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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 26, 2024


Climate Emergency

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The next item of business is a debate on S6M-13759, in the name of Gillian Martin, on Scottish Government priorities: tackling the climate emergency. I invite those members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons.


The Minister for Climate Action (Gillian Martin)

The First Minister has confirmed that tackling the climate crisis is one of his top priorities for the Government, alongside eradicating child poverty, growing the economy and improving public services. The commitment to tackling climate change, both in Scotland and internationally, has long been at the heart of this Government. Indeed, in Scotland, we were among the first to take bold early action, and we continue to lead globally in responding to the climate emergency. The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are clearly with us now, and tackling them is the collective fight of all of us, in our lifetime, given that they are perhaps the single greatest long-term threats that we face globally.

The motion calls on Parliament to recommit itself to the undeniable imperative for action. The science and evidence are clear about not only the scale and the urgency of climate change, but the importance of being part of international action as well as pushing forward domestically. Our domestic and international aspirations come together in an unwavering commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2045. That is five years ahead of the United Kingdom, and it is still one of the most ambitious targets in the world.

However, a just transition to net zero by 2045 will require genuine transformational action and investment across our economy and society, with significant changes in sectors including energy, heat, buildings, transport and agriculture. Just as this Parliament set that high ambition for 2045, it is essential that we come together to reaffirm it and the action that is needed to meet it. All too often, however, modest measures that the Scottish Government has brought forward have not been supported. I hope that this can be a point at which to reset, because we need action, not just talk.

I want to talk about our role in addressing the global challenge of climate change. In 2012, we were the first Government to establish a climate justice fund solely committed to supporting the most climate-vulnerable communities in the global south to build resilience to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. We were the first global north Government to commit finance explicitly to address loss and damage, and we have helped to galvanise global ambition, with more than $750 million now committed worldwide.

Recent programmes have included support for the urban dimension of loss and damage, supporting households in Malawi following the devastation of tropical storm Freddy, and piloting an innovative approach through a loss-and-damage window with Scotland’s humanitarian emergency fund.

Those projects have been critical to supporting those countries, and actions that are focused on helping individuals and communities with the impact of climate change are a hallmark of our approach domestically as well as internationally.

As European co-chair of the Under2 Coalition, we have driven international co-operation to further collective climate action. I am pleased to announce today that Scotland will take over the presidency of the Regions4 development network, which is a network of states, regions and devolved Governments that are focused on tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss and advancing sustainable development.

Our international role is rooted in what we have done domestically and where we can point to real progress. We are now exactly halfway to net zero, with Scotland achieving the largest reduction in emissions of any nation in the UK between 1990 and 2022, and we have decarbonised faster than the average of the European Union’s 27 countries.

That is reflected in the action that we are taking. For example, we have the most comprehensive network of electric vehicle public charging points per head of population in the UK outside London. We are now supporting low-emission zones, to bring clean air to Scotland’s cities and help to protect public health. We have some of the most generous grants and loans in the UK to encourage the switch to cleaner forms of heating and to make energy efficiency improvements.

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

It is not possible to get solar panel funding in Scotland, although it still is possible south of the border, so ours is not the most generous system. Do you not agree that we need to do way more to encourage and support people to decarbonise their homes?

Please speak through the chair.

Gillian Martin

Ms Boyack and I recently had an exchange on that very point and why we are focusing the funding that is available to us on encouraging the switch from emitting and polluting heating systems. That could mean the switch from a gas boiler to a heat pump. We have had to make tough decisions with regard to where we focus that money. However, if a new UK Government wants to give us more consequentials in that area, we will look again at that policy.

In recent years, more than 75 per cent of all tree planting in the UK has been in Scotland.

Will the minister give way on that point?

Gillian Martin

I will do so in a second.

The Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill, which will shortly complete its parliamentary process, will support Scotland’s transition to a zero-waste and circular economy by significantly increasing reuse and recycling rates, modernising and improving waste and recycling services, and building on a range of transformational measures that we are already putting in place, including banning problematic single-use plastic items, reforming extended producer responsibility for packaging, and our on-going £70 million investment in local authority recycling infrastructure.

Edward Mountain

I had to intervene on the issue of tree planting. Of course, we have hardly met our tree-planting targets in the past six years, so we are about 20,000 hectares behind where we should be. This year, we threw 10 million trees on the scrap heap because we cut the planting grants. Is the Government proud of that? Is it just going to say, “We are planting more trees,” but ignore the fact that it cannot reach its targets and is scrapping trees?

Gillian Martin

Key to our delivering on the ambitious targets that we put in place is having the capital funding that allows us to fund all those programmes. I said that to Ms Boyack and I am saying it to Mr Mountain as well. If we want to be a front runner in all those areas, we have to understand that they have to be funded. When there are cuts to our capital budget or inflationary rises that we did not have any hand in, it is difficult to meet those commitments. Members will notice that, in my speech, I make the point that there has to be investment in funding against all of those actions.

Our commitment to net zero will help to boost our economic—

Will the minister give way briefly on that point?

Gillian Martin

No—I have taken too many interventions already.

Scotland’s economy grew by 67 per cent in real terms between 1990 and 2022, at the same time as we cut in half our greenhouse gas emissions. That demonstrates that tackling climate change and growing our economy absolutely go hand in hand.

We want to combine Scotland’s vibrant entrepreneurial nation, world-leading academic and research institutions, valuable natural resources and our businesses and communities in a shared agenda to deliver net zero. As part of that, we will help businesses and investors through the development and delivery of our green industrial strategy, so that the people of Scotland can share in the enormous economic opportunities of the global transition to net zero.

One of the key areas in which we are seizing those opportunities is in our vision for Scotland to become a renewables powerhouse, which the people of Scotland will see the benefit from. In 2022, 87.9 per cent of electricity generation came from zero carbon or low-carbon sources. That has already brought huge benefits to Scotland in economic growth, export opportunities and well-paid skilled jobs. That was evidenced by recent significant investments by Sumitomo at Nigg and Haventus at Ardersier.

ScotWind is absolutely central to that ambition. As the world’s largest commercial round for floating offshore wind, it has put Scotland at the forefront of offshore wind development globally.

We see huge potential for Scotland in hydrogen production, too. There is great demand for green hydrogen, and Scotland is well placed to develop a significant hydrogen sector that will create a lot of jobs and income for the nation as a whole, whether by using hydrogen domestically or by exporting it to other countries.

Similarly, our approach to net zero will ensure support for our commitment to ending child poverty. For example, our policy of making public transport more accessible and affordable is a key part of that approach. Our Scotland-wide bus schemes offer free travel to a larger percentage of the population than is the case anywhere else in the United Kingdom, and our ScotRail’s peak fares removal pilot is a first in the UK.

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Certainly, the free fares for under-22s are welcome, but the reality is that someone might have a bus pass but cannot get a bus. Bus services in a lot of our communities are in utter chaos. Do you accept that we need to look at total bus provision?

Speak through the chair, please.

Gillian Martin

Hundreds of millions of pounds have been put into the bus network; however, I am a rural MSP, and I absolutely recognise that, in constituencies such as mine, long after the deregulation of bus services, a lot of action has been needed from successive Governments to put more investment into rural networks in particular. That is what we are committed to doing.

We also have a range of policy interventions that are designed to decrease fuel poverty, and we continue to press for reform at source in the reserved areas that affect that. Moreover, the just transition plans are in development for transport, agriculture and land reform, and buildings and construction, as is the site-specific plan for Grangemouth, which all demonstrates that commitment and action.

We are also strengthening Scotland’s resilience to the impacts of climate change, and we will set out how we are doing that with the publication of our Scottish national adaptation plan later this year. We are consulting on a new national flood resilience strategy right now.

