24 November 2011

S4M-01406 United Nations Climate Summit [Opening Speech]

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-01406, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on Scotland’s contribution to the United Nations climate summit.


The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

Against a background of continuing global economic difficulties, over the next two weeks around 200 nations, parties to the UN framework convention on climate change, will meet again in Durban, South Africa, to continue negotiations on international action to tackle global climate change.

Climate change is certainly a huge environmental threat to the international community, with the poor and vulnerable, particularly in developing countries, being worst affected. It is also a huge threat to the global economy. Unchecked, it is reckoned that it could cost between 5 and 20 per cent of global gross domestic product.

At the Copenhagen climate talks two years ago, Scotland presented its strategy of acting as a model of best practice on climate change. In unanimously agreeing a world-leading target to cut emissions by 42 per cent by 2020 in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, the Parliament had strong support from business and civic society. Despite the strong commitment of Scotland and others to tackling the issue, there was no breakthrough at Copenhagen. Our hopes for a single, global, legally binding climate change treaty now rest on making steady progress, year by year, in constructing the building blocks for a treaty to be agreed at some, hopefully not-too-distant, future date.

Scottish ministers were determined not to let the disappointment of Copenhagen dilute our commitment. We had already moved on from seeking high ambition to putting in place the framework for delivery: annual targets that would allow us to say, year on year, how we proposed to meet our 2020 goal; proposals and policies to drive down emissions; plans for public engagement; and research on consumer behaviours.

International interest in Scotland’s climate change commitments and programmes continued to grow. At last year’s UNFCCC summit in CancĂșn, Scottish ministers had a place on the United Kingdom delegation for the first time. As well as working with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on the UK team, we began work to strengthen our support for developing countries, progressing our partnership with the Maldives with the funding of a study by Robert Gordon University into the marine energy potential of the islands. That study has now been finalised and will help the Maldives Government’s development of its renewable energy strategy.

We have also launched international partnerships with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, and we have begun discussions with Malawi on how we could build on the renewable energy pilots by the University of Strathclyde that have been funded under our international development fund.

In these hard economic times, while people throughout the world understand the environmental and moral messages on the need to act on climate change as a matter of climate justice for developing countries, they are naturally concerned about jobs. The Scottish Government believes that the evidence from Scotland demonstrates the powerful jobs, investment, trade and economic growth potential of the low-carbon economy.

In Scotland, we have a GDP of around £100 billion, with a low-carbon market of around £8.8 billion that is forecast to rise to some £12 billion by 2015-16, thus representing more than 10 per cent of the Scottish economy and around 5 per cent of the workforce. Globally, the market is already worth £3 trillion—£3 million million—and is forecast to increase in value to £4.3 trillion by 2014-15.

With 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind and tidal energy resource, 10 per cent of Europe’s wave potential and its largest offshore storage capacity for carbon dioxide, Scotland has a unique competitive advantage in the low-carbon economy. The market offers a broad range of opportunities across the economy for Scotland, and it includes sub-markets of renewable energy and low-carbon, environmental and clean technologies.

Our strategy is to encourage investment in jobs by remaining at the forefront of the development of regulatory frameworks for clean energy technology. We believe that the competitive advantage lies in being at the forefront of technological innovation.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): Does the minister accept that such a clear and unremitting focus on the economic benefits that he seeks to gain from low-carbon technologies will be seen as coming at the expense of the moral responsibility that we talked about when we passed the 2009 act if he decides that Scotland should use carbon credits to meet what were intended to be domestic targets for reducing emissions?

Stewart Stevenson: I hope that the member was listening when I appeared at the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee earlier this week. It is not a plan of ours to use carbon credits, but any country that does use them has a choice in the nature of the credits. If a country used credits, it would certainly be important for it to consider how the credits can deliver a benefit to the developing world as a way of managing issues in its own country. Credits can be used to deliver a moral and social purpose if a country believes that it needs them, but we are not in that position at this stage.

Our strategic approach has attracted major international investors, such as Mitsubishi, Iberdrola and Gamesa, to set up global research and development centres in Scotland. Over the past year, there has been further growth in international interest in Scotland’s progress on low carbon.

