28 May 2008

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.


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