Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Wednesday, October 25, 2023
- Portfolio Question Time
- Storm Babet
- Culture Sector
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Climate Justice
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-10793, in the name of Maggie Chapman, on climate justice and support for a global loss and damage fund. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament recognises what it sees as the severe impact that human-caused climate change is having on the planet; believes that communities across Scotland, including in the North East Scotland region, as well as globally, are already being negatively affected by the climate emergency; considers that, disproportionately, those most acutely affected by these impacts are those who have contributed the least to the climate crisis; believes that this is a fundamental and grave injustice, compounded by histories of colonialism and oppression; welcomes the decision at the 27th UN climate conference (COP27) to establish an international solidarity fund for climate-related loss and damage; recognises and welcomes that Scotland reportedly played a key role in breaking a 30-year logjam on loss and damage after COP26 in Glasgow; notes and welcomes the reported support of parliamentarians across the world for the loss and damage pledge, including supporters in the Scottish Parliament, and notes the calls on the UK Government, as a party to the 28th UN climate conference (COP28), to support the operationalisation of the fund, to ensure that the money attributed is new and additional to the climate finance commitments already made, and not taken from existing official development assistance budgets, and to commit to providing loss and damage finance in the form of grants, not loans.18:05
I am pleased to lead the debate. I thank all members who supported the motion to enable us to talk about this subject now. I also pay tribute to the third sector organisations, especially the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition, Christian Aid and the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, who have done so much painstaking work on this vital issue.
Climate devastation is here. After the raging tempest of the past week, no one in Scotland, especially in the north-east, can be in any real doubt about that. I hold in my heart all who have suffered in their homes, their families, their communities and their livelihoods, and most especially the families and friends of those who lost their lives in such sad circumstances.
Everyone, everywhere, is affected by the impacts of climate change. For a fortunate few, so far, those may seem little more than inconveniences. That is the deadly gamble that Rishi Sunak and his Westminster Government are throwing the dice for, in the cynical hope that voters will be incapable of looking out of their own windows to see the storms on the horizon. I do not believe that it will work in England, and I know that it will not work in Scotland. We face not only more extreme weather events, such as storm Babet, with all the destruction that they bring, but slower and quieter assaults such as coastal erosion, which threatens to displace whole communities; decimated harvests; degraded soils; wildfires and floods; disease; loss of home and habitat; and extinction of keystone and beloved species. That is unthinkably painful, even for us, here and now, with all our accumulated privilege and defence. For the next generations, it will be harder still.
For billions of our fellow humans across the world, the blow falls now, heavily and relentlessly. In the majority world—the global south—climate devastation is a daily reality for many. It is lived out in bodies and homes, in year after year of disrupted seasons—rains that come late or not at all, or come too hard, washing away the frail shoots of hope—and in year after year of lost harvests, lost water resources, lost livelihoods and lost children. That is not down to bad luck, poor planning or insufficient resilience. It is an injustice that is as brutal as it gets.
The people who bear the heaviest burden of climate chaos are, almost universally, those who are least responsible for its reality. However we might calculate emissions, theirs are minute—they are scarcely visible on the charts. Far from benefiting from the fossil economy and the capitalism that it supports, they have borne the curse of extractivism and the exploitation of resources, environment and labour. Colonial and post-colonial oppressions have forced them to use precious land for export crops, denied them the kind of economy that can brazenly outsource its emissions, and callously suppressed indigenous people whose knowledge of and care for non-human nature we need now more than ever.
Our response to this gravest of crises must be wide and it must be deep. It must acknowledge that in many ways the decision makers of Scotland and the United Kingdom have been complicit in colonialism and climate injustice. It must impel us towards rapid emissions reduction, urgent decarbonisation and global co-operation on both mitigation and adaptation. However, it requires us to do more.
Escalating emissions have led to climate impacts that it is now too late to prevent or adapt to. They can be addressed only by compensation, reparations and the provision of resources by those most responsible. That is what we mean by loss and damage. They include harms that are tangible and intangible, and economic and non-economic, and those that are caused by either rapid or slow-onset events.
