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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Tuesday, May 14, 2024


Action to Tackle Climate Change

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-13008, in the name of Maurice Golden, on urgent action to tackle climate change. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

I ask members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons, and I call Maurice Golden to open the debate.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament considers that tackling climate change is one of the greatest challenges that the world faces and that Scotland set world-leading targets; is disappointed at reports that the Scottish Government has no credible pathway to meet the interim 2030 target, described as too stretching with just six years left to reach it; understands that the Scottish Government has failed to meet eight of its last 12 emissions targets; notes the belief that a draft climate change plan must be introduced with the utmost urgency; further notes the view that transformational policies must be introduced to tackle, mitigate and adapt to climate change, in line with just transition principles, and considers that this process, as part of the journey to a more circular economy, will have benefits for Scotland, including communities in the North East Scotland region, as well as contribute to the global effort in tackling climate change.


Maurice Golden (North East Scotland) (Con)

I thank all those members who signed my motion, although I was a little bit shocked to see that not every party had signed it. Part of the reason for that, I believe, concerns my first point, which is that culture wars have broken the cross-party consensus on climate change, and indeed on other matters.

Words such as “traitors” and “betrayal” are regularly used, combined with malicious accusations and personal attacks. It seems that some are not content to disagree and debate with opponents, but have to debase and demonise them instead. All parties, perhaps excluding the Liberal Democrats, must take their share of the blame in dragging climate change into a culture war.

Would the member reflect on the fact that his colleagues often use the phrase “extremist Greens”? Does he believe that that is acceptable, or that it is in fact fuelling a lack of consensus in the chamber?

Maurice Golden

I do not think that it will help if we get into a series of exchanges around whataboutery. My point is to explain how we need to move beyond that.

When the United Kingdom Government announced delays to major policies, I disagreed and voted accordingly, breaking the party whip for the first—the chief whip has just added “and only”; I am not necessarily convinced—time in Parliament. Those delays were disappointing, but ultimately—this is a key point—they would not have derailed the UK Government’s efforts to reach net zero. However, the Scottish Government said, in a parliamentary motion, that the move was an

“unforgivable betrayal of current and future generations.”

Seriously—is that the level that we are at? That was said by the Scottish Government in the full knowledge that it was about to abandon its own interim net zero target.

There is also the issue of banning things that were never going to happen anyway. The Greens managed that when they banned new incinerators that were never actually going to be built. That is why incineration capacity went up under the Greens when they were in Government—a new incinerator opened in Aberdeenshire last month, and another one is under construction in Perth and Kinross.

I jus want to clarify something. The new incinerator was opened in Aberdeen city, not in Aberdeenshire. That is the second time that you have said that today, so I wanted to clarify that point.

Through the chair, please.

Maurice Golden

I am far stronger on climate change than I am on geography, Presiding Officer.

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges that we face. Scotland started off well by setting world-leading targets, but their subsequent delivery has been woeful. The UK Climate Change Committee has said that,

“Most ... indicators of delivery progress are off track”,

and the Scottish Government’s response has been to abandon its 2030 net zero target. The Scottish Government’s approach of doing the same thing and expecting a different result has been proven to be the wrong one, as it has failed to meet eight of its 12 emissions targets.

However, that is just the tip of the iceberg. The Scottish Government’s environmental efforts have become a rolling disaster. The 2013 recycling target has, more than a decade later, still not been met. The landfill ban was delayed; the food waste target looks like it is heading for failure; and the renewable heat target has failed to be met, as were more than half of the international biodiversity targets. Meanwhile, peatland restoration is wildly off track, and commuting by active travel and public transport has declined.

However, there is no sign of humility, much less responsibility, from the Scottish Government. Instead, it blames others and carries on no matter what, dooming itself, and Scotland, to repeat the cycle of failure again and again.

We all agree that the interim 2030 target was stretching, but missing that target, officially six years ahead of time—and in reality, seven or eight years ahead of time—just a few years after committing to it, is utterly embarrassing. The Scottish Government has walked its players off the pitch before half time.

For more than a decade, the Scottish Government has been found asleep at the wheel. The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy suggested in a response to a question from me that the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill was an example of transformative action on sustainable consumption and behaviour change. That could not be further from the truth; the bill is more concerned with waste and litter.

During consideration of amendments at stage 2, the Scottish National Party and the Greens rejected a series of progressive policies, which included a preference for managing waste more locally. Only in Scotland could the approach to a circular economy somehow be divided on the basis of indyref 2.

The Minister for Climate Action (Gillian Martin)

In the spirit of working together, as Maurice Golden has described, perhaps he will remember that, this morning in committee, I said that I was happy to work with him ahead of stage 3 on the wording of his amendment to the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill on managing waste locally to see whether we could give meaning to it.

Maurice Golden

Yes—I appreciate that, minister, but you also voted against meeting the targets that you set on behalf of the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government’s position was that it did not want to enforce the targets that it had set on recycling. That was with me generously allowing the Government an extra 12 years to meet those targets; it is quite shocking.

What do we need to do now? In 2017, I produced a climate change paper that contained transformational policies to tackle climate change, which were linked to major infrastructure projects such as an electric arc furnace and a plastic recycling facility. I believe that, if the Scottish Government had pursued those policies seven years ago, we would still have a viable pathway to reach the 2030 interim target.

Public procurement and enterprise agency spend should be integrated with tackling climate change. That is a big easy win that would pump-prime the market, and would not require extra funding.