Given the constraints of devolution, we cannot do this alone. Scotland lacks the full range of levers to deal with the long-term challenges in the way that others can. We also want to make the point that the UK needs to invest significantly in climate action if both Scotland and the UK are to meet their targets on net zero. One of us cannot do it without the other. The impact of the former UK Government’s wrong-headed real-terms cut to Scotland’s capital funding of almost 9 per cent over five years is having an impact on what we do. We have heard about that today.

Minister, will you please bring your remarks to a close?

Gillian Martin

I hope that Parliament recognises the urgency of tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, as the science and the imperative to be part of global action demand. The Government remains fully committed to rising to the challenge and reaping the economic benefits of a just and fair transition to net zero.

I move,

That the Parliament reaffirms its unwavering commitment to tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss through a just and fair transition; believes firmly in, and accepts, climate science and expert advice and its importance in reaching net zero, and rejects, therefore, climate science denial.


Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

I must admit that I am a bit perplexed about why the Scottish National Party has decided to bring to the chamber a debate on the subject of the climate emergency when it has failed so dismally to meet its own climate targets and obligations.

Only six days ago, it was revealed that another target has been missed. That brings the grand total to nine failures out of 13 targets. The devolved SNP Government is asking the public to judge it on its record. That record is one of failure, overpromising, underdelivering and an abandonment of industries in the north-east.

To come to the chamber today and laud so-called achievements is complete nonsense. I have no idea how the minister can say such things with a straight face.

Would Douglas Lumsden call £500 million of investment in the supply chain for ScotWind and £500 million of investment in a just transition plan “abandonment of ... the north-east”?

Douglas Lumsden

We could look at how much the budget was cut for the just transition fund this year—I think that that was 75 per cent.

Let me go back to the Climate Change Committee report that was published in March and remind the Government what the committee’s conclusions were. The committee reported that the Scottish Government was failing to achieve Scotland’s climate goals. It said that emissions targets have been repeatedly missed, and that

“the publication of Scotland’s draft Climate Change Plan has been delayed”

again. There is still no sign of the plan. When will we see it?

The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy (Màiri McAllan)

I am proud of the progress that we have made, but it is clear that targets have been missed. What contribution to those targets being missed would Douglas Lumsden attribute to his party’s position on low-emission zones and workplace parking, or to his colleagues in the Scotland Office completely bringing the deposit return scheme to an end?

Douglas Lumsden

Once again, we see the Scottish Government taking no responsibility. As far as I am aware, the Conservative Party has not blocked anything that is coming through the Scottish Parliament. Only the Greens and the SNP are blocking issues—as we saw yesterday, when they blocked our proposals to put back recycling targets into legislation.

All those questions should be the focus of the Scottish Government’s remarks today, not false patting on the back for the great achievement of missing targets and failing in its obligations on climate change.

The Climate Change Committee also noted that the policy and plans that the Government had in place would not be enough to achieve the legal targets that are required under the Climate Change Act 2008. There was significant concern, particularly in relation to devolved areas of competence including buildings, transport, agriculture, land use and waste. Yet again, rather than coming forward with a clear plan for how we can move forward, the devolved SNP Government is coming forward with platitudes and promises.

If we are to meet our obligations, we need a clear plan with achievable and measurable targets that works with communities and industries. We also need a Government that will take that forward and deliver a true, just transition for everyone in Scotland as we move towards more renewable energy sources. However, we have no plan in Scotland.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I am delighted to hear Douglas Lumsden talk about renewable energy and the need to invest in it. Does he acknowledge that it is critical to build the transmission infrastructure that is required in the north-east in order to get the renewable energy from where it is being generated to where it needs to be consumed? Why does his party not back the development of the Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks transmission lines that are so desperately needed?

Douglas Lumsden

That is because the infrastructure will have to be done with communities, not to communities—it cannot be done by riding roughshod over them. There needs to be proper consultation, and that is not happening with the communities that I talk to.

