we are to prevent the most serious effects of climate change.