We need to prioritise insulation measures for our homes. That would immediately help to tackle fuel poverty and the climate crisis and, in addition, it is a prerequisite for heat pumps. A financial model should also be developed so that investments in low-carbon heating can, similar to a mortgage, be linked to homes rather than home owners.

We must tackle consumption with system design in order to move from short-term to long-term consumption. That can be achieved via rental models in which consumers pay per use for a better product. That is cheaper for the consumer, so it can help to tackle poverty, and it can be applied across a range of goods from textiles to household appliances and electricals.

Let us make Scotland a world leader in sustainable consumption. Let us create a circular economy, and let us work together to do it.


Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

It is self-evident that there have been serious challenges for Scotland in meeting our 2030 interim target on the path to being a net zero nation by 2045. Indeed, following a pretty blunt report from the UK Climate Change Committee, the 2030 interim target will be withdrawn and the pathway to net zero by 2045 must be redrawn. That is clear.

Those challenges were highlighted during the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee’s meeting last month, at which we heard from the UK Climate Change Committee chair, Chris Stark. His account was certainly unvarnished, to say the least—he did not miss. However, he went on to say:

“the Scottish Government is due credit for acknowledging that the 2030 target cannot be met and for taking the—no doubt difficult—step of announcing that to the Parliament. Indeed, the Government is also due credit for retaining, as I understand it, the 2045 net zero target, but leaving open the idea that a new path to that target can be found on the advice of the Climate Change Committee next year.”—[Official Report, Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, 23 April 2024; c 3.]

Climate change is too important for us to allow people to politicise it—I suspect that I agree with Maurice Golden on that. That was also a clear message from the climate change people’s panel, which was established by our Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee and made up of 23 citizens—I nearly said “ordinary citizens”, but they were far from ordinary.

When members of the panel gave evidence to our committee, they noted that the media attention on climate change was often surrounded by “doom and gloom”. However, during the panel’s work, its members became aware of a lot of positive work that was under way, which they may never have heard about if it was not for their deliberations.

Positive actions are, of course, being taken, such the Scottish Government’s provision of free bus travel for all under-22s, the Scottish Government’s work to deliver more woodland in Scotland in a year than all the other UK nations combined and the considerable progress that is being made in energy. Scotland has become a renewables powerhouse, with 87.9 per cent of electricity generation coming from zero-carbon or low-carbon sources in 2022. There is also the Scottish Government’s work on decarbonising heat in buildings, which could become a template for the rest of the UK—something that Mr Harvie, when he was in Government, said would be a real success, and I think that he was right in relation to that.

As a Parliament, we need to offer constructive scrutiny. In doing so, we must ensure that we stay positive.

My apologies, Presiding Officer. When you miss out a page of your speech it does become a bit skew-whiff—I apologise for that.

Let me be clear, however, about the list of successes. I see Stephen Kerr looking at me intently. Of course, we have not gone anywhere near far enough, but I mention those achievements because, as the people’s panel made clear, we need to celebrate the successes and publicise them in a positive manner. The climate change people’s panel was also clear, however, that the Scottish Government had not communicated effectively with the public on climate change, and said that it

“could be more ambitious, delivering a positive narrative and enabling Scotland to set a standard of excellence.”

The important point was that the public want us to be positive. As a Parliament, we need to offer constructive scrutiny, but we also need to be a key partner of the Scottish Government.

The capital costs of the level of change that is required to secure net zero are eye watering. I had a section in my speaking notes about UK Government capital cuts to Scotland, which are clearly detrimental, but I will not expand on that further, as the Parliament has to come together.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To fill in the blank space on that missing page, would Bob Doris agree that the people’s panel on climate change made a really important recommendation about the importance of climate hubs and the need to make such investment locally? That would help with wider engagement, which Bob Doris referred to.

Bob Doris

I thank Monica Lennon for that intervention. I can assure Ms Lennon that I have found my place again, but that was a really important point regarding the panel, which our committee heard.

I could rhyme off a variety of initiatives such as deposit return, recycling, low-emission zones, parking charges and workplace parking levies—or I could indeed mention the UK Labour green budget U-turn, which resulted in £28 billion a year evaporating into thin air—but I will stop myself, as I can feel myself starting to get party political, and that is not the sort of point that I want to make. The reality is that, no matter the UK Government in charge at Westminster or indeed the political composition of our Scottish Parliament, we need to find a way to come together and meet our net zero goals. I hope that we can do so, and that we can do so by generating as much consensus as possible.


Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

Once again, it is down to the Scottish Conservatives to secure debates on the important issues that the people of Scotland are talking about while, once again, the focus of the SNP devolved Government is on independence. I thank Maurice Golden for securing this vital debate on climate change.

The present devolved Government has failed in its ambition and duty for the past 17 years when it comes to climate change measures. In fact, the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy herself acknowledged in an interview a couple of weeks ago that she was “proud” of the work that the Scottish Government had done, even though it had failed on eight out of 12 of the emission targets that it had set itself.

The cabinet secretary recently wrote to the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee about climate change targets. In her three-page letter, there are a total of nine obfuscations, and here they are for ease of reference: two mentions of “in due course”; “putting in place”; “are being developed”; “moving to an approach”; “as soon as possible”; “on-going”; “remains committed”; and “consideration is ongoing”. There were no commitments, no timeframes and no demonstration of a Government that is committed to dealing with the issue in a timely way.

The letter actually has a line from the cabinet secretary that states that the Scottish Government has

“twenty years to finish the job.”