The SNP Government committed to publishing a route map for the delivery of around 25,000 electric vehicle charging points by 2030. Yet here we are, halfway through 2024, with no indication of how that will be achieved. To meet that target, the Government will have to install 384 charging points a month from now until the end of 2029. Does anyone in the chamber believe that that will happen? We need a plan.

The devolved Government also stated that it will decarbonise our railway by 2035. That sounds great, but there is no plan to do that. When I ask when the 50-year-old diesel intercity 125s will be replaced, I do not get an answer. When I ask whether the east coast main line between Aberdeen and the central belt will be electrified, I get no answer. When I ask when the promised £200 million to reduce journey times between Aberdeen and the central belt by 20 minutes will happen, which is meant to be by 2026, I do not get an answer. The SNP Government has broken so many promises. That is why it simply cannot be trusted any more.

Given the failure to meet nine of the current 13 targets, members will forgive our scepticism. That scepticism is well placed. Audit Scotland has said that the climate change governance arrangements are missing core elements. The Scottish Government is facing legal challenge for the mismanagement of the introduction of the deposit return scheme. It is missing four of the six recycling targets. The Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill, which will complete its passage through Parliament today, will do little to increase those rates. The Scottish Conservatives lodged sensible amendments to drive up recycling rates, but each one was knocked back by the SNP and the so-called Greens.

Gillian Martin

I would be really interested to know what Douglas Lumsden’s plan is for transforming and decarbonising Scotland’s sectors, given that he has said that we are failing to do that. What would he do that is different from, for example, the electricity infrastructure that Mark Ruskell mentioned?

I can give Douglas Lumsden that time back.

On electricity infrastructure, I have already said that we would work with communities to put in place infrastructure that works for those communities.

There is no plan then.

Douglas Lumsden

It is quite clear that there is no climate change plan from this Government. It was meant to be here over a year ago, but we have no sign of it whatsoever. We have no idea when it will be here.

It is vital that, in our deliberations and decision making on climate change, we listen to experts and follow the science. We know that nuclear is a viable, safe and desirable alternative to carbon-based fuels, but the Scottish Government has discounted it without looking at the science.

Scotland is at risk of being left behind globally in the move to smaller, more locally based nuclear power. The Scottish Government should look again at the issue and listen to science and experts in the field. The contribution of nuclear to our energy mix is vital, but it is currently being run down, with no plans to replace it. That must be looked at again to ensure that we have a stable energy mix.

[Made a request to intervene.]

Is there time for more interventions, Deputy Presiding Officer?

I can give you a bit more time.

Is Mr Lumsden offering up his region as a site for a new nuclear power plant? Has he consulted his constituents about that?

Douglas Lumsden

We cannot do anything, because the SNP Government will not allow anything. However, if we look at where we have had nuclear power plants in the past, we will see that those communities have been in favour of them.

Let me turn to the oil and gas sector. We have had so many debates about that important topic in the past six months. We remember that thousands of jobs are associated with the industry in the north-east and beyond.

We know that oil and gas will remain a key part of our energy mix for some time to come. We all agree that we should be moving away from carbon-based fuels and towards renewables, but we cannot turn our back on the oil and gas industry and leave it with a cliff edge, as proposed by the devolved SNP Government.

Importing oil and gas from abroad is more expensive and more detrimental to the environment. Production of natural gas from the UK continental shelf creates less than half as much greenhouse gases as imported liquefied natural gas does. While there is still a need for oil and gas, we should be working with the industry in the north-east to produce them here and to support those businesses and jobs moving forward. There should be no presumption against new licences, but that is the damaging policy of the SNP.