Scotland has played an important role in amplifying the issue of loss and damage, not least in its symbolic and real commitment at the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26. I pay tribute to and thank Nicola Sturgeon for her leadership on that, which helped to bring about the decision at last year’s COP to establish an international loss and damage solidarity fund. Now, however, we urgently need to do more.
That global loss and damage fund exists only as an idea. Many of us had hoped that, at this year’s COP, in just a few weeks’ time, that idea would become operational following the work of the transitional committee, of which the UK is a member and which has been working on the issue over the past year. However, I am angry and bitterly disappointed that, just last weekend, at the last of four meetings of the transitional committee, it failed to draft recommendations on the operationalisation of the global loss and damage fund.
There will now be an extra meeting in November, at which I hope that the European Union and the US will listen to the Alliance of Small Island States—AOSIS—and other developing countries and will not impose the World Bank’s business model on them or the fund. AOSIS is clear that that does not work for it. Again, the developed countries are trying to control and determine other people’s futures. Developing countries are also clear on who should be eligible for the fund: it should be all developing countries. Again, the global north wants to restrict eligibility.
There are several other points of disagreement between developed and developing countries, but the fund must be governed robustly, with effective resources that meet the need of compensation and with the weight of financial contribution resting squarely on the shoulders of those who are most responsible.
That procedural work must be followed by substantive finance from the UK to the new fund. That must be new money, reflecting the historical and current responsibilities that the UK bears. It cannot simply be redesigned funds from the already insufficient climate finance or development and aid budgets. It must be based on need, and not on benefit to UK businesses and geopolitical interests. It must take the form of grants, and not loans that suck countries further into the spiral of toxic debt. It must not be used as an excuse to avoid the essential work of emissions reduction and adaptation. Its costs must not be borne by the people and communities who are already suffering from the domestic crises of cost, greed and underinvestment here. “Polluter pays” must mean just that.
We in Scotland need to amplify those messages, speaking with clarity and conscience. There is specific work that we can do here to develop and expand Scotland’s loss and damage programme and our wider climate justice fund, ensuring that its work is locally led, transparent and effective, and sharing what we have learned, and what we have yet to learn, with generosity and humility.
I urge members to consider signing the global parliamentarians’ pledge on loss and damage. I invite all colleagues to attend an event that I will host next Tuesday, when we will hear directly from representatives of the global south about the devastating impacts that our industrial revolution and fossil economy have had on them.
We carry knowledge of our history and of the ways in which we have failed in justice, in solidarity, in compassion and in humanity, but we also carry a determination to do better. Now is the time to make that real.18:13
I thank Maggie Chapman for securing this important debate. This is a topic that goes to the very heart of the moral obligation—I use that term deliberately—that developed countries owe to those in the global south. The devastating effects of climate change are now impossible for any politician, bar the mendacious, to deny or ignore. Here in Scotland, as Maggie Chapman has just reflected on, storm Babet has just delivered a tragic reminder that those impacts are now being felt everywhere. My thoughts, too, are with those who have been affected.
Although the impacts are global, they fall most acutely, and massively disproportionately, on countries that have done the least to cause climate change—countries that are already poorer and less equipped to deal with the consequences of the emissions that have fuelled the prosperity of those of us in the developed world. For example, the carbon emissions of countries in east Africa are negligible in a global context, and yet human-induced climate change has contributed to drought and famine there—a hunger crisis that, earlier this year, was estimated to be claiming two lives every single minute.
Finance provided by rich countries to help the poorest deal with climate change is woefully inadequate. Shamefully, the much-lauded $100 million-per-year commitment, first made 14 years ago, has still not been delivered in full. As well as being inadequate, such finance is also far too limited in scope. Current funding covers mitigation action to reduce emissions and adaptation action to build resilience through, for example, flood defences.
Both of those matter—of course they do—and they are hugely important. However, not covered at all at this stage is the loss and damage being wrought by the impacts of climate change that are of a type and scale that can no longer be mitigated or adapted to. Such impacts are already causing loss of life, loss of livelihoods and enforced changes to how and where people live, and they are doing so on a truly massive scale.