That is a disgrace. The Government has had 17 years and it is yet to start the job.

As the new First Minister has made clear, his first priority is independence. Apparently, the SNP can achieve that in five years. If only that same focus could be given to this issue, or to education or policing.

The motion calls for a plan to be introduced “with the utmost urgency”, but this Government has no sense of urgency at all. Targets are missed, deadlines shift and complacency is rife—yet, apparently, it is proud of that record. That is shameful.

Now we have a new strategy from the Government to deal with targets that they miss: delete them all together. Emissions targets are gone, and recycling targets are soon to be gone, as we heard today. Maybe that was what was on Bob Doris’s missing page: his Government’s targets.

Although the communities that I represent are crying out for clarity, this Government dithers and delays. The north-east is eager to work with all Governments to bring economic growth to the region, and is making huge strides through working with the Government in Westminster, which is committed to investing in the area, working with industry on a just transition and ensuring jobs and economic growth.

Mark Ruskell

Will the member acknowledge that we are all wrestling with policy choices when it comes to climate change? Does he recognise that dualling every last inch of the A96 will make it harder for us to meet climate change targets, not easier?

Douglas Lumsden

Dualling the A96 is a safety concern that we should all get behind.

This Government does not understand the north-east region or the industries that are built there. It talks about a just transition, but it is a just transition that has been imposed from the central belt.

Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)

The A96 was mentioned and I have an interest in that. Does Mr Lumsden agree that even electric buses must be driven on things called roads, as do cars? There is an idea that, somehow, we cannot have roads and that not having them will help climate change. Does he agree with me that that idea is for the birds?

Douglas Lumsden

I completely agree with Mr Ewing. I remember him saying once in the chamber that we should not be anti-roads and anti-cars but anti-emissions. Surely, on safety grounds, the A96 and the A9 should all be dualled. That would save many lives in our constituencies.

It is time to stop the obfuscation; it is time to stop the dither and delay; it is time to stop not reaching targets; and it is time to stop being proud of failing. We need a clear plan of how we will reach net zero, with a date on when the climate change plan will be introduced. The country wants certainty. Our people want to do their bit to reach net zero, they want a just transition and they want to move towards net zero. It is the Scottish Government that is holding up that process. I am pleased to support the motion today.


Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

I thank Maurice Golden for bringing this key issue to the chamber. I hope that everyone in the chamber will agree on the necessity of urgent action. We are experiencing the impacts of climate change now—it is not a future issue. We are seeing increased extreme weather, flooding, storms and forest fires damaging our infrastructure and affecting people’s homes and communities in Scotland. That is happening across the world, too, most recently with the devastating floods in Brazil and a drought in Ethiopia.

Just last week, a Guardian survey of members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed that 80 per cent of leading climate scientists predict a 2.5°C increase in global temperatures. The problems will get only worse if we do not act now.

We need a Government that will match the ambitious targets that this Parliament set on a cross-party basis with ambitious action. The Climate Change Committee, as Maurice Golden mentioned, highlighted a number of key areas in which the Scottish Government has either no plan or an insufficient plan. It said in its report that we need more robust action on transport, waste, land usage, green jobs, industry and buildings.

Continuity will not cut it. We need to hear from the minister today, which is nearly a month after her Government announced that it would be scrapping the 2030 target, what the Scottish Government will do to severely ramp up action on delivering on climate change. We have been given no details on the proposals that it will introduce, what targets it will scrap and keep, what the status of the climate change plan will be, and how carbon budgets will work and relate to those issues. We are no further forward in getting clarity on those matters.

Labour has a strong history of being ambitious. I remember, in my time as a minister, setting up a ministerial group on sustainable development—with the first renewables targets—and providing free bus travel for older people and people with disabilities. However, I was prompted by the centre for energy ethics at St Andrews to reflect on the passing of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 and the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019, when Scottish Labour pushed for more action. We got cross-party agreement for action, but we need to make sure that we deliver on those targets. All of us across the chamber must think that through.

When we were in power, we introduced the UK Sustainable Development Commission, which the Tory-led coalition subsequently closed. We must think about what we can do to ramp up our action. We have plans for GB energy, a nationally owned energy company based in Scotland, to accelerate the just transition that is already under way and to urgently add thousands of new jobs, and, critically, to accelerate community renewables so that all our communities across the country will benefit. We will also nationalise rail to drive sustainable transport and set up a national wealth fund so that we get infrastructure investment.

That joined-up thinking is why I am pursuing my member’s bill on wellbeing and sustainable development. We must ensure that all policy development and implementation will deliver on sustainable development, wellbeing and our climate targets, and, crucially, we must learn from the Welsh experience by having a future generations commissioner.

I am grateful to Labour, Scottish Liberal Democrat and Conservative MSPs who have signed up to support my member’s bill. That has given me the right to introduce the bill, and I am now working on bringing it—

Will the member take an intervention?

I think that I am about to be told to wind up by the Deputy Presiding Officer.

There is a bit of time; it is up to the member whether to take an intervention.

Brilliant. I shall take an intervention from the member.

Briefly, Mr Ewing.

Fergus Ewing

On beefing up community entitlement, does the member agree that community ownership should be the objective—not simply receiving a cheque but having a stake in, for example, renewable developments? Will Labour enable that to happen?

Sarah Boyack

Absolutely. That is why we have a co-operative-owned renewables project in Edinburgh that works with the council. That is why we set up Midlothian Energy Ltd, which is building a heat network with Vattenfall in Midlothian, in my region. We have had the Aberdeen Heat & Power experience for the best part of 20 years, and we could do that across the country. Pumped hydro is an opportunity in which I know the member is interested. We could have more such community projects—every council in Scotland could have community-owned or co-operative-owned renewables projects.

