26 March 2009

S3M-3349 Earth Hour 2009

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 26 March 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]
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Earth Hour 2009

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S3M-3349, in the name of Shirley-Anne Somerville, on earth hour 2009. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament supports WWF's Earth Hour 2009, which aims to encourage millions of people worldwide and across Scotland to switch off their lights for an hour at 8.30 pm on Saturday 28 March 2009, to send a powerful global message that we care enough about climate change to take action and demonstrate widespread public support for an equitable, binding and scientifically credible global deal on climate change and, in Scotland, strong Scottish climate change legislation; considers that 2009 is a critical year for action on climate change with a new global deal to be agreed in Copenhagen in December; acknowledges the opportunity for Scotland to take a global lead with the most progressive legislation in the world through a strong Climate Change (Scotland) Bill; recognises that the global deal must address the historical responsibility of the United Kingdom and other developed countries as major contributors to climate change; commends local government in Edinburgh alongside the many individuals who are early signatories to support WWF's Earth Hour in Scotland, and further considers that the Scottish and UK governments are in an ideal position to take a proactive, progressive and leading role throughout the 2009 negotiations.

... ... ...

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I, too, thank Shirley-Anne Somerville for bringing the matter to the Parliament for debate.

On behalf of the Government, I am pleased to support WWF's earth hour 2009, as countries throughout the world will do. On 28 March, we will turn off non-essential lights in all 44 of our core buildings, as indeed will the Parliament. Earth hour raises awareness of sustainability and climate change globally and throughout Scotland.

It is clear from the speeches that we heard in tonight's debate that the Parliament supports earth hour, cares about climate change and recognises the need for action. As Alex Johnstone said, earth hour is more than a gesture—we can see that from what happened in previous years. It is thought that some 36 million people participated in 2008. We are told that Bangkok saved 4.16 tonnes of carbon in the single hour, Toronto saved 900MWh of electricity, and Ireland made a significant reduction of 150MWh and saved 6 tonnes of carbon. The best result is said to have been in Christchurch in New Zealand, which reported a pleasing reduction in electricity demand of some 13 per cent.

Members highlighted the need to work in partnership. Tackling climate change is an area in which partnership has been working effectively. We have good relations with colleagues at Westminster through their passage of the Climate Change Act 2008; with colleagues in local authorities, which unanimously supported Scotland's climate change declaration; and with the partnership that clearly exists throughout Scotland in supporting earth hour. Many members made the point that earth hour is about individual action as well as corporate action.

We must do our bit now to reduce emissions, prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change and encourage environmentally responsible behaviour while supporting new technologies and innovations to take advantage of the future low-carbon economy. Our climate challenge fund has so far helped 56 communities to reduce their carbon emissions and build a sustainable future. The go greener campaign gives advice on energy efficiency and reducing waste. The Energy Saving Trust supports consumers on sustainable energy issues, and the Carbon Trust is working with organisations to reduce emissions. The European Union emission trading scheme and the forthcoming carbon reduction commitment are encouraging low-carbon technologies. We will work closely with industry and further develop Scotland's massive renewable energy potential to deliver on target the generation of 20 per cent of energy consumption from renewable resources by 2020.

I want to pick up on specific points that members have made. Malcolm Chisholm referred to the need to act in the next 10 years. The Government has indicated to the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee that it will lodge an amendment to the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill at stage 2 to set a target for 2020 rather than 2030, which is the year referred to in the current draft of the bill. That will align the bill with what is happening elsewhere and will be a spur to action.

Robin Harper said: "Is it that simple? Basically—yes." It is simple to say that everyone should turn off their lights, but a little bit more difficult to persuade everyone to do so. However, he was, of course, right.

I am delighted that Rob Gibson's partner Eleanor is in for a surprise dinner on Saturday night. I, too, think that protecting bees is important if only because I have a rather sticky complaint in the back of my throat. Some royal jelly—which was, of course, the Queen mum's favourite remedy for many problems—is probably called for.

Des McNulty called on us to have a darkness party. I do not think that he was talking politics but about a celebration, and there is certainly something in what he said. He pointed to actions such as earth hour moving climate change issues on to an even broader agenda.

It is good to know that Alex Johnstone learns something some of the time. He told us that the motion is informative and that he learned much from it.

We in Scotland have huge opportunities but also huge responsibilities to make a contribution to the world climate change agenda. The First Minister has said that we can punch well above our weight. We have a bill that the WWF has described as the most ambitious in the world, and we must live up to that and continue to improve the bill. The Government and I are certainly up for that.

Of course, we have negotiations in Copenhagen to secure an agreement to succeed the Kyoto protocol. It is important that good progress is made on that.

The Government has encouraged its staff to act. An article has appeared on its intranet showing how staff can make their practical contributions. Members have referred to similar actions across the web that encourage people to act.

Given the size of the country in question and its consumption of resources, one of the most exciting changes that we have seen was indicated in President Obama's inaugural speech. In a clear change of direction, he said:

"We will harness the sun and the winds"

and the land. That indicated an engagement with the climate change agenda that is perhaps greater than we have seen before.

People have talked about the value of dark nights at home. One of the great pleasures of living in the country is going out on dark, clear nights and seeing the whole panoply of stars from horizon to horizon. Light pollution prevents that elsewhere. Many years ago, in the 1960s, my brother and I saw the Pleiades meteor shower at 3 in the morning. One would not be able to see that if there was light pollution.

It is unusual for the Parliament to call on the Government to turn out the lights, but we will do so on this occasion, even though some of us may watch the match before doing that. I support the motion in my colleague's name.

Meeting closed at 17:43

Stewart Stevenson
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