Countries and individuals across the global south have been campaigning for explicit recognition of and recompense for loss and damage for 30 years, yet it was only at COP26 in Glasgow that the first glimmer of a breakthrough was made. I am very proud that Scotland played its part and became the first developed country in the world to pledge funding for loss and damage. Momentum continued last year at COP27 in Egypt, with an agreement to set up a dedicated fund and the establishment of a transitional committee to agree the detail. Again, Scotland was at the forefront of efforts to make that progress.
However, it will be at COP28 in Dubai, in just a few weeks’ time, that we will know whether those promises are to be honoured—indeed, whether it is any longer possible to expect global south countries to keep faith with the multilateral process at all. I hope for the best, but already fear the worst. By all accounts, progress in the transitional committee is nowhere near where it should be.
In the short time that I have today, I simply want to add my voice to those demanding true climate justice. COP28 must ensure that the loss and damage fund becomes operational without delay. It must be open to all developing countries. The finance that it offers must be additional to that already available for mitigation and adaptation. It must be in the form of grants, not loans. To deepen the indebtedness of developing countries would not address injustice—it would compound it. Such finance must cover the full range of the loss and damage that are being suffered. That means not just the impacts of sudden events such as floods and storms, but those of slow-onset climatic changes, and not just the impacts of economic loss, such as damage to infrastructure, but those of non-economic loss of life, culture and heritage.
My final call falls closer to home. I understand—probably more than most members in the chamber—the financial pressures confronting Government. However, I ask the Scottish Government to ensure that our overall climate justice fund commitment for this Parliament, which increased during COP26, is delivered in full and that, as a bare minimum—I stress that—we honour in full the world-leading commitments that have been made to loss and damage funding. This is a matter of basic justice. It is the obligation that we owe to those in the global south who pay the price of our prosperity. I hope that Scotland will continue to lead the way.18:18
I thank Maggie Chapman for bringing this important debate to Parliament. Climate change is a global threat, which means that we all have a responsibility to act, especially when those who will be impacted most are often least able to adapt.
Many organisations, such as SCIAF and Tearfund, are working hard to improve access to food, water and energy in those vulnerable communities. I will always be grateful for the opportunity that I got to witness and support those efforts during my trip to Nepal with Tearfund in 2018.
The work of such charities is important, impactful and inspirational. However, what we need most is for Governments to take action, which is why the decision at COP27 to establish a loss and damage fund was so significant. There are still operational details to work out, but I welcome the UK’s commitment to encourage mobilisation of a broad range of finance.
That builds on COP27’s recognition of the role that private finance can play in supporting climate projects. The UK Government has a strong track record here. Between 2011 and 2023, it has driven significant investment in climate projects in developing countries, with £6.9 billion of public finance and £6.8 billion of private finance. That combination of public and private funding is vital, given the scale of the threat that we face. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, up to 3.6 billion people—almost half the entire human race—live in areas deemed “highly vulnerable” to climate change.
Let me also say—as I have done before—that I welcome the role that the Scottish Government has played in helping to mitigate climate impacts in vulnerable communities, such as through training women in leadership roles. I have also urged it to do more, such as supporting efforts to provide reliable waste management services in developing countries. A 2019 Tearfund report estimated that as many as 1 million people a year die from mismanaged waste—that is one person every 30 seconds. So, action on that would save lives as well as tackling climate change and laying the foundation for circular economies.
I am pleased that the UK has been active on that issue, having committed millions in funding, but, historically, waste management has received little global attention. Solid waste management accounted for less than 1 per cent of development funding between 2003 and 2012, according to the International Solid Waste Association. Scotland has a wealth of technical expertise and experience in waste management, so there is an opportunity for the Scottish Government to draw on that to help provide training and solutions for developing countries.
We also have an opportunity to support Britain’s global effort to support those at risk from climate change. Since 2011, we have provided direct support to help more than 100 million people cope with climate change effects; improved access to clean energy for 69 million people; and reduced or avoided 86 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
Of course, there is more to do. Although I recognise the commitment of the UK Government, welcoming that does not mean that we have to support everything that it does. As members know, I have been quick to point out where I think that it is not doing enough. However, if we do not recognise where progress is made, it risks making calls to go further and do more sound hollow.18:22
I congratulate Maggie Chapman on securing the debate and on her speech.