We need action. I hope that the minister will say today whether the Scottish Government will support my bill. We need concrete actions across Scotland so that we can play our part in the leadership and delivery of tackling climate change. We are full of potential to be a world leader, and we cannot roll back on the actions that we urgently need. I hope that we, as a Parliament, can work together to make that potential a reality, because it is more important than ever.


Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I will try to strike a note of consensus with Maurice Golden. I am a trier, so I will at least try. I share the disappointment and sense of loss that the 2030 climate target is now out of reach, although I am heartened that net zero by 2045 remains achievable and on track.

The 2030 target was agreed on a cross-party basis, and there were two factors that drove the target upwards and, admittedly, beyond the advice of the Climate Change Committee. The first was the science of what is needed in this decade to globally reduce emissions and the recognition in 2019 that to achieve that in a fair way means that Scotland needs to do far more than countries in the global south. The second reason the target was set so high in the 2019 act was the deep frustration at a lack of Government action, especially in the areas of agriculture, transport and housing. Sectors that had seen next to no progress for decades were able to hide behind the big emissions reductions that were achieved from renewable electricity generation, but it was obvious that, going forward, there would be no place to hide.

The belief in 2019 was that a high target with the most robust legal framework in the world behind it would drive the action that was missing from the previous Scottish climate change plans. That belief was pushed very hard by people in the climate movement, and they found cross-party support for it in the chamber, but the hope that the 2030 target would drive climate action demonstrably failed. The climate plan that was published in 2020 did not show a credible path to the 2030 target, and the UK CCC warned that the Government needed to double down on action if it was to have any hope of meeting it.

I am keen to understand why, based on what Mark Ruskell has articulated, no Green MSP signed the motion that we are debating.

Mark Ruskell

I am trying to strike a consensus with Mr Golden. His initial speech did not strike a consensus and confirmed my decision not to sign the motion.

I turn back to the substance of the debate. Mr Golden will remember that the Parliament’s committees were scathing in their analysis of the climate change plan. Cross-party committees suggested more than 80 recommendations to improve the plan. That was the point at which the 2030 target was lost because, without the commitment to early transformative action, an already stretching target very quickly became completely unachievable.

Covid certainly did not help with the Government’s focus, and Westminster austerity has decimated the availability of the capital investment that is needed for programmes. However, fundamentally, a climate plan that failed to put the action that was needed up front was always going to lead to an unachievable target.

For Greens, entering the Bute house agreement and the Scottish Government for the first time, in 2021, was always going to be a risk, but I am proud of the achievements of our group over the past two and a half years as a result of working constructively with SNP ministers on climate issues. I ask those ministers to build on that momentum rather than to dismantle it.

For example, the heat in buildings programme, which was spearheaded by Patrick Harvie, has been singled out by the CCC as a template for the rest of the UK. It is a clear example of the action that was needed back in 2020 to build up supply chains, get costs down, drive through regulations and start planning for major investments. I urge ministers to build on that work in order to reach a critical mass of action, with the number of retrofits of homes accelerating year on year.

There are many other areas in which ambition and action have been accelerated by having Greens in the Government, from the doubling of onshore wind capacity that is under way to the unprecedented scale of active travel infrastructure that is appearing in our towns and cities.

Critically, those who argue for strong targets need to commit to the action that is needed to meet them. I say to Mr Golden that the contradictions play out in the chamber all the time. Just the other week, Tory MSPs—many of whom are here today—championed another members’ business debate, on stopping new electricity pylon lines. If they are successful in their campaign, there will be no way for Scotland or the UK to come anywhere near to meeting our climate obligations. That is a fact.

The 2030 target might be lost—I grieve for it—but the need for action has never been greater. All members of this Parliament must commit to such action or be prepared to tell future generations why they sold them out.


Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

Mark Ruskell has done himself a great disfavour by misrepresenting the nature of the debate that was led by Tess White. None of us was arguing against upgrading the national grid. We were talking about how that should be done, not whether it should be done. Increasingly, from listening to Green members speaking in the chamber and elsewhere, it seems that it will take them a very long time to get over the demise of the Bute house agreement. They really have to give up the sulk.

I thank the whip-defying Maurice Golden for bringing the debate to the chamber. It is not for nothing that he is regarded as the Parliament’s foremost champion on green issues. If I may say so, the reason for that is that he knows what he is talking about. He has even won awards for his green credentials—repeatedly, actually—so I am proud to speak in a debate that has been led by the award-winning Maurice Golden.

I think that I am the only person in the chamber this evening who voted to put the 2050 net zero mandate into UK law, which was a world first. We talk a lot about being world leading, but that was world leading. I took the opportunity to speak in just about every debate during the passage of that legislation through the House of Commons, because I could not believe that any rational person would not be in favour of clean energy, clean manufacturing, zero waste, clean air and clean water. I still believe that, and I still want those things. However, we need to take people with us. We cannot just preach at people and impose unrealistic and costly change on them. That is exactly what I spoke about in the debates during the passage of the net zero law.

Bob Doris

Mr Kerr talks about taking people with us. The Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee’s climate change people’s panel—23 hardy souls—said that what turns them off and demotivates them in relation to climate change is debates of this nature, in which the tone is aggressive, hostile and not constructive. Should we not all reflect on how we conduct ourselves in this place in order to motivate wider society to take part in and buy into the step change that is needed to deliver on our climate change aspirations? Is that something to reflect on?

