23 September 2010

S3M-7047 Low-carbon Economy

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 23 September 2010

[The Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 09:15]
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Low-carbon Economy

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-7047, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on a low-carbon economy for Scotland. Very little time is available in the debate, so I ask members to be strict in their timing.
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The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I thank all members who have contributed to the debate.

We have demonstrated today that Scotland's vast potential in renewable energy puts us in position to be the green energy capital of Europe, and it gives us a huge comparative advantage in the global shift to low carbon. Scotland is positioning itself as the preferred international destination for low-carbon investment, giving our business base a competitive advantage, making Scotland a destination of choice for overseas business, and benefiting the wider Scottish economy and our communities.

Let me say at the outset that the Government will be able to support the Liberal and Labour amendments. They address matters that we also wish to address.

I turn now to the contributions in the debate. In an intervention on my colleague Mr Mather, Liam McArthur somewhat derided the saltire prize. The initiative engages some 400 million people across the world through a partnership with the National Geographic Society that has also seen international companies expressing significant interest in Scotland. Anything of that character raises the profile of the issue because there is an enhancement effect that transcends the simple presentation of a £10 million prize. I do not share Liam McArthur's gloom; I am a perennial optimist.

Sarah Boyack said that we do not agree on everything. That is true; the fact that we continue to have tension between different ideas and points of view is fundamental to democracy. It is about challenge and developing new, good ideas. However, the interesting thing has been the degree of agreement throughout the debate. I am almost tempted to say that, in a sense, renewable energy is now a new orthodoxy because that is the way that the debate has gone.

The green investment bank is an important initiative, whatever the scale of the finance that will be available to it, because it is a different approach to finance. With its great experience in the banking sector, Scotland has a great deal to offer. If we in the Scottish Parliament get control over the fossil fuel levy funds, that will make a huge difference.

Unless I missed something, there was absolute unanimity in the welcome for the review of the network charging regime, albeit that a number of proper points were made about what must be in the review and how we must respond to it.

I am delighted that the public duty is now out. Mandatory reporting might be in tension with the spirit of partnership that we have with local government and many other bodies.

I think that I picked up from Lewis Macdonald that the Labour Party will vote for the extension or replacement of nuclear power capability, which I suspect will come as a great disappointment to many supporters and MSPs of that party.

Jackson Carlaw said that targets are less important than action. That is of course true, but targets inform action. Setting challenging targets on renewable electricity generation has been a significant driver for the success that has been delivered. The raising of the targets, which my colleague the First Minister announced at 12 o'clock, reflects the role that targets can have.

Jackson Carlaw talked about more efficient use of cars, car sharing and bus lanes. All those measures are worth considering. He also referred to Wood Mackenzie's report. It is worth saying that that report pointed to Scotland's comparative advantage lying in renewables and carbon capture and not in nuclear power, for which the intellectual property lies elsewhere, as the name EDF—Electricité de France—gives away. The nuclear power jobs are probably more of the order of 2,000 than the 10,000 that Jackson Carlaw suggested.

Liam McArthur was right to highlight the competition for money. We will need significant investment from the private and public sectors to deliver on our renewables potential. However, Scotland is a compelling proposition. Next week's conference will be key in drawing people who understand finance to Edinburgh, to engage with the comity of Edinburgh.

In his closing speech, Patrick Harvie drew attention to the fact that he is a consensual politician from time to time, and I respect that. He said that there is consensus in climate change science but not in the politics, which is probably a fair comment.

We must not miss out on the opportunity for green jobs this time round. To be frank, we must look across the North Sea at how Norway has used the previous generation of energy opportunities to build a fund that is leveraging investment into renewables. Would that we had a similar opportunity.

Lewis Macdonald made an intervention on planning. It is worth making the point that we have approved 43 consents—more than twice the number the previous Administration approved. This Administration is delivering on consents.

Rob Gibson returned to the issue of peatland, which will be an important part of the debate at Cancún, where we hope that peatland will be included in the calculations on climate change. As he said, for an investment of £10 million, we can save 2.7 million tonnes of CO2, so restoring our peatland to the carbon sink that it should be has huge potential.

I will paraphrase Cathy Peattie—she said, "Not whether, but how and when." There is no disagreement on that—that is important. I share her aspiration to continue to take freight off our roads and on to rail, our canals, our seas and our lochs. Initiatives under the Government's watch that have taken hundreds of lorries a week off the A9 up to Inverness are an example of what can be done. When I opened Raasay pier, I visited JST Services, which is extracting timber off Raasay by sea. We are supporting, and wish to continue to support, such initiatives.

Flexible working at home is an excellent idea, but its impact is complex. Heating many houses involves a lot more heating than does heating a single communal facility, but we save on transport. However, we should certainly continue to consider the idea.

Jamie McGrigor said that no conflict exists between a renewables economy and a growing economy. That is one reason why the economy will succeed. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Order. There is an awful lot of noise around the chamber. Minister, you should start to wind up, please.

Stewart Stevenson: Wendy Alexander wants us to ignore budgets, but the delivery plan must be drawn up in the context of budgets and it will be done on that basis.

Scotland can demonstrate the economic benefits of acting on climate change and we are spreading that message widely. As Jim Mather said earlier, I was at a briefing for the consular corps in Scotland—I was delighted that a number of those people were able to be with us for the start of the debate—at which we set out how our low-carbon approach is boosting economic performance in Scotland and how we can do even more.

Acting on climate change will offer considerable economic opportunities. Scotland will become the international destination of choice for low-carbon investment. I am happy to support the motion that was moved by my colleague.


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