As others have said, this summer, we saw the impact of climate change right across Europe—we have discussed that in previous debates. Temperatures across southern Europe reached 40°C, and that is now being discussed as the kind of temperature level that we might experience in the future. In the middle east, the temperature reached 50°C, and countries in east Asia have been experiencing very high temperatures for a long time. However, I think that this summer brought things home to us.
Colleagues and constituents will have had horrendous experiences over the past few weeks. Two weeks ago, we had a month’s rain in 24 hours, which saw our railway industry come to a halt, and, this afternoon, we discussed the impact of storm Babet. However, countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan have experienced major and damaging floods for years. This is not new to them. We woke up to it when we saw the scale of the flood in Pakistan last year, which impacted 33 million people. The scale of that is hard for us to imagine but, when we start looking at the issue, we see that Bangladesh had floods more than a decade ago that had a massive impact on the country. We have been waking up to the issue slowly. For countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and in east Africa in particular, drought has a massive impact on their capacity to grow food and access clean drinking water, which leads to vulnerability to diseases.
We have to be up front that the climate emergency has been here for a long time but that we have not reached the stage at which we have begun to deliver the support that we need to.
I was going to talk about two key areas in which we need to act, but Maurice Golden has made me add another. First, we need to work together to deliver on our own climate targets. There is a leadership issue in that regard. The fact that the industrial revolution started in central Scotland is something that we can be proud of, although we should not necessarily be proud of the climate emissions. We need to think that through in relation to our homes and buildings, transport and land. The leadership that we could provide by meeting our own radical targets would be important.
Secondly, on the points that Maurice Golden made about a circular economy, we have had cross-party groups and briefings, and we have a bill in front of us. It is about thinking about how we take responsibility and do not simply use our waste more wisely but create less in the first place by reusing, repairing and remaking. We need to do more in relation to those difficult angles.
The third issue is what everybody has been talking about today, which is leading on climate justice, loss and damage. Two years ago, we started debating the issue in the cross-party group on international development, and we heard incredibly powerful evidence from different countries about the impact that climate change was having at that time. They came up with clear and specific asks for us in order to see progress at COP26. We heard from Maggie Chapman and Nicola Sturgeon today about the leadership role that we played as a country in making the recommendations, but we have not seen the progress that we would want to. At COP27, we agreed the principle, but we have not seen the action that we need in advance of COP28.
I thank SCIAF and Oxfam for the briefings that they sent in advance of today’s debate. Both were incredibly useful. In looking at what loss and damage mean in practice, we have to look at the impact on countries that need the funding now, particularly low-income and middle-income countries. The money needs to be accessible to communities in the global south so that they can decide how it is spent. It also needs to be restorative and in the form of grants, not loans. That issue has come up in the cross-party group on international development. There is a huge impact on the health and education services of low-income countries that have massive debts that they are not able to pay off. It is crucial to see loss and damage funding as investment and grants and to use subsidiarity principles underpinned by human rights.
The information from SCIAF about the impact of climate change included the point that, according to United Nations statistics, women and children are 14 times more likely to die in a disaster than men and that, with every disaster, women’s rights and progress are threatened. It is a now issue, with impacts right across the world.
The last point that I will make is that we need an efficient and effective response through loss and damage funding. We need to provide not only a rapid response but long-term support. We can be proud of the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee, and we can see that members of the public are happy to donate. People who have cash are willing to make donations, but the challenge is that we need long-term support. We need support not only for charities but for countries in order that they can make the investment that will protect people from future climate disasters. We need to give them the resource to invest, adapt and tackle the challenge, which is a now issue.
We know that we will have more and more extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and cyclones, and that low-income countries will be most impacted. We have a duty and a responsibility, so coming together today is not only symbolic but important.18:29
This is, indeed, a short debate, but I echo Sarah Boyack’s comments about its importance. The cabinet secretary might wish to consider whether, in due course, the Government might bring forward a longer debate in which we can consider the issue, probably in the aftermath of COP28.
I, too, offer my thanks to organisations such as SCIAF and Oxfam, principally for the work that they do on climate justice but also, in the context of the debate, for the briefings that they provided, which make for very grim reading.
