16 March 2017

S5M-04534 Draft Climate Change Plan

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): Good afternoon. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-04534, in the name of Graeme Dey, on behalf of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, on reports on the “Draft Climate Change Plan: The draft third report on policies and proposals 2017-2032”.


Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Richard Leonard quoted Alfred Whitehead. Lord Whitehead also said: “all of our choices and actions have consequences for the world around us.”

I think that we can all agree with that, because we are talking about the anthropogenic effects on climate change.

I am particularly interested in the one-by-one approach. In other words, it is all very well having in place the technology and having the Government take actions but, ultimately, it will require each individual in our society—one by one—to identify actions that they can take to help the climate change agenda.

This week, I am contributing a little bit to active travel. So far, I have walked 17 miles. That is not a huge amount—although it sounds a lot when you add up the miles day by day—but it is better than getting the taxi up to the station every day. Walking helps me to become a little bit fitter and it is better for the climate.

Individual behaviours present significant challenges. When I first came to Parliament, I drove 40,000 miles a year; now I drive 7,000 or 8,000 miles a year. I represent a rural constituency, so I cannot eliminate all car use, but I now use the train in a way that I certainly did not previously.

Thanks to the free bus pass that was introduced by a previous Labour-Liberal Administration, I use the bus, too.

Gordon Lindhurst was quite wrong when he said that the whole world recognises the problem of climate change. Only yesterday, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, cut the Environmental Protection Agency budget by 31 per cent—the biggest cut in his proposed budget of any part of public administration in the United States. He has populated the agency with a raft of climate change deniers and we are days away from their resiling from the signing of the Paris agreement on climate change.

We are in a territory of unprecedented challenge over which we have little control, so it is important that we do the best and the most that we possibly can. So far, so good. It is great that we reached our 2020 targets years ahead of the plan. The 66 per cent target that we are setting for 2032 is ambitious, and the next part of our implementation of climate change plans will be more challenging than the parts that we have already undertaken.

I am of the age at which, on a day when I feel a little bit lower than I am today—today, I have a spring in my step—I might give some thought to what my obituary might say. It might describe me as the minister for snow—a title given to me because the weather forecast was 0.4°C out and therefore et cetera—but I hope that it might also say that I was the minister who took the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill through Parliament. That bill was very important for Parliament, because we passed it absolutely unanimously, so I hope that as we look at the draft climate change plan—capable of improvement as it undoubtedly is—we can achieve the unanimity that will help to take us forward.

Some of the issues that are discussed in the plan and which have come up in the debate relate to technological solutions. We must encourage every possible technological opportunity that will help the agenda—not only because it will help the agenda but because our taking the initiative creates business opportunities for us. Carbon capture and storage is one such opportunity—especially with regard to gas-powered stations. We need to get off gas, but while we have it, we will be able to use it more efficiently and with a much smaller carbon footprint.

I should, however, enter a couple of caveats. The use of low-emission vehicles, in particular those that are electrically powered, raises significant challenges in the medium term, because the world is now beginning to see a limitation, with regard to the amount of lithium that exists. The technology for batteries—lithium-ion technology—has not really changed much in 30 years. Lots of good things are happening in the laboratory; nanocarbon cathodes, in particular, might help, although there are still issues with the acid burning them away. I hope that technology can help.

I want to close by quoting John Gummer, from the Committee for Climate Change, who said yesterday: “Over the past eight years measures to combat global warming have cut carbon emissions without raising” any “electricity bills for UK households.”

There are many myths around, and we have to demolish them. We have a lot of work to do, but I know that the Government will want to do it.


Stewart Stevenson
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