28 May 2008

Subject Debate: Climate Change [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 28 May 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

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Climate Change

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on climate change. I should say to all members that time is very tight this afternoon.


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Stewart Stevenson: I thank all the members who contributed to the wide-ranging debate on this important subject. If I do not respond now to everything that has been said, I assure members that their comments will be taken on board in our consideration of the climate change bill. The debate has had a constructive tone and has been interesting. I even learned something, which is unusual.

One theme that has run through the speeches from members of all parties has been the need to play to Scotland's strengths on renewables and to exercise our comparative advantages. Reference was made to the switching on of the first marine energy facility to contribute to the network, which we all welcome. We are consulting on amending the renewables obligation (Scotland) to ensure the right level of support for new renewables technologies, which should provide incentives to allow us to maintain our competitive edge. We are working with a range of experts on the carbon impact assessment and we will have a working model ready for early next year—that will be a world first.

David Stewart made an excellent speech. The children of Eigg are to be congratulated, as are children throughout Scotland, who are persuading their parents of the subject's importance. Shirley-Anne Somerville, who has an alarmingly personal interest in the subject, referred to children, too.

As David Stewart said, the Kyoto protocol will expire in 2012. That is one reason why we need to address this huge issue.

A few members have referred to the 3 per cent target, which Alison McInnes dealt with in a way that was a little simplistic. If she wants a 3 per cent reduction every year, she needs to achieve a 9 per cent reduction every year, because the climatic variation is 6 per cent. We must therefore have a measurement system that shows that we are delivering on the 3 per cent reduction and which accounts for the variation. Ministers will be accountable every year, so members will have every opportunity not only to question me about my narrow responsibilities—I am responsible for climate change across the Government—but to question the whole of the Government.

I repeat that the climate change bill will provide a framework. The correct place in which to take many of the steps that will address the agenda is secondary legislation. That is so because we will discover questions up to 2050. For example, in 2040, we will have questions of which we have no knowledge today, so we must have the mechanisms to deal with those issues. We will debate that during the passage of the bill.

I say gently to David Stewart that the national planning framework is not about nine projects alone. It contains the aspiration to electrify the whole of Scotland's railways by 2030. The member should read the whole document.

The information that I learned—on which I congratulate David Stewart, because it is interesting and good—is that the winter timetables for the different transport modes start on different dates. That point is great and nobody has made it to me before. We will see what we can do about that.

As for support for an undersea cable, David Stewart knows that we are interested in that.

Alex Johnstone talked about burdens on business, but I prefer to talk about opportunities for business, which will be key if Scotland takes the lead in renewable energies. I have had a constructive and useful meeting with Adair Turner, who will chair the UK's climate change committee, into which we will have input. When he gave evidence to a Westminster committee, he said that the effect of incurring the cost of 1 per cent of gross domestic product to which the Stern report refers is that the economic growth that is projected today to be delivered in January 2050 would be delivered in July 2050. That gives us a sense of how, if properly managed and dealt with, the impact can be almost invisible. However, if we take no action, nobody will need to measure the 20 per cent impact that Stern talks about, because we will all know that it has happened.

To Alison McInnes I say yes, we are acting now, and yes, I am responsible for the whole shebang.

Rob Gibson, like many other members, talked about tidal power. It was useful that he focused on that subject.

I do not always have the friendliest exchanges with Des McNulty. However, he said that there is a fifth reason for having a climate change bill: to help people in Scotland understand how they can respond as individuals to climate change. That is a critical point that goes to the heart of the matter. I have made the same point before, but I absolutely agree with him. We cannot simply change systems and technologies; we must also change individuals. His point was well made, and I thank him for giving us credit for something for the first time in a long time.

However, I disagree with what Des McNulty said about the bus service operators grant. The Westminster Government has managed to cream £500 million out of the coffers of fuel users, so it ill behoves him to say that that grant is a decisive contributor towards rising bus fares throughout Scotland. It is fuel prices that are rising—

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): Excuse me for interrupting, minister, but far too many conversations are taking place in the chamber.

Stewart Stevenson: I shall, of course, continue my conversation with you, Presiding Officer, as ever.