Stephen Kerr

I mentioned the word “preach”, and it was a cue for Bob Doris to do a bit of preaching at us on this side, for calling for pragmatism in the delivery of the vital target of net zero by 2045 or 2050. I am calling for realistic targets, not necessarily world-leading targets—I am really not interested in those. What I am interested in is realistic targets and a credible plan to go along with them.

The whole reason why the Scottish Government was forced to drop its own world-leading targets was, I believe, a lack of realism. We did not just land at that moment in an instant. If we keep missing our interim targets, we will not hit the ultimate or end target. Chris Stark, the former chair of the Climate Change Committee, said that there would have to be a ninefold increase in decarbonisation in Scotland for the Scottish Government to meet its legal target, and that that was “beyond credible”.

We need credible and realistic plans. We do not need attention-seeking, headline-grabbing plans.

Gillian Martin

This is an opportunity for me to say what we have said in other debates about Grangemouth. In decarbonising Grangemouth, there is an opportunity to keep it as a biorefinery. Grangemouth emits about 33 per cent of industrial emissions in Scotland. Does the member stand with me in calling for the regulations to be put in place to allow that to happen?

Stephen Kerr

I express an interest in looking at those regulations, because there is a food security issue that goes alongside the energy security issue, and a balance is required. That is an important consideration.

I will be helpful and positive in this debate by making a pitch to really focus on one area in delivering a reduction in emissions, and that is housing. It will please the Greens to hear me say that. We need to tackle the shortage of good housing in this country, and we need to tackle the state of the nation’s housing stock, because that way, we will tackle household emissions. We need to mobilise the innovative power of the private construction sector and set a skills agenda to build the upskilled workforce that we need to get the job done. I say to the Government, do not cut housing budgets, do not cut education and skills budgets and, in particular, do not defund Scotland’s colleges. If we tackle the crucial issues in housing across the board, we will see a dramatic improvement in the nation’s health and wellbeing. That is a statistical fact. That one investment will get us payback in so many areas.

I will close by quoting the late Roger Scruton. He said:

“top-down solutions have a tendency to confiscate problems from those whose problems they are.”

On another occasion, he said:

“there is a tendency among environmentalists to single out the big players in the market as the principal culprits: to pin the environmental crime on those ... that make their profits by exporting their costs to others (including those who are not yet born).”

However, he said that that

“is to mistake the effect for the cause. In a free economy such ways of making money emerge by an invisible hand from choices made by all of us.”

Ultimately, individual choices are what it all comes down to, so both of Scotland’s Governments must work in co-operation and reward good choices.

Mr Kerr, please bring your remarks to a close. I must be fair to all the speakers.

Stephen Kerr

I will finish the sentence. We will see more progress by dint of the impulse of human nature to choose positively when incentivised to do so than through just about anything else that can be done by Government.


Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I am grateful to Maurice Golden for securing the important and timely debate and I congratulate Gillian Martin on her reappointment to the Government in the important role of Minister for Climate Action. I hope that, when we leave the chamber after the debate, we will all have a sense that we can work together; that the minister has said that her door is open and that good ideas from across the chamber can make their way to the Cabinet table.

Five years ago today, the Scottish Government was absolutely right to come to the chamber and declare a climate emergency. Scotland’s climate targets were achievable and they were ambitious, and we should not apologise for ambition. However, somehow—I do not have all the answers—the Government has struggled to focus on delivery and implementation and to get the right action in place at the right time. That is a real shame and a missed opportunity, because if we had got it right or it had been done a lot better, millions of Scots could have had the benefit of warmer homes, cheaper bills, better public transport, well-paid green jobs and a healthier, cleaner environment. That is what my constituents across Central Scotland want, and I think that that is what everyone in Scotland wants. That is why it is really important that the Net Zero, Energy and Climate Change Committee established the climate change people’s panel.

We often hear in the Parliament that we have to take people with us and on a journey. People already know the science. The good people of Scotland know what needs to be done, and they want us to find a way to get on and do it, so if we can knock heads together and have a group hug, let us do that. It is not about the demise of the Bute house agreement, as sad as that may be for those who were involved: we are talking about the demise of the planet and of people’s jobs and their health. Let us make just transition for workers and communities a reality and get on with it.

We have received some helpful briefings for the debate. I thank Oxfam, Friends of the Earth Scotland and the Existing Homes Alliance. The Climate Change Committee has sent an important letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy, which I expect has reinforced what has been said in the debate. I will quote Professor Piers Forster, the interim chair of the CCC, who said:

“It is deeply disappointing that the Scottish Government has decided to withdraw its 2030 and 2040 interim targets. When set, these represented an ambitious commitment to the pace of decarbonisation in Scotland; however, the Scottish Government’s development and implementation of plans were too slow, and action has not kept pace with this ambition.”

However, it is not too late to get it right. We have had passionate contributions in the debate and I can draw examples of that from across the chamber. I think that Mr Ewing has left his seat, but there are other examples of colleagues working across party divides. I have worked with Mr Ewing on solar energy; Maurice Golden on the circular economy; colleagues on the Green benches on my ecocide proposals; the Lib Dems on measures to protect our oceans and rivers from pollution; and Ash Regan in the Alba Party on its ambitions for a just transition for the workers and communities in Grangemouth—an issue that I know Stephen Kerr also cares about.

