07 May 2009

S3M-3963 Climate Change (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 7 May 2009

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

... ... ...

Climate Change (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1
Resumed debate.

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): For the sake of people in the public gallery, I should explain that the next item of business is a continuation of yesterday's debate on motion S3M-3963, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on the general principles of the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill. Speeches should be no longer than six minutes. ... ... ...


... ... ...


The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I am fully girded for the occasion.

I welcome the scope of the debate over the past two days, which has been of good quality. At least part of every member's speech has taken us forward and usefully informed the debate. I was particularly taken by Des McNulty's concluding remark that one of his key aims is to ensure that we keep it simple at stage 2. As the minister who has the pleasant duty of taking the bill through stage 2 on the Government's behalf, I heartily subscribe to his view and hope that we can deliver on it.

The debate has been unusual as, at least in this parliamentary session, it is unique in that four ministers have contributed to it. That does not just indicate the day-to-day engagement of those four ministers, but generally reflects the fact that every minister—like every member and everyone in the wider community—must be their own climate change champion in their own circumstances. I want to work with other members of the Parliament to put flesh on those bones and identify common ground and ways of taking things forward that sustain the very positive tone of today's debate.

Although we find ourselves able to support the Labour amendment, we cannot support the Liberal Democrat amendment because of its reference to the public duties. We are prepared to continue to discuss the subject, but we must recognise the very real sensitivities of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and local councils on this matter. Although we might be able to find some convergence and strike the right balance, the Liberal Democrat amendment does not do so and, as I say, we cannot support it.

The support for the bill's general principles that, unless I am very much mistaken, we will see at 5 o'clock this afternoon is but the first step in the process. Discussions will continue through stages 2 and 3, and we will have to do a great deal more work to justify what we all want: legislation and actions that will act as a beacon for others. I certainly think that challenging the EU to step up to the mark on a 2020 target of 30 per cent is an ambition that we all share.

As I turn to the points that have been raised during the two days of debate, I have to say that I expect that I will not deal with them all, but we will look very carefully at the Official Report and get back to members directly on any significant matters.

A discussion that I had with Mr McNulty and Ms Boyack after yesterday's debate suggests that we might have a greater common understanding on the annual targets that we will put in place in secondary legislation next year and the need for those to form the core of what ministers will be accountable for over the coming period. Within a couple of years, we will have set targets that take us halfway to 2050. That will certainly be a substantial set of commitments.

Ms Boyack described the provisions on public duties as vague commitments. We are looking at them again but, as I said earlier, we want to be very careful about how we progress in that respect.

Alison McInnes urged us to take early action. Earlier, I pointed out that we are building on action that has already been taken. This is a continuum of activity that transcends the transition from the previous Administration to this Administration and, indeed, will continue after many of us are no longer on this earth to see it in operation.

I sensed a suggestion that we might be able to disregard expert advice, but something that each and every one of us has to cling to is the need to use expert advice to determine the figures. The very moment politicians start to pluck figures out of the air, however well they might justify doing so by selecting what might have been stated elsewhere, they give future generations of politicians a hook for reneging on, moving back from or being less ambitious with commitments.

Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) (LD): Will the minister advise the Parliament on whose expert advice he has set the interim 2020 target?

Stewart Stevenson: The 34 per cent and 42 per cent figures came from the UK Committee on Climate Change. If things go to plan and we are able to set targets in June 2010, advice from that committee might give us a different answer. We will of course respect that. The fact is that, in this situation, information is evolving and understanding increasing.

With regard to the debate on how Parliament will scrutinise the Government's efforts, Alison McInnes made the interesting suggestion that we consider the model that was adopted for the national planning framework in the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006. We are looking at the text of the 2006 act to find out whether we can lift it and put it into the bill. Should we conclude that we can simply incorporate the wording of the 2006 act in the bill, it is more likely that we will do so at stage 3, given the tight targets for stage 2. We are looking seriously at that approach—it is not yet a commitment, but we are doing the work to see whether it is possible.

Patrick Harvie and I had a wee exchange on the subject of the Maldives, which is seeking to go carbon neutral. That is extremely admirable but, having looked into the subject, I make the point that aviation is not included in the Maldives' ambition. Given that tourism is the country's main industry, its situation is not quite the same as Scotland's; that illustrates the point that every country must find its own salvation. Patrick Harvie also referred to aviation and shipping; it is important that we continue to look at those issues.

Alex Johnstone commended the 34 to 42 per cent approach as one that would find favour with Conservative members.

Patrick Harvie: The minister will be aware that not everyone commended the 34 to 42 per cent approach that the Government has decided to take. Regardless of whether annual targets are included in the bill or in secondary legislation, how is a minister to set them after the bill has been passed if the Government has not yet decided—and will not decide for several years—whether it is aiming for a 34 per cent target or a 42 per cent target?

Stewart Stevenson: That is to misunderstand. Both the 34 per cent and the 42 per cent figure, together with the up-to-date advice that the Committee on Climate Change will provide next year, will inform the annual targets that will be set—there is an absolute linkage.

I must make some fairly rapid progress. Charlie Gordon came up with the best question of the debate, as he often does, when he asked:

"what are you actually gonnae dae?"—[Official Report, 6 May 2009; c 17120.]

That is absolutely focused and on the money. Once we get the bill out of the way, we must focus on delivery and on ensuring that we get the outcomes that we want.

Liam McArthur advocated a bottom-up approach to developing initiatives, which is commendable. However, I suggest gently that that is a little at odds with the idea that we should direct centrally, through public duties, what happens.

Lewis Macdonald spoke about the target of 11 per cent that has been set for heat from renewable energy. That is part of an overall 20 per cent that includes a range of other things—we are aiming to do a little better than the UK as a whole. That is reasonable.

I can tell John Scott that we are conducting a rural land use study, information on which we will provide shortly.

I am pleased to hear that Peter Peacock has the carpentry skills to build his own house. When I am building my next house, he can help me.

The community on Eigg that Rob Gibson mentioned was supported by the Scottish Government, under the excellent Scottish community and householder renewables initiative. We look with continuing interest at what is happening on Eigg.

This has been an interesting and engaging debate. It is the beginning of what will be a continuing engagement for years to come. Some years ago, John F Kennedy said that man can solve any problem that man creates. We must hope that John F Kennedy was correct, but there is no absolute certainty in that regard.

Yesterday, when we were discussing the electrification of the whole of Scotland's rail network, one of the senior Government directors said to me, "Surely we will have to have battery-powered trains to go to Kyle of Lochalsh and places like that." The good news is that some battery-powered trains are already operating in England. We will copy a good idea, wherever it comes from.

I support the motion in my name.

Stewart Stevenson
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