We are talking seriously to the bus operators about the bus service operators grant and about taking a more environmentally friendly approach rather than simply rewarding bus operators for running empty buses. We are seriously engaged with them and receiving great support from them.

Jim Hume talked about me getting on my bike. I will be on my bike the week after next to ride 6 whole miles—that is 6 miles more than I have done. I am in energetic training. As a minister, I have used trains more than 250 times. Perhaps I will get my bike on the railway next time—one never knows.

Shirley-Anne Somerville talked about the transition town initiative, on which Portobello is to be congratulated.

There have been a couple of exchanges on microgeneration. I think that members can see that we are moving forward on that.

Liam McArthur talked about "magic buckshot". I ask him to explain that term to me afterwards, in case it is a bit risqué.

Gavin Brown used circumlocution to a masterful extent when he talked about bovine flatulence.

This is a critical time for climate change. What we do now is critical for establishing a pathway to a low-carbon economy. Climate change affects all of us. The relatively consensual nature of the debate and the engagement of all parties in it are helpful pointers to our being able to move forward collectively in a positive fashion.
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Subject Debate: Climate Change [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 28 May 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

... ... ...

Climate Change

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on climate change. I should say to all members that time is very tight this afternoon.


The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Scottish Government is ensuring that action on climate change becomes part and parcel of the way Government and the wider public sector behaves. Our Government economic strategy provides the route map to improve Scotland's growth, productivity, population and participation, and to deliver on the desired characteristics of growth: solidarity, cohesion and sustainability.

Significantly, our strategy is the first of its kind with measurable, time-bound targets, including targets that combine raising the gross domestic product growth rate to the United Kingdom level by 2011 with reduced emissions. The actions that we are taking now are setting the course for our long-term ambition to reduce the level of emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

We do not underestimate the scale of the challenge, against a background of growing global emissions. Scientists at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii reported earlier this month that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide were the highest that they have been for two thirds of a million years.

Scotland's emissions have fallen since 1990, but the volatile nature of emissions means that Scottish emissions data for 2006—to be published in the autumn—are expected to show an increase in Scottish emissions between 2005 and 2006, due to increases in carbon dioxide emissions from Scottish sites in the European Union emissions trading scheme, principally power stations.

Central to our climate change commitments are proposals to set a statutory target for Scotland to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 and to develop mechanisms to ensure that sustained progress is made. To give effect to that target, the Scottish Government issued a consultation on proposals for a Scottish climate change bill. The consultation period closed on 23 April 2008, and more than 21,000 responses were received. A report of the analysis of the responses will be published in the summer. We will consider the analysis carefully and publish a response in the autumn. We plan to introduce the bill before the end of the year.

The submissions that we have received from across the public and private sectors, as well as from individuals, are extremely important in helping us to develop the right climate change legislation for Scotland. We need to set challenging targets, but they will be credible only if they are achievable. Our consultation paper flagged up some particularly tricky issues where the way ahead was not clear cut. For example, we have to decide whether our 80 per cent target should cover all greenhouse gases—namely methane, nitrous oxide and the fluorine-based gases—as well as carbon dioxide. We need to be sure that including the non-CO2 gases will not end up requiring disproportionately large additional cuts of carbon dioxide, or reductions of the other gases that are not cost-effective or have negative environmental or social impacts.

Similarly, we have to come to a view on whether the target should apply to the so-called traded sector—including those industries within the scope of the EU emissions trading scheme, which currently account for almost 50 per cent of Scotland's emissions—and the non-traded sector. We need to consider the consequences of such a decision, taking account of proposed and possible changes to the EU scheme. Thinking through the implications is not easy. We would welcome further views from members on those and other issues associated with our consideration of a Scottish climate change bill.

The issues that I have highlighted are not unique to Scotland and we recognise the importance of working with our United Kingdom partners and with the EU on this agenda. We will be part of the UK Climate Change Bill, which will set a statutory target for the UK as a whole to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and possibly emissions of other greenhouse gases, by at least 60 per cent by 2050.

A new set of policies and delivery mechanisms will be required to deliver the ambitious target in the Scottish climate change bill. Central to that will be a system of cross-compliance, to ensure that spending decisions across Government take account of the carbon impact of policy options. Guidance is being developed that will create incentives to seek out low carbon options or different ways of delivering outcomes. In addition, a number of areas of work are under way that will help to inform policy developments in support of our ambitious target.

