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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