The SNP Government has a brass neck coming to the chamber today to talk about climate change. It is standing on a funeral pyre of failed promises when it comes to climate targets—nine out of 13 have been missed so far. There is no clear plan to meet targets, no published climate change plan, no indication of when that plan might be published, no plan on EV infrastructure roll-out, and no clear plan on decarbonising our railway. The Scottish Conservatives are the only party that is offering Scotland a just transition and a clear plan towards our climate change goals.

I am pleased to move the amendment in my name.

I move amendment S6M-13759.3, to insert at end:

“; urges the Scottish Government, in light of this, to reverse its anti-science approach to new nuclear technology; notes that the Scottish Government has missed nine of the past 13 climate change targets, and that its decision to scrap the 2030 target reflected concerns raised by the Climate Change Committee that the Scottish Government’s approach to climate change was no longer feasible and had no clear delivery plan; urges the Scottish Government to be transparent with its approach to climate change and to publish the Climate Change Plan as soon as possible, and recognises that the proposed new Climate Change Bill should be appropriately scrutinised and contain realistic targets to help Scotland reach net zero.”

I call Sarah Boyack to speak to and move amendment S6M-13759.2.


Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

We have now passed two climate change acts in Scotland—in 2009 and in 2019—and there was cross-party support for both of them. However, the SNP Government has failed to reach nine out of the 13 annual targets that it set, so it has never been more important to act.

I thought that the purpose of today’s debate would be to try to bring people together, but we did not hear what concrete plans the Scottish Government wants to put in place to address the climate emergency. We need more than warm words. We do not need delayed strategy after delayed strategy, but real action, because it is the action that has been missing, not the ambition. The SNP keeps saying that the now-abandoned 2030 targets were always unachievable, but when they were first introduced, the UK Committee on Climate Change wrote to the Scottish Government and listed the areas where it could take direct immediate action if it wanted to achieve those ambitious targets, which Labour supported. That has not happened.

Màiri McAllan

Sarah Boyack is absolutely right to talk about the deliberations that took place prior to the passing of the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019, but the CCC’s advice following passage of the bill stated:

“we find that the legislated 2030 target of a 75% reduction in Scottish emissions goes beyond any of our five scenarios for emissions reduction by that date.”

The CCC went on to set out some potential options, which were embedded in the use of carbon capture and storage. Does Sarah Boyack regret, as I do, that the UK Government has failed to deploy CCS in the time since the 2019 act was passed?

Sarah Boyack

The point is that every time the UK CCC has commented on the climate targets, it has come up with practical solutions that have not been followed. It is not just about carbon capture; it is also about the work at Grangemouth. There were a raft of options that could have been taken but have not been taken. That is my frustration. From 2009, a lot more could have been done.

A lot of the ideas that Scottish Labour would support are policies that would be practical and could be done, and which the SNP talks about but has not delivered. Reducing car kilometres, decarbonising domestic heating and restoring biodiversity through sustainable land use are pragmatic things that can be done, as is, crucially, the transition to renewable energy. When I set targets on that during the first session of this Parliament, they were seen as radical, but we have come far along the track since then. There is so much more that we need to do. I honestly thought that today we were going to hear more about what was going to happen in terms of action and delivery.

The most recent UK Climate Change Committee report criticised that lack of action. It is not enough just to claim that we will reduce car kilometres by 20 per cent. How will we do it? During the cross-party group on sustainable transport’s recent poverty inquiry, the message came through loud and clear that we need affordable, reliable and accessible rail and bus services for people who are able to use them, in rural areas in particular but right across the country. People do not have the opportunity to use their bus passes, as that is simply not possible if there are no routes. We need more safe active travel routes. Simply exploring ideas such as an integrated transport ticketing system—an idea from 2012—will not cut it.

Right across every sector, we can see the same story. I mentioned decarbonising heat, which is vital. The minister’s earlier answer to me on solar fundamentally misunderstood that the transition that people want to make needs to be supported. For example, the SNP Government failed to deliver the £133 million that it had budgeted for to retrofit people’s homes and which would have transformed fuel poverty.