A consultation analysis on the draft energy efficiency and microgeneration strategy is due to be published in the next few weeks. At the same time, we will publish our response to the issues raised during the consultation and set out our next steps.

We need to do more on developing renewable heat in Scotland. We will set out our proposals this year in a consultation on a renewable energy action plan.

I previously appointed a panel to advise on the development of a low carbon building standards strategy to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. Its report was published last year and the recommendations are informing future policy development.

While the targets in the climate change bills may be long term, the actions to achieve them are required now. In line with the commitment of the previous Administration and our proposals to introduce a statutory reporting requirement in a Scottish climate change bill, we laid before the Parliament an annual report on progress on climate change last week. That shows how we are supporting the increased level of effort required within and outwith Government to act on climate change, including resources for a range of sustainable development and climate change initiatives.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): I am pleased that the minister mentioned the second annual report. In neither the transport section of the report nor the preamble is there a single mention of aviation. How is one to take that seriously?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will know that we are supporting the UK Government's efforts to have aviation and, indeed, maritime transport included in emissions trading across Europe. During my visit to Brussels yesterday, I raised that specific issue with the directors general of environment and of energy and transport. The Government is on the case.

Emerging technologies will be pivotal in helping us to move forward. We have seen wave energy take a step forward in Orkney and we are leading the way in the world with the £10 million saltire prize to stimulate innovation in marine energy.

We have tripled funding for community and microgeneration and we are making £15 million available for sustainable travel communities over the next three years. To ensure that the public sector is setting a programme of continuous improvement, we recently announced the launch of a high-level group to provide leadership to the wider public sector on environmental performance.

Adaptation is an equally important part of the agenda. Urgent action is required to reduce Scotland's vulnerability to the impacts that are already seen in our changing climate. Over the next 30 to 40 years, there will be unavoidable impacts determined by past and present emissions. We need to take action now.

We have consulted on the future of flood risk management in Scotland with a view to introducing a draft bill this year. We are jointly sponsoring the marine climate change impacts partnership, which is playing a vital role in helping us to understand what we need to do to tackle the problem of climate change in the marine environment.

To help and encourage businesses and organisations, including local authorities, in the development of their own adaptation response, the Scottish Government has had a significant role in the establishment of the Scottish climate change impacts partnership.

Transport Scotland has identified a range of actions that it will implement to improve the resilience of the Scottish trunk road network to any long-term changes in climatic conditions. Several actions have already been progressed, including changes to drainage design parameters, construction contractual terms and trunk road inspection procedures.

We are also working closely with other UK Administrations to ensure the sharing of best practice and cross-border co-operation, particularly in areas such as research. That will include our involvement in the national risk assessment to be required under the UK Climate Change Bill.

Building on that activity, we will shortly consult on Scotland's climate change adaptation framework, which will identify strategic principles and priority actions as a means of providing leadership, guidance and consistency of approach to Government and non-Government decision makers.

Ultimately, addressing the urgent social, economic and environmental challenge of climate change will be successful only if every one of us accepts responsibility and acts sustainably. The Scottish Government is confident that government, business and all the people of Scotland are ready to rise to that challenge. We intend to work with them to achieve the goals that we have set for ourselves.


15 May 2008

S3M-1297 Upper Forth Crossing

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 15 May 2008

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

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Upper Forth Crossing

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-1297, in the name of John Park, on the upper Forth crossing. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the progress being made in constructing the Upper Forth crossing; looks forward to its planned opening in 2008; recognises that when both crossings are operational this will greatly improve the road infrastructure and cut journey times around Kincardine; is concerned that increasingly the Forth Road Bridge is closed to high-sided vehicles, placing a burden on the A985, A907 and A997; accepts that the existing Kincardine crossing is planned to close for a maintenance period following the opening of the Upper Forth crossing; is concerned that Kincardine will suffer severe traffic congestion as vehicles are diverted through and around the village to the new crossing, and is further concerned that the villages situated on the A907, such as Oakley, Blairhall, Carnock, Saline and Gowkhall will also be subjected to unprecedented levels of traffic congestion.