We can work together when we take the personal attacks out of it. There is no Government in the world that is doing enough. Collectively, members of the Parliament have good intentions, but we have to create the space and time in how we do our politics so that we focus on action. I thank Lorna Slater for her time and effort and the respect that she showed me during her time in the Government when we worked together on my proposals for ecocide law, and I hope that I can work with Gillian Martin and others on that.

I will end by saying that my constituents in Central Scotland do not want me to come into the chamber and critique colleagues, making it personal. It is not about the character of the individuals who are sitting on the seats, but it is very much about what we do and the action that we take. Let us focus on that as we go forward.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Given the number of members who still wish to speak in the debate, I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3 of standing orders, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes. I invite Maurice Golden to move the motion.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Maurice Golden]

Motion agreed to.


Lorna Slater (Lothian) (Green)

I am grateful to Maurice Golden for securing the debate, and I welcome the opportunity to speak on this vitally important topic. The events of the past few weeks have made two things clear to me. First, our planet is currently en route to a climate catastrophe. Secondly, there is no majority in the Parliament that supports action to prevent that.

That is a devastating diagnosis for our future, and it is especially terrifying for our children and generations to come. Last week, The Guardian published an article that showed that 77 per cent of climate scientists believe that we will get a global temperature rise of more than 2.5°C by the year 2100. That is only 75 years away. A child who is born today will experience that future. Many other children will be killed by that future.

A rise of 2.5°C or 3°C does not seem like very much, does it? Under the Paris agreement, Governments around the world said that they would do what it takes to keep global heating below 1.5°C. They have not done so, but that is not because 1.5°C is safe—no. As we rapidly approach 1.5°C, we can already see what it means. We can ask the farmers who were flooded out last year, and the people globally who are affected by wildfires and droughts. Coastal communities and islanders are watching their land disappear before their eyes.

As we get towards, and past, 1.5°C of heating, the harms accelerate. Bad gets worse; devastating becomes deadly. If all that seems a bit distant and arbitrary, as if it might happen to someone else, we should think again. There is an excellent tool online, which anyone can use, at; it shows where sea levels are expected to be by 2050—only 25 years away. In my region, the water comes all the way up to Leith Links and covers Musselburgh town centre. What will the cost be of all those homes and businesses that are lost, and of the people and economic activity displaced?

Sarah Boyack

Lorna Slater is absolutely right that bad gets worse, but it is more than that. We already have train lines undermined by flooding, roads getting closed and people not being able to afford to heat their houses in a way that will bring carbon emissions down. Is it not those day-to-day things that we really need to get the Scottish Government to ramp up activity on so that we can tackle our climate emergency and improve people’s lives?

Lorna Slater

Of course I agree with the member entirely, but anything that the Scottish Government brings forward has to be voted through by the Parliament, which means that all of you—all of us—need to support the action, because we are now fighting for every fraction of a degree. Every bit of global heating that is prevented will save lives, but we need to change things—big things.

The UK Climate Change Committee—

Will the member take an intervention?

Lorna Slater

Sorry—let me carry on here.

The Climate Change Committee has made clear what Scotland needs to do. We need to stop burning fossil fuels to heat our homes. We need to insulate our homes and heat them with clean electricity. We need to get out of our diesel and petrol cars and get on our bikes and our buses. We need to stop flying when there are alternatives available, and we need to make sure that taking the train is cheaper and more convenient.

Will the member take an intervention?

Lorna Slater

One more moment—just let me finish this bit.

We need to change how we use our land so that we create long-term resilience around nature and food production.

I will take Finlay Carson’s intervention.

Could the member name one of the Green-SNP policies that the Parliament has voted down?

Lorna Slater

I will get to that section, if the member will bear with me.

With Scottish Greens in the Government, the Scottish Government proposed some fairly modest measures to take us in a better direction, such as starting to tax aviation; moving money from expanding roads to expanding rail, bus and active travel; giving councils powers to reduce car use; and protecting 30 per cent of our land for nature.

Historically, every single similar measure has been robustly opposed by the chamber, including low-emission zones, the workplace parking levy and the protection of 10 per cent of our seas. Those are very modest climate measures. If even those simple things are opposed, how can we ever make the big changes? I wish it was not just the Scottish Greens saying that we need to have the courage to make real changes. I wish, more than anything, that there was a solid consensus in the chamber for action on climate. Until that time, however, the Scottish Greens will always be the voice for a fairer, greener and better future.


Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I will try to bring the chamber back to reality. I thank my friend and colleague Maurice Golden for securing the debate. In my view, climate change has been sliding down the agenda for some time, not just globally but specifically in Scotland. Maurice Golden has highlighted the trend, in that the Scottish Government trumpets world-leading targets to great fanfare to gain media headlines but never backs up those targets with a credible road map for hitting them.

I note, for the benefit of Lorna Slater, that the Parliament is universally agreed on what targets must be delivered to keep 1.5°C alive. It should not be an option to miss those targets. In fact, it cannot be an option to miss those targets, and we must find a way to meet them, as my friend Bob Doris said. However, the Scottish Government continues to miss the targets.

I am fed up with the diatribe from the Government and the Greens that, when we question the methodology of achieving the targets, we are somehow climate change deniers. I am sorry, but that is lazy politics and does nothing to further the cause. It is extremely frustrating because, as I have already said, we all agree that climate change must be tackled, and we in Scotland should be leading the way. My colleagues and I have tried many times to tease out Scottish Government plans to deliver on the targets and, time and again, it is obvious that there is nothing behind the headlines.