David Cameron has thanked the Scottish ministers for their support for greater ambition in the European Union on climate change and to drive green investment, and he has acknowledged that Scotland has good examples to share of progressive climate policies delivering jobs and investment. At the invitation of the UK Government, we have provided low-carbon case studies to assist it in its international influencing efforts. Indeed, we use them ourselves.

Members should not just take David Cameron’s word that Scotland is setting the pace on international action—there are some here who might be reluctant to do so. The First Minister was recently given the international climate leadership award by the Government of South Australia—a part of Australia that, under the previous premiership of Mike Rann, has been taking the lead on the climate change agenda in the southern hemisphere.

With co-operation from the UK Government, I have been taking Scotland’s messages on low-carbon economics to colleagues in Europe. I have met ministers from Denmark, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Latvia, Estonia and Malta to share the Scottish experience of low-carbon jobs, investment and economic growth. Those messages about the jobs potential of the low-carbon economy have been warmly received and there are clearly opportunities for co-operation.

The Scottish ministers have an unprecedented level of international engagement on climate change. That will continue in Durban, where I will be part of the UK ministerial team. There, we will continue to demonstrate how we are making the low-carbon economy a reality. We will demonstrate how our leadership in low carbon is resulting in jobs and growth even in these stretched financial times. We will demonstrate that investment now will lead to energy security and lower costs for consumers in the long term.

A Scottish Government official will also work with the UK team on the UN’s capacity building work stream. That, as Mr Harvie may care to note, is of key importance to developing countries. We plan to strengthen further our support for developing countries in line with our new profile in the world.

There are significant positives on which to build. There is now an agreed aim of limiting the global temperature rise to no more than 2°C, although current emissions reduction pledges are not nearly enough to achieve that. A lot more work is needed to break out of the current low-ambition stand-off of major international players.

Scotland is not alone among countries in setting high ambition. The UK, Germany and Denmark have also committed to high targets for 2020 and the Australian Government is introducing carbon legislation. There are also good examples of helpful actions in China, India and the United States.

It must also be said that, despite the slow progress towards a global treaty, the other countries that are not yet adopting the formal targets are, nonetheless, making investment in the low-carbon economy where they see economic benefit. We can expect countries such as China and India to continue to do that to an increasing degree in the years to come.

Scotland has been an active member of the Climate Group’s states and regions alliance for many years. That highlights the fact that many progressive policies and actions are being delivered at sub-national and local levels of government, including in US states such as California and Texas.

The leadership of the EU and the UK is another invaluable asset. The EU has said that it is open to a second commitment period for the Kyoto protocol after 2012, which keeps the way open for other parties to make similar commitments.

However, time is short. We do not expect to break through at Durban and, with global emissions at an all-time high, we have only a short time span to get them on a downward track, allowing for the time that it would take for countries to ratify a new treaty.

Therefore, my message when I attend the UNFCCC in Durban as part of the UK delegation will be that it is imperative that we do not miss the massive opportunities that the fundamental shift in the global economy will provide. We believe that action is needed now to grasp the opportunities that higher ambition on emissions reduction presents to drive and incentivise investment in new low-carbon markets, to achieve energy security and to achieve environmental and climate justice objectives.

The evidence already shows that investment is happening in Scotland and that the country is already securing competitive advantage through new technologies and markets. Other countries should follow suit.

In addition, it is imperative that Scotland continues to articulate to the international community that, as an industrialised country, we have a moral obligation to act on climate change and to influence others worldwide to do the same.

Many countries are, of course, far less fortunate than Scotland is. They do not share our wealth of natural resources and renewable energy potential. By sharing our knowledge and information, creating partnerships between academic institutions and working with countries that are likely to be disproportionately affected by climate change, we not only support our overall approach to international development but assist developing countries in their transition to a lower-carbon economy appropriate to their circumstances.

The Scottish Government is giving clear direction and support to the development of the low-carbon economy. Similar action should take place in Europe and around the globe and we must work together to ensure that we grasp the low-carbon economic opportunity.

I move,

That the Parliament notes that Scotland will be participating in the 17th Conference of the Parties on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as a member of the UK delegation; encourages active engagement with other delegations to deliver the message that action on climate change is both necessary and urgent, and recognises that Scotland’s experience demonstrates that action on climate change can create jobs, investment, trade and economic growth opportunities.


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