On Saturday 28 March, the ninth annual WWF-inspired earth hour will take place. For 60 minutes, 160-plus countries and territories will come together to create a symbolic and spectacular lights-out display around the globe that is aimed at highlighting the need to address climate change. Landmarks including Times Square in New York and the Sydney harbour bridge will feature, and they will be joined here in Scotland by Edinburgh castle, the Forth rail bridge, the Kelpies for the first time and, of course, the Scottish Parliament.
With the critical international climate change summit due to take place in Paris later this year, the importance of earth hour 2015 cannot be overstated. We collectively and as individual citizens need to ramp up the pressure on world leaders to deliver a legally binding international deal that, in a fair and equitable way, delivers on restricting global temperature increases to less than the catastrophe that would be 2°C. In the same way, we collectively and as individuals require to ensure our own behaviours are those of environmentally responsible inhabitants of this planet.
The need for tangible action becomes increasingly evident right here on our own doorstep. For example, 2014 was the hottest and fourth-wettest year in the United Kingdom since records began in 1910. The average temperature for 2014 was 9.9°C, which is 1°C warmer than the UK’s long-term average. That fits into the wider trend, which shows that eight of the UK’s top 10 warmest years have occurred since 2002. As Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham research institute on climate change and the environment, put it, 2014 was
“part of a pattern”
“clear evidence of the impact of man-made climate change on the UK”.
The truth is that we are not responding, at least not to the extent we in Scotland have acknowledged we must. By 2012, only Finland and Denmark in Europe had bettered Scotland’s emissions reduction performance. However, we all know that we are missing the early targets—although readjustment of the baselines is not helping in that respect—and from here on in the trajectory gets much steeper and far more challenging.
That said, although it is at face value a symbolic gesture, the response to earth hour suggests that the population is increasingly waking up to the situation. WWF found that 85 per cent of the adults who had been involved in last year’s earth hour had felt inspired by the event to do more to protect the planet. It might be a symbolic event, but it appears to be making a difference in terms of raising awareness and inspiring more environmentally friendly behaviour.
Since the UK first became involved with earth hour back in 2008, there has been a steady increase in participation at all levels. Last year, more than 1,000 businesses across these islands took part, ensuring that hundreds of buildings were switched off across the country, and just short of 1,000 schools across Scotland participated, reaching more than 2 million pupils. This year, the task is to create “For the love of...” bunting to highlight the campaign that WWF started as part of the 100-strong climate coalition and which called on people to share why they care about climate change by focusing on the many things about their lives that will be affected unless we tackle this global issue.
It is not just members of the public who are showing enthusiasm for earth hour. When I lodged this motion, I never thought for a moment that it would fail to receive the level of cross-party support required to secure this debate, but it says a lot about the subject matter that multiple members from every single party in the Parliament supported it. There is no doubt that such consensus on earth hour’s importance is also evident at local authority level, so let us give ourselves a pat on the back: Scotland is the first country in the world where every local authority supports the earth hour initiative.
The earth hour 2015 local authority initiative requires councils to do three basic things. The first is to switch off; councils have to turn off the lights in their town halls and headquarters and other landmarks in their control for an hour at 8.30 pm on 28 March 2015. The second is to take part by promoting WWF’s earth hour to staff through emails and intranet, encouraging them to sign up as individuals and take part in the event on a personal basis. The third is to engage by making use of the council’s website, newsletters, Twitter and Facebook to encourage members of the public to sign up, demonstrating the support for action on climate change that exists in the local area.
If a local authority does an additional three activities from a top-up list, it becomes a WWF Scotland super local authority badge recipient. Those activities include getting community planning partnership partners to sign up to earth hour, holding a major public countdown to the switch-off event and talking to local businesses and organisations to get the lights switched off on iconic or important buildings or structures in the area.
I want to use the platform that is provided by tonight’s debate to urge councils to pay particular heed to that last point, especially in relation to businesses that occupy major retail parks. I find it absolutely galling to think about the amount of electricity that is wasted on lighting up shop fronts and vacant car parks in these places between the hours of dusk and dawn when no one, but no one, is window shopping. Switching off for earth hour would be a start down a road that might result in those parks reducing energy consumption—and if security is a concern, they could direct the savings to job opportunities for people to guard the premises.
Last year, 14 councils were awarded the status of super local authority, and my local council, Angus Council, is one of them. Angus Council will be switching off the lights at the council headquarters, Angus house at Orchardbank, County buildings and the Balmashanner war memorial, and it will be joined in taking that action by Historic Scotland at Arbroath abbey.
Most schools in Angus will be involved in various projects, such as switching off appliances and signing up to switch off at home. Last year, participating schools received feedback on their energy consumption during earth hour. Figures returned by the Angus carbon and energy team showed that one primary school had an overall saving of 62KWh, which would equate to £2,467 if continued over the year. That is equal to the energy used by six houses in a day and the CO2 emissions of a car travelling 145 miles.
The council is using earth hour as an opportunity to raise awareness about energy use and is giving staff details of how to reduce their energy use. The council is also encouraging community planning partners, such as Dundee and Angus College, Tayside NHS Board, Police Scotland, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to get involved as well.
At local level, right across Scotland, we are taking that moment to think about and highlight the need for action on climate change. I hope that we are sending the message that, as citizens of this planet, we understand the need to change behaviour, and if our political leaders take the appropriate lead, they will also have our support.
I will draw my contribution to a close, because I know that a number of colleagues want to participate in the debate. As with tackling climate change, the more who can contribute, the better.