Douglas Lumsden

Earlier this morning, our colleague Maurice Golden tried to lodge amendments to the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill. One of them sought to bring back the 2013 recycling targets. That amendment was blocked by a Green member. Would Brian Whittle agree that that is absolute hypocrisy, given what we have just heard from the Green member who spoke previously?

Brian Whittle

I have often thought that the Greens should be the conscience of the Parliament, but I have to say that, of late, this Green Party has been the least green party that has ever been seen. Under the original home heating policy that was introduced by the then Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights, Patrick Harvie, the target was for 1 million homes to be retrofitted with heat pumps by 2030. I kept asking who was going to install those heat pumps, who was going to service them and who was going to pay for them. There was never an answer from Mr Harvie, despite the fact that our questions were always prompted by the industry itself. Eventually, Mr Harvie abandoned those plans because, as we had suggested, there are not a million homes in Scotland that are suitable for heat pumps.

What is more, the Scottish Government and the Greens could not join up the dots by applying the need to train a workforce. They were some 23,500 tradespeople and engineers short to meet those targets. We now we have a Scottish Government that is cutting apprenticeships for engineering and tradespeople—the very trades that are crucial to delivering on the climate change targets.

Bob Doris

I will not respond to what I think was a misleading comment in relation to the budget in this place but, on the subject of budgets, would Mr Whittle agree that the biggest leverage of cash is not from the public sector—from the Scottish or UK Governments—but from the commercial and private sectors? Without them, we ain’t going to meet any of the targets.

Brian Whittle

I thank Mr Doris for that question: he must have been looking at his crystal ball, because that is the issue that I was coming on to. We should be developing a strategy to develop an industry that business will be confident to work with. We need to look at reducing energy demand by insulating as many buildings as possible. Then, we need to look at tackling the most polluting heating systems, such as off-grid oil-fired heating systems. They are expensive to upgrade but, if reducing emissions is the goal, that must be the place to start. Then, we can work our way in, developing district heat pumps and off-grid energy options, such as green hydrogen generation, to tackle the needs of heavy industry and heavy goods vehicles.

What about looking at taking communities off the grid by developing local energy options, such as utilising old mining pits, from which energy can be drawn by flooding them or where it can even be stored? That was supposed to happen as part of the Ayrshire growth deal national energy research demonstrator project, which would have taken Cumnock off the grid. That has been dumped, and the world-leading outcome that it could have led to is a shadow of itself.

Business has never been listened to, and we could use the shambles of the deposit return scheme as an example of an approach in which the Government, despite support for the scheme from all parties in the chamber and across business, managed to alienate the Opposition and some of its back benchers, as well as the business community, by producing a scheme that just could not work. It was warned of that, yet it ploughed on like the Titanic looking for an iceberg.

I note that the so-called just transition is far from just, given that we have recently heard that the rate of green job creation is far exceeded by the number of jobs that are being lost in the oil and gas industry. It is not good enough. The Government cannot call it a just transition and say that it will just happen; the Government must act on its intentions.

There is so much more that I would like to say, but I know that time is short. I close by pleading with the Government that tackling climate change should not cause discord in this place. I am in favour of targets, and stretched targets are even better. However, the Government has to develop and deploy a strategy that is viable and practical, that takes business and people with it, and that develops confidence that allows businesses and individuals to commit, along with the Government. Simply developing a world-leading target without a route map will not achieve anything.

I call Gillian Martin to respond to the debate. You have around seven minutes, minister.


The Minister for Climate Action (Gillian Martin)

I will try my best, Presiding Officer. There are probably too many points for me to address them all, but I am grateful to Maurice Golden for securing a debate on such an important subject. I hope that the debate will give us an opportunity to agree that action to meet our climate goals is essential. Although, at times, Maurice Golden set out the call for us to argue with one another in an agreeable way, it has slipped into a little bit of negativity. Let us dispense with that. Listening to most of the contributions today, it is clear that we all want the same thing: we want action and we want to work together.

I have taken on the job of the Minister for Climate Action, and I will work with anyone—anyone—who brings me suggestions on what more we can do to decarbonise within our devolved responsibilities and on sensible approaches where we think that we can bring the public with us. My door is open.

We need to come together. We did that in 2019, when the entire Parliament voted for the targets in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill. I want to continue in that spirit. I will quote Roseanna Cunningham, who took forward that legislation. In the final stage 3 debate, she said:

“If Parliament sets a higher target,”—

she must have been saying that in relation to 2030—

“it is no longer an option for any party to stand in the way of the measures that we need to take to tackle climate change.—[Official Report, 25 September 2019; c 24.]

She is right. I think that everybody in the chamber has agreed with Roseanna Cunningham’s point. Let us look at how we can do more together, instead of expressing negativity or name calling.

Mr Lumsden, we have not deleted climate targets. We are going to replace them with a different model of carbon budget approach that does not have the fluctuations year on year. [Interruption.] If I could just explain it first. We are all going to have to work on a different approach so that the targets are meaningful and measurable, and so that, with the carbon budget in action, we are seeing a change to the emissions that we are producing year on year.

I completely understand that. When will the legislation be introduced?

Gillian Martin

I believe that the cabinet secretary has said that that will be towards the summer. Obviously, we all know that the cabinet secretary is on a bit of a deadline for personal reasons, so I imagine that that will be before she goes on maternity leave.

We have cut our emissions by nearly half and our economy has grown by 57 per cent at the same time. That says to me that there are lots of opportunities to decarbonise and improve our economy at the same time. We can do that, but we can only do it, as Monica Lennon said, if we work together on constructive solutions.

