14 June 2007

S3M-173 Carbon Offsetting [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 14 June 2007

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

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Carbon Offsetting

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-173, in the name of Robin Harper, on carbon offsetting.


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The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Climate change is widely recognised as one of the most serious threats that face the world today. Unchecked, carbon emissions will have serious consequences for Scotland's people, economy and environment, and it should certainly not be dealt with solely by granting indulgences.

According to Sir Nicholas Stern, it would cost up to 1 per cent of the world's annual gross domestic product to stabilise emissions by the middle of the century, but—critically—failure to tackle emissions could cost 20 per cent of GDP. The longer we wait to take the necessary action, the more the cost to society will rise.

Action to avoid and reduce emissions is widely recognised as the most appropriate way of dealing with climate change, which is why we intend to consult on ambitious targets to reduce emissions in Scotland through our proposed climate change bill. Next week, we will announce to the Parliament our objectives for the bill, and we will discuss the bill's content with representatives of the Parliament and others during the coming month. I have started direct engagement with other parties on the matter—I have met representatives of half the parties in the Parliament and will meet representatives of the remaining two parties today. Climate change is truly a cross-cutting and cross-party issue and we need a long-term consensus if we are to succeed.

We know that everyday actions consume energy and produce carbon emissions, but people in Scotland need to travel and use energy—Scotland's economy depends on their doing so. Without access to good transport links and reliable energy supplies, Scottish businesses will be unable to compete in the global marketplace. That could result in our businesses relocating, taking their jobs and emissions with them and giving us a false sense of having reduced our output. Such a result simply would not benefit Scottish people or the global environment.

Avoiding and reducing emissions require action on many fronts. There is much that everyone can do simply by making smarter choices—there are smarter ways of doing business, of travelling and of reducing energy use. Although the smarter choices can reduce emissions, they do not eliminate them. That is why technology will be such an important part of our fight against climate change. Technology can provide us with new ways of generating as well as saving energy and new ways in which we can continue to grow Scotland's economy without growing carbon emissions.

That is why we want Scotland to become a global leader in developing solutions to the challenge of climate change and a pre-eminent location for clean energy research and development in Europe. We want Scotland to become the green energy capital of Europe. We can do that by playing to our strengths; other people will have the same ambition. We have unique potential for wave and tidal energy. We can build on the world-class Orkney test centre, which the previous Administration supported, and on indigenous expertise in the area. We can make Scotland the global byword for marine renewables, which are the new generation of renewables.

There is another option that can support efforts to reduce emissions: compensating for unavoidable emissions with an equivalent carbon saving. Carbon offsetting is not a cure for climate change, but it can play a part in reducing the impact of our immediate actions. If offsets can be purchased, it means that carbon emissions have a cost that can be avoided if emissions are reduced. A climate strategy that includes offsetting can help to raise awareness of the carbon impact of actions, influence behaviours to reduce carbon emissions where possible and thus help to drive down further emissions.

We want to lead by example. Continuing from the previous Executive, we want to reduce emissions from our own travel. When I meet David Miliband in London on Monday with representatives of the other devolved Administrations, I shall travel by train. I am afraid that I have to fly back, but at least I have made that 50 per cent reduction. On another occasion, my diary will be better arranged.

Climate change will not be solved by a single country, organisation or action and it will not be solved in a day, a week or a month; it is a long-term issue that requires a coalition of commitment that transcends a single Parliament or Administration and crosses political, economic, geographic and country boundaries—it is a genuine cross-cutting issue.

Carbon offsetting is one of the measures that should be properly considered. I welcome the debate as an opportunity to do so.

I move amendment S3M-173.4, to leave out from "transport policy" to end and insert:

"policy, including transport policy, leads to direct emissions reductions."


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