24 November 2011

S4M-01406 United Nations Climate Summit [Closing 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.

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Stewart Stevenson:

The debate perfectly illustrates the old saying that something starts off as a heresy, then becomes an argument and eventually an orthodoxy. Actually, I suspect that we have a heterodoxy—in other words, we all agree, but we have different opinions about certain aspects. The agreement that we struck across the political divide in Scotland in 2009 took a lot of hard work on everybody’s part and was an excellent foundation for future action.

Elaine Murray, Aileen McLeod and other members raised the issue of a second commitment period under Kyoto. We should be careful in one respect. A second commitment period for the existing treaty is clearly second best to having an up-to-date treaty that is legally binding across the world and which reflects today’s needs. It is certainly something that should be kept in the locker, but the UK Government is clear that the focus has to be on negotiating a new treaty that is suitable for a new era in which we understand more about the issues. The second commitment period is very much a fall-back position and we agree with that approach.

Elaine Murray mentioned CFCs and so on. Those are, like peat, outside the accounting system. We would like the accounting system to take more account of things that have an impact—positively or negatively—on greenhouse gas emissions and, hence, on climate change.

Let us remind ourselves of something that I have said on many occasions, including in 2008-09, which is that the targets are long term, although the impacts are immediate and with us now. The target of an 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050 is one that we share with the UK Government. According to the registrar general’s report a month ago, he predicts that, in Scotland, my life expectancy is another 16.7 years. I hope that he is wrong. I would be 104 years old in 2050 if I am so spared—I would rather like to see what is happening.

Elaine Murray asked a very specific question about whether the fossil fuel levy can be used to restore peatlands. I do not know the answer to that question, but I will ensure that she gets an answer. There are technical issues about what that money may be spent on but I, too, would like to see some of it being spent on that.

I think that we are in agreement on the value of small-scale biomass in local communities. I thank Elaine Murray for the good wishes—I have also received them from other members, notably Malcolm Chisholm—that I take with me to Durban.

I say to Alex Johnstone that the temperature in Durban today is 19ºC and it is raining heavily. Of course, as I will be inside throughout the entire visit, I will not see any of the place. Alex Johnstone talked, as many Conservatives increasingly do, about wind. It is worth reminding ourselves that we have a diverse range of renewable energies. Thanks to the work that was largely led by Tom Johnston, the famous and very effective Labour Secretary of State for Scotland, we have a significant hydro industry, which has been with us for a long time.

We are moving towards tidal energy, which is a much more predictable and reliable source of energy. It has a diurnal cycle, which is not a large cycle, and it also has an annual cycle, but it is predictable. Alex Johnstone says that a pragmatic, sustainable approach is needed, and moving to tidal delivers on that.

Rob Gibson referred, as he would normally be expected to, to peatland. We need to measure and account for our land use, land use change and forests. We hope to see progress on that.

I very much welcome Claudia Beamish to the debate. I recognise that in her previous life, before she became an MSP, she was engaged in the issue. She has an insight and a range of experience that is well worth listening to. She made a point about a report on energy efficiency in which the Scottish Government comes well down the field. If I am thinking of the correct report, it related in essence to whether we had put in smart meters and whether we had got our buildings accredited. We are going for the accreditation standard but we have not gone for accreditation. We are, because of our policy, taking the actions that smart meters might force us to take. We are doing rather better than that report perhaps suggested.

We share Claudia Beamish’s disappointment about the sudden change of financial support for solar panels, which follows the disastrous change in the regime for oil. Those changes affect industries that require long-term certainty. Fergus Ewing wrote to the UK Government on that, but I do not believe that we have yet had a response.

I am delighted to say that I have visited the woodland allotment in Peebles, which is an excellent initiative. The climate challenge fund has supported 1,000 allotments so far. I wrote down what Claudia Beamish said in essence as, “Don’t be too restrictive”, and I do not believe that we are. Claims submitted by projects to the climate challenge fund showed a reduction at one point of 700,000 tonnes, and that figure is now rising because we are continuing the funding.

I said in committee just over a year ago that not every project will succeed because we are not drawing the regulations so tightly that we are excluding innovation, which may or may not succeed. It is important to recognise that that is the case.

Graeme Dey gave us some fairly alarming figures from an IPCC report that showed that violent storms, CO2 emissions and so on will increase. That is absolutely true, and we will continue to exercise leadership. Annabel Ewing made an important contribution in which she referred to the Comrie Development Trust, which—if I recall correctly—has three projects supported by the climate challenge fund. I visited the projects, including the allotments, around 18 months ago.

I welcome Jenny Marra to the debate. On transport, she should remember that we continue to make substantial investments in the rail network—for example, we have invested around £1 billion in the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme. On the subject of eco driving, that can be funded by the companies and drivers themselves; I recently heard of an example in which the entire cost of an eco driving course for a team of white van men was recovered in six weeks in reduced fuel consumption. We can see that that is happening around Scotland.

Malcolm Chisholm mentioned the freight facilities grant. Alas, we never got enough good projects, although I must say that I constantly banged the drum in my previous ministerial position. Patrick Harvie seemed to talk down our achievement of a 27.6 per cent reduction in emissions, en route to 42 per cent by 2020, but it is an excellent achievement. Various people have said that it is important that we now lock in that achievement, and we will seek to do so.

Patrick Harvie: Will the minister give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry, but I do not have time now.

It is important that we recognise the economic value of the activity that we are doing. When we create jobs, we create wider commitment to the agenda. We expect that the number of jobs in the low-carbon economy will rise from 70,000 to 130,000 by 2020, which will amount to approximately 5 per cent of the workforce in total.

I turn to a couple of things to which Sarah Boyack referred. She mentioned carbon capture, but I am afraid that we cannot forget—or forgive—the fact that the Labour Party in government at Westminster failed the test of government when it sabotaged the Peterhead carbon capture system, and it therefore ill behoves Labour members to speak on that subject. Sarah Boyack said today that she had resisted the temptation to provide a list of budget amendments to address various issues, but she fails the challenge of opposition.

I hope that we have a good conference in Durban, and I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate.

Stewart Stevenson
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