I want to mention some of the things that we are doing in the Government that will help to decarbonise. As Bob Doris said, 87.9 per cent of Scotland’s electricity generation comes from low-carbon sources. We want to do more. The offshore leasing round for ScotWind is an example of that.

We have huge green hydrogen potential, too, and we are using constrained wind for hydrogen production, for domestic decarbonisation and particularly for industry and transport. Moreover, carbon capture, utilisation and storage will ensure that hard-to-decarbonise sectors can reduce their emissions; indeed, we worked hand in glove with the UK Government on that to get track 2 status off the ground.

Has the minister had a chance, yet, to look at the green heat finance task force’s recommendations on developing financing mechanisms so that warm, healthy, zero-emission homes are affordable to everyone?

Gillian Martin

Can I be honest with Ms Lennon? I have not really had time to brush my teeth. For example, I have been dealing with the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill, but I give her my assurance that I will look into what she has highlighted. I am sure that she will understand that I was given responsibility for this matter only on Thursday.

We must also recognise that Scotland can reach net zero if we are in a UK that reaches net zero, too. At this point, I want to pay tribute to Lorna Slater for what she said—and I agree with her. Indeed, I want first of all to pay tribute to her for her work as a Government minister. I agree with her assessment that this is a global problem in which we will play a small but important part collectively—all of us who vote in Parliaments across the developed world, particularly the wealthy countries. That is our only path to hope for the future of the children that Ms Slater talked about.

I agree, too, with Mark Ruskell, who said that we now have to accelerate progress in other areas of Scottish life such as transport, the way in which we heat our homes, building, agriculture and land use.

To Stephen Kerr, I say this: nobody wants to cut any budget. We do not want to do so. We do need more spend in these particular areas not just in Scotland but in the UK, but that spend needs to be funded. When there is a block grant deduction, it becomes very difficult to manage the Scottish budget.

The limits of our devolved powers present challenges, but there are also lots of opportunities here, and it is up to all of us to seize those opportunities and to work collectively on them.

Sarah Boyack

I thank the minister for taking my question, which is about energy efficiency in existing homes. We know that the Scottish Government underspent by £133 million the money that had been allocated. This is a huge challenge and I welcome the minister to her new role. The focus on jobs and training in all of our communities will be critical. Will she pick that issue up and work on it?

Gillian Martin

I will pick up that issue. Although I am new to the heat in buildings part of my portfolio, I am not new to the just transition aspect and the skills associated with energy. I assure the member that since I came into post in March I have been working on the aspect of improving skills.

On skills, which Monica Lennon mentioned, we have a £11 million skills intervention package to support the transferability of the workforce into low-carbon areas. There is also our £500 million just transition fund for the north-east and Moray, a lot of which is based on working with partners in Aberdeen university, North East Scotland College and Robert Gordon University, all of whom are working collaboratively, rather than fighting against each other for students.

Will the minister give way?

I do not have time, do I, Presiding Officer?

You have a wee bit.

Stephen Kerr

The minister mentioned my point about cutting budgets, but that is just a demonstration of political priorities. If the issues that we are debating today are a political priority, as they ought to be, we should not be cutting the housing budget or the skills budget. Does she not agree?

Gillian Martin

As I have said, I do not think that any of these budgets should be cut—I really do not—but the difficulty is that we are in a fiscal situation, and we have to be able to manage our budget. Where do we take money from? Do we take it from the national health service? Do we take it from schools? I would say that the former Deputy First Minister and now Cabinet Secretary for Finance has had one of the toughest years of her political life, balancing that budget. [Interruption.] I am not going to take any more interventions, because—and members forgive me—people want me to respond to things that they said in the debate.

In the year ahead, we are going to commit £4.7 billion to support the delivery of our climate change goals. I look forward not only to cross-party support for the actions associated with that, but to getting suggestions about where we can put that spend, so that we can reach consensus. I feel very strongly about that.

Sarah Boyack commented on the issue of climate impact, and I point out that local authority flood resilience increased by £150 million, with £11 million for coastal resilience. Those are areas that we need to put money into, but we need to put even more money into avoiding the need for that spend after the fact. We have also invested £75 million in supporting the installation of 2,700 public electric vehicle charge points, and we have some of the most generous grants and loans in the UK to support households and workplaces to move to clean heating. Can we do more? Yes, we can, but in partnership with those who supply these things. Indeed, some interesting work has been mooted on how we can make heat pumps more affordable from some of the companies that I have been speaking about. We are also considering responses to the consultation on the proposal for a heat in buildings bill.

We are also actively working with our UK Government partners on decarbonising the UK gas network. Those are active conversations; I sometimes think that, when people look at this Parliament, they think that the Scottish Government and the UK Government do not speak to each other. I can tell the chamber that that is far from true—I have meetings with the UK Government all the time.

On community climate action hubs, which Monica Lennon mentioned, we are supporting public engagement by increasing our network to 20 such hubs, and we have launched our climate engagement fund. Again, there is more work to do in that area, but we will all have examples of where that approach is really working.

I need to come to a close now, and there was so much more that I wanted to say. However, I will end on this point: you will not find me dismissing the ideas of anyone who might come to speak to me before we decide on things. Come and speak to me. If you have plans that are achievable and an idea of how they can be financed and can gain public support, I will listen to you—sorry, Presiding Officer, I will listen to them.

That concludes the debate.

Meeting closed at 18:16.