27 March 2019

S5M-16555 Climate Emergency

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-16555, in the name of Mark Ruskell, on climate emergency.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

This 70-minute debate and the number of people who are here in the chamber mean that we, as human beings, will have emitted approximately 1,000 litres of carbon dioxide. All human activity has a price in climate terms, so it is important that we unite in seeking to deal with it.

Opinions on the subject are pretty uniform in saying that there is a problem. Taking the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 through Parliament as Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change 10 years ago fundamentally changed my attitude to life and everything.

Greta Thunberg is the flag bearer for the young generation, but she does not stand alone. Even an unlikely suspect, the United States Central Intelligence Agency, in its “Statement for the Record: 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community”, makes it clear that

“Climate hazards such as extreme weather ... are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security. Irreversible damage to ecosystems and habitats will undermine the economic benefits they provide, worsened by air, soil, water, and marine pollution.”

There is, therefore, the broadest possible spectrum of people who are for tackling the agenda, and we should respect that.

However, it also important that we do not imagine that all seven greenhouse gases must come down to zero. The economics and prioritisation that we must bring to the agenda are important. We must tackle the easy-to-reach low-hanging fruit first, and ensure that every pound that we spend delivers the maximum possible benefit.

Farming suffers in particular because of the way that the emissions inventory works. Farming gets no numerical benefit for its activity in forestry, for example, or for the substantial renewable energy that comes from wind farms on farmers’ fields. That is elsewhere in the inventory and that is fair enough. Peter Chapman is correct that farmers are part of the solution, so we should not talk ourselves into thinking that there is a major crisis in farming.

However, the IPCC made it clear in its report in October that there is a real and pressing crisis. It talked about the Arctic having no ice whatsoever: if all the ice in the world were to melt, the world’s seas would rise by 60 metres. Every single coastal town and city on the planet would be inundated. It is that serious.

However, lesser inundations come from lesser changes in the climate. 10 per cent of the ice melting is within practical consideration and would raise the seas by between 6m and 8m, which would cause many cities around the world to suffer. That is an economic problem, for sure, but it is also a real human problem. That is why it is right and proper that the Greens have brought the debate for us today.

Liam Kirkaldy in Holyrood magazine highlights some of the practical effects by talking about the effect of cyclone Idai on Beira, which is a city of half a million people. Every building in the city has been affected by the cyclone. That is not in and of itself part of the climate change problem, but it is the sort of thing that is happening with increasing frequency as the climate changes.

As we progress the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill, it is important that we have vigorous debates such as today’s, but that we also decide unanimously, at the end of the day, on a programme for action. We might have to compromise to get to that, but if we unite we can deal with the issue.


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