In a scenario in which there is a limited budget, is it better to focus that budget on decarbonising home heating or to spread it among other technologies and not have the same impact?

Sarah Boyack

I will come right back on that. People who have written to me have said that they were first going to install solar panels to bring down their electricity bill, and then they were going to install a heat pump, but now they are going to do neither, because the first bit was reducing their electricity bills. Householders need a joined-up approach, because not everybody has access to cheap fuel. That is a key issue.

I thought that the minister was going to intervene on the point about the £133 million that the Scottish Government budgeted for but failed to spend, but no. We need to support our communities—

Will the member take an intervention?

Sarah Boyack

No, thank you. Members keep interrupting.

We need firm action. The climate emergency is not a future problem; it is a now issue. It is already damaging our rail and road infrastructure and forcing people out of their homes. We cannot afford another summer of wildfires in southern Europe or to have another incident such as the one in Saudi Arabia just weeks ago in which 1,300 people tragically died from extreme heat.

I am delighted that the SNP has adopted many of Labour’s ideas wholesale in its recent election promises. I just thought that the First Minister might have been here to tell us what he is going to do but, sadly, he is not. We had announced many of those proposals days before.

I go back to my point that words are not enough; we need to do things. In 2017, the SNP Government pledged to set up a publicly owned energy company, which of course has never happened. With Labour’s plan for GB energy, which would be headquartered in Scotland, we now have a real opportunity to build on our renewables success to bring down bills for Scottish people, provide energy security and ramp up our progress to net zero.

Ministers say regularly that they are keen to work with the incoming Westminster Government to ensure collaboration across the United Kingdom. That needs to happen now, because it is not acceptable just to always blame the Tory Government. I have blamed it for a lot, but a lot of what it is blamed for are SNP failures of government. The status quo is not enough. The Parliament needs to start with the publication of a new climate bill, followed by immediate publication of the climate change plan. That has been talked about for weeks now, but we still have no information on it. Let us get on with the change that we need. The current inaction is not good enough.

The Scottish Parliament has powers to make positive changes and to become true world leaders, not just world-leading talkers, in this area. However, we need immediate action to make that a reality. Let us get on with it.

I move amendment S6M-13759.2, to insert at end:

“; notes that the Scottish Government is still to legislate after announcing that the Scottish Ministers planned to scrap Scotland’s legal climate targets, and regrets that Scotland’s ambitious legal targets were not backed up by ambitious action from the Scottish Government, despite consistent cross-party support in the Parliament and the Climate Change Committee’s belief that reaching the targets was previously achievable.”


Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

Fifteen years ago, Scotland set legally binding climate targets. The goal was to achieve a step change in emission cuts and to become a world leader on climate policy. However, in truth, Scotland’s emissions were slowly coming down before the act, and they continued on pretty much the same trajectory. Apart from renewable electricity, in pretty much every other sector, we have seen emissions broadly flatlining or reducing so modestly that it made very little difference. How we use energy, as well as transport policy, land use policy and more, should have seen ambitious policy change to drive down emissions from other sectors. That did not happen. As a result, Scotland is now years behind where we should be.

Although we will support the Labour amendment, it is questionable to refer to “consistent cross-party support” for ambitious action. In fact, cross-party support has often been lacking for the policy change that is needed.

Road traffic emissions will not come down without price playing its part in demand management. Land-use emissions will not come down without fundamental changes to what food we produce and how we subsidise it. Heating emissions will not come down without an ambitious programme to get us off the gas grid and to face down the lobbyists for the status quo—as well as those in the Parliament who have seemed determined to water down the heat in buildings programme.

We are also being held back by the false but prevalent idea that the market must lead the transition, or indeed that the fossil fuel industry should itself be allowed to determine the timescale for action. Let us be clear about the fossil fuel industry’s track record. It has known about the harm that it was doing since the 1950s. There were decades of cover-up, followed by decades of deliberate propaganda to create a climate denial conspiracy movement. Nowadays, most oil and gas companies have moved away from denial toward delay: “We need a transition, but please make it slower.” It is like Augustine’s prayer: “Lord, grant me chastity but, please, Lord, not yet.”