There is no doubt or dispute that the climate emergency and crisis that we face is a global one. In recent weeks, we have had immediate evidence that there is not really a part of the world that the climate emergency does not touch. However, I think that everybody recognises that there is a gross imbalance in the way in which those effects are manifesting themselves now and will manifest themselves in the future.
There are economic impacts. Christian Aid has set out some of the impacts that we are already seeing in respect of gross domestic product per person and the reductions in the global south. There are also health impacts, given the excess deaths that there have been. Figures from the World Health Organization are truly alarming, and they are set to get even worse. There is the loss of things such as heritage, culture and community, which are very difficult to regain and rebuild if they are lost.
I have had the privilege to be one of the co-conveners of the Scottish Parliament cross-party group on Malawi over a number of sessions. Malawi is not the country in the global south that is worst affected in this regard, but we have seen the devastating impacts that floods and droughts have had over the years and their effect in diverting funds away from building resilience and encouraging diversification in crop production, for example, into the immediate and urgent life-saving efforts that are required on the back of such devastating floods and droughts. For every step forward that we take, we seem to take five, 10 or 15 steps back. I do not think that the experience in Malawi is different in any way from that in other parts of the global south.
On the strides that were taken forward in COP26 and COP27, the establishment of the loss and damage fund is significant. I pay tribute to Nicola Sturgeon for her personal efforts and those of the Government that she led in getting to that stage. That was a significant diplomatic success. However, she is equally right to point to the stalling of the progress that we saw last year, whether that relates to the World Bank’s administration or who pays for what and to what extent. There has been a loss of momentum, and it is very difficult to regain momentum when it has been lost.
Earlier today, the chair of the UK Climate Change Committee, Chris Stark, spoke to the Conveners Group in a private session. What he said was not very different from what he has been saying in public, so I do not think that I am breaching any confidences. He talked about the fact that Scotland, the UK and other countries in the industrialised north have gone through a kind of sugar-rush phase in which they rushed to set ambitions and targets, but they now seem to find themselves in a buyer’s-remorse phase in which they are struggling to work out how they can realise the ambitions and meet the targets. That was not a particular criticism of any Administration; it was a recognition of the fact that the easy thing is setting the targets and the hard thing is following through on that. We see that with the loss and damage fund, as well. As Chris Stark indicated, COP28 is likely to return to energy transition, emissions reductions and adaptations, so the moment to capture and embed our work on loss and damage could be lost unless we get the progress that is needed over the coming weeks.
I finish by echoing Nicola Sturgeon’s call to have the scale of the funding allocated met not through loans and saddling the global south with yet more debt, and by making a plea to the cabinet secretary that the Scottish Government steps up its own commitment to those funds.
I thank Maggie Chapman for allowing us to debate the issue. I hope that we can return to it at some point in the not-too-distant future.18:34
As many colleagues have reflected, recent events at home and around the world have served to make it abundantly clear that climate change is happening here and now. In October alone in Scotland, we have seen two highly unusual rainfall events, including, most recently, storm Babet, which disrupted transport, destroyed infrastructure and crops, meant that communities had to be evacuated and, tragically, took lives in Scotland and across the UK.
While I have the opportunity, I offer my heartfelt condolences to those who are mourning the loss of a loved one. I also pay tribute to all our emergency responders, our resilience partners and the scores of volunteers who worked so hard to keep people safe in those frightening events.
Those were not normal autumn rainfall events. They compromised a flood defence in Brechin, which was designed to withstand a once-in-200-years event. It is clear that Scotland is feeling the effects of climate change but, equally, the health of our economy, society and, of course, environment is now abundantly linked with how well we mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts.
That is why we are making an extra £150 million available this parliamentary term on top of the £42 million that we provide for flood risk management annually. It is also why we have provided £12 million on coastal adaptation, which is another front on which Scotland will experience climate change. In response to a number of colleagues who rightly called for ambitious plans from the Scottish Government in line with the targets that the Parliament has set, I state that it is also why we are determinedly preparing ambitious plans: a climate change plan on emissions abatement and an adaptation plan that will rise to challenges such as flooding and coastal erosion.