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The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I commend John Park for lodging the motion and for using the opportunity that it presents to highlight local issues. That is precisely the kind of action that I would expect to see from a committed and energetic member who is representing his area in the proper manner. I congratulate him on what I believe is his first members' business debate, and I hope that he will have more.

We are all looking forward to the changes that we will see at the end of the work that is currently in progress, when the new bridge opens and the existing bridge has been re-engineered. As Keith Brown mentioned, I was in Alloa earlier today, and crossed the existing bridge, which enabled me to once again note how integral the traffic flow from that bridge is to the village of Kincardine. Indeed, my two visits to the new upper Forth crossing have allowed me to become familiar with what is happening in the village. I have a long-term familiarity with what has been happening in Kincardine and, indeed, in many of the surrounding areas. I absolutely respect and acknowledge the concerns that John Park and other members have expressed. We will, of course, get to the point at which we have resolved those problems, but how will that happen?

John Park and others referred to closures of the Forth road bridge. It is proper to make reference to that because of the effect of diverted traffic from there to the upper Forth crossings. Some 80 per cent of goods traffic crossing the Forth already does so via the upper Forth crossings. Nonetheless, the addition of the other 20 per cent presents a significant problem for Kincardine and other communities in the area.

To mitigate the effect of the occasional closures of the lower Forth crossing and the works in the upper Forth area, we hope to ensure that the diversion signage is placed further away from the crossing than has been the case to date. That will ensure that some of the traffic can anticipate the closure of the Forth road bridge and go north via Stirling, which is an effective diversion route that uses motorways and dual carriageways.

Reference has been made to the fact that the lower Forth crossing has experienced more closures and accidents this year than in previous years. I draw that gently to Ted Brocklebank's attention. However, the numbers are small, so it is difficult to be clear what the effect is each year. Clearly, bridges can be designed so that they are not closed by weather. The new Severn crossing, which uses wind protection of the kind that the replacement Forth crossing will have, has not closed since it was opened, while the older bridge, which is parallel to it, continues to experience significant numbers of closures. That enables us to see the direct effect of the mitigation measures.

There was a call for traffic calming on the A907. I understand that there is a weak bridge on that road, which makes it particularly important that, as far as possible in planning for new traffic flows, we direct traffic away from there. My officials are actively engaged in considering alternative routes. We need to consider changing the ways in which we direct people during diversions, so that rather than having a constant flow of diverted traffic through one route, the routes are changed over time. In other words, that means sharing the pain, which I regret, but it will give relief to communities while we carry out the work on the existing crossing, which was opened in 1936.

Continuing engagement with the communities that will be affected is also important, so that their experience can feed directly into our plans. Members have made reference to further extensions of the railway network, which of course takes traffic off bridges throughout Scotland. I am very keen on railways, as members know. However, that is a subject to which we will return on another occasion.

All the work on the upper Forth should be completed by 2010, some two years from now, which is encouraging. We are preparing a route action plan for the A985 that will look at a series of short, medium and long-term improvements that will accommodate not only bridge traffic, but east-west movements. That study will be completed shortly. It is estimated that the existing bridge will be closed for 18 months—a number of members have referred to that—but I hope that it will be closed for a somewhat shorter period. We will need to examine that as planning goes forward.

I will engage with officials to consider whether we can keep one lane open, although I am not optimistic that that option is available to us, as there are considerable engineering difficulties with the existing structure, which could be exacerbated if we put traffic on one side of it. I am, however, open to considering that further.

John Park: I ask the minister to communicate that as effectively as he can, not necessarily to members in the chamber but to the communities around Kincardine. It would be useful for them to know whether that will happen or not.

Stewart Stevenson: I welcome the fact that representatives of those communities are in the public gallery, hearing what we have to say. They are hearing that we are continuing to work, and that we wish to work, with communities to come up with the best of all possible options. However, it is worth saying there will be some disruption, which we will have to plan for carefully.

I very much enjoyed my visit to Fife; I was brought up there, as members have mentioned. I hope that the Scottish Rail Preservation Society successfully completed its three planned trips between Alloa and Kincardine today, hauled by steam traction—but let us look forward. As well as preserving the best of the past, I hope that we will be able to deliver for the communities of Fife.

Meeting closed at 17:43.

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