There was a time when the world could have made the transition slowly, but that time was decades ago; we are long past that point now. By most estimates, around two thirds of oil and gas reserves must stay in the ground. That means that investment in fossil fuel supply must decline dramatically now and in the years ahead. What are the fossil fuel giants doing now, however? They have generated truly vast profits. BP’s profits were nearly $28 billion in 2022 and nearly $14 billion the year after. Shell raked in $40 billion and $28 billion in the same years. Yet both companies’ investment in clean energy has flatlined, and both have doubled down on new fossil fuel investment.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will take one intervention if there is time.

I will give you the time back.

Monica Lennon

The member is making some really important points, but we are here to talk about action that the Scottish Government can take in Scotland. Does he agree with me and many others that the Scottish Government should join the Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance, and that it should do so quickly?

Patrick Harvie

That is something that the Greens have advocated for persistently, and we continue to do so.

The International Energy Agency has stated:

“For the moment the oil and gas industry as a whole is a marginal force in the world’s transition to a clean energy system.”

In fact, that industry accounts for

“only 1% of total clean energy investment globally.”

It is no longer just the Greens and the climate movement who are calling out the fossil fuel industry for its dishonesty and for the harm that it continues to do. As well as the International Energy Agency, the secretary general of the United Nations and a host of other authoritative global voices have been clear.

As for a new climate bill here in Scotland, I have to say that, if it is seen as just a technical fix to get the Government out of a legal hole, I fear that the second half of this journey will be just as sluggish as the first, and we will fail. Instead, the bill must be seen as a pivotal moment, locking in the bold policy changes that are needed to get us back on track and get to net zero by 2045. We still have time, but only just.

I move amendment S6M-13759.1, to insert after “transition”:

“recognises that this is currently not happening at the pace required by climate science, and that Scotland’s emission cuts since targets were first set have been inadequate; believes that significant policy change is required to achieve emission cuts, especially in transport, land use and heating; agrees with the UN Secretary General’s description of fossil fuel companies as 'the godfathers of climate chaos'; further agrees that investment in new fossil fuel production and infrastructure cannot be justified”.

We move to the open debate.


Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

There is no doubt that we are discussing one of the most important issues facing all of us in society today. Global climate change is moving at an alarming rate and, if it is not addressed now, it will have a catastrophic effect on future generations. In reality, we have globally and collectively hidden our heads in the sand over what is happening, and we are now running to catch up. That is why I am pleased that the Scottish Government is committed to a green future and is investing in growing the green economy to deliver a world-leading just transition to net zero.

Action to address the scale and pace of the emergency is an environmental imperative, a moral necessity, an economic opportunity and a top priority for the Scottish Government. The problem is that both Labour and the Tories are backtracking on serious climate policy and investment, jeopardising the just transition and the race to net zero. That is a shame for everyone, because the issue should really be above political point scoring. Scotland’s First Minister has said that fighting the climate crisis cannot be allowed to descend into a typical political fight and has made it clear that it demands unity and consensus across our politics.

The First Minister has set out plans for an annual £28 billion green investment to grow the economy, protect jobs and invest in the domestic supply chain. Scotland was one of the first countries to declare a climate emergency, and our net zero target is among the world’s most ambitious. However, if the UK Government could at least match the £500 million north-east transition fund that is being delivered by the Scottish Government, that would be a huge step forward, as would speedy deployment of the Acorn project and the Scottish Cluster for carbon capture, utilisation and storage, which are crucial.

Will the member take an intervention?

Rona Mackay

No, I will not, thank you.