Colleagues rightly reflected that, as we take those actions in Scotland, we have to be clear that communities throughout the world—principally, communities in the global south—are squarely on the front line. The inherent injustice of climate change is its ability to exacerbate existing inequalities and the fact that the people who have contributed least to the problem are now first and most severely impacted. Maggie Chapman, Sarah Boyack and others were absolutely right to reflect the fact that historical, systemic prejudice and inequalities have ensured that people in those communities feel climate impacts disproportionately and that those impacts fall disproportionately on women, children and those who are already marginalised. That extends suffering, exacerbates poverty and creates the risk of conflict.
In Scotland, as Nicola Sturgeon articulated, we have benefited from the industrial processes that are driving climatic breakdown and, therefore, we hold a moral responsibility to address the resultant loss and damage. Indeed, we have sought to pioneer putting people and justice at the heart of our international climate policy for many years. In 2012, the Scottish Government launched the world’s first climate justice fund. As has been narrated a number of times, when we hosted the world at COP26 in Glasgow, we became the first global north country to commit funding explicitly to address loss and damage.
In that regard, I pay enormous tribute to my friend and colleague Nicola Sturgeon, who—she will not admit this herself—when she was First Minister and when no one else was willing to do so, stood shoulder to shoulder with the global south and with committed campaigners and helped to broker the breaking of a three-decades-long impasse on that most important issue. I know that she will continue to champion the issue, and she can be forever proud of that breakthrough.
I absolutely concur with the cabinet secretary’s comments about Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership on the issue. However, given the scale of loss and damage around the world—some estimates put it at $580 billion by 2030—many states are considering going beyond just funding reparations to address loss and damage. They are also considering establishing in international law a crime of ecocide. Is the Scottish Government open to considering how we could embed the concept of ecocide in Scots law in the way that the EU is looking to adopt it? Some states, such as Belgium, have already started to implement that.
I discussed the issue with Mark Ruskell’s Green colleague Lorna Slater earlier today. We were talking about it in the context of the human rights bill that the Scottish Government is developing, and I would be glad to work with him on that.
The point that I was going to make prior to that intervention was that, with humility, we recognise that the sums that we have made available directly to address loss and damage are exceptionally small compared with what is required in a global context. However, that has encouraged others to follow, with about $300 million now thought to have been pledged globally to address loss and damage. I am proud of what the funding has delivered.
Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?
I am conscious of the time, but I am glad to.
I appreciate the remarks about funding, but is there a way that Scotland could utilise soft power in the way that we have the GlobalScot network for the business community? I have mentioned the waste management sector, and in Scotland—in Dundee—we have the UK’s only United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization centre for water law, policy and science, to which international students come. Might the cabinet secretary consider using that vibrancy to get Scottish expertise globally, linked to funding if possible, although I appreciate the constraints?
Absolutely. I welcome that suggestion, and I like the idea of the GlobalScot network for business as a model for that kind of work. Maurice Golden is right to make the point about soft power, because our funding has not only been delivering on the ground. In October 2022, we hosted a conference that brought together international practitioners to articulate best practice on loss and damage. The key purpose of that was to listen to the views of marginalised groups and people from the global south. From that, we successfully established deliberative dialogues on mobilising finance and delivering climate change interventions.
As part of all that and the learning from our direct support programmes, we have been exceptionally privileged to be able to feed into some of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change processes, which are not working as well as I would like, to operationalise the COP27 fund. I will look to press that when the First Minister and I both, we hope, attend the 28th United Nations climate change conference of the parties later this year. We will call on all parties to support the urgent operationalisation of the UNFCCC loss and damage fund.
As Liam McArthur suggested, I will be happy to bring the issue back to the chamber so that we can debate it more fully. In advance of that, I will be keen to hear from colleagues across the chamber what they would like Scotland to put forward at that conference.
The key point is that we urge all developed nations to provide loss and damage funding in a way that ensures that the money is new, additional and adequate and that never exacerbates indebtedness. Nicola Sturgeon is absolutely right that our ability to do that as a global community of nations will be a test for the global south’s faith in the UNFCCC process. I say to that community that the Scottish Government stands with them and for climate justice.
That concludes the debate.Meeting closed at 18:42.