I agree with the section in the Green motion that quotes the UN secretary general’s description of fossil fuel companies as the “godfathers of climate chaos”. We must move away from them, and quickly. A just transition for Grangemouth is imperative, and plans are under way to upskill its workers to deliver new green industries to secure the site for the long term. We need to take an evidence-based approach to oil and gas through robust climate compatibility assessments before issuing any new coal licences.

Will the member give way?

Rona Mackay

No, thank you.

The Tory preference for nuclear energy is simply a non-starter. Scotland has an abundance of renewable power due to its amazing natural resources, and as a small nation we are now realising its benefits. Scotland, a nation of barely 6 million people, generates enough electricity for 25 million citizens every day, but it is transferred to England and sold back to Scottish consumers, who are then charged the highest prices in Europe to use their own energy. In what world is that fair or even sensible? If Keir Starmer becomes the next Prime Minister, as looks likely, he should really step up and recommit to the £28 billion green investment that was disgracefully scrapped, to achieve net zero.

This is the biggest issue that will face every generation on this planet for decades, if not centuries, to come—everybody knows that. Scotland has shown early and sustained leadership in meeting our climate responsibilities, but we could make a much greater contribution to global climate action were we not reliant on poor decisions made by the UK Government and if we were able to work together and have the support that we need.


Maurice Golden (North East Scotland) (Con)

I start by welcoming last week’s news that Scotland’s emissions are now more than 50 per cent below their 1990 level. It is important that we celebrate success, because it shows the public that climate action works, and they need to see whether they are to have the trust in climate policy that has been set out on their behalf.

When climate policy fails, however, there needs to be honesty. The public need to understand what has gone wrong, who is taking responsibility and what will be done to get things back on track. If not, ministers risk destroying the public’s trust in climate action. When the trust goes, so does our ability to take the big decisions that are needed to get us to net zero by 2045.

It is therefore extremely worrying to see the Scottish National Party Government continuing to resort to excuses, spin and outright political attacks to disguise its failures. Let me be clear: the responsibility lies with the Scottish Government. Just last week, the SNP confirmed that it had missed its annual emissions target again—the ninth time out of the past 13 for anyone who is still keeping count. Not that we will be able to keep counting, as the SNP, rather than trying to meet the targets, is scrapping them instead.

Earlier, I suggested that the repeated failure and attempt to blame others risked eroding public trust in climate action. I even suggested an independent environmental court to improve accountability without more party politics. In response, I heard a tirade about the Prime Minister, English coal mines and recycling bins. That inability to acknowledge its shortcomings, to accept that it does not have all the answers and to listen to advice has become the hallmark of the SNP Government.

It would be easy for me to stand here and list the SNP Government’s mounting environmental failures, so I shall. As we have heard, the SNP has missed its legally binding emissions targets on nine out of the past 13 occasions, but it has also abandoned the critical 2030 net zero target. It has delayed the next climate change plan. It has been referred to Environmental Standards Scotland for breaching the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. It has missed its renewable heat target. It has missed the majority of its international biodiversity targets. It has not kept its promise to restore 20,000 hectares of peatland each year. It has overseen a decline in commuting by public transport. It has missed its active travel target for bike journeys.

Will Maurice Golden take a brief intervention?

Maurice Golden

I will be happy to, once I have finished listing the Scottish Government’s failures.

The Government has still not managed to deliver on its 2013 household recycling target. It has failed to recycle more than 5 per cent of plastic waste in Scotland. It has turned a widely supported deposit return scheme into a rolling disaster. It has admitted that its food waste target is likely to fail. It has failed to introduce a landfill ban, as it promised to do in 2021. It has turned Scotland into the ashtray of Europe, with municipal incineration capacity up sevenfold.

I am happy to give way to the minister.

You must be very brief, minister.

Gillian Martin

It is one thing to read out a list of targets, but in the spirit of working together to achieve the goals that will get us to net zero, does Maurice Golden recognise that we need more investment in the action? That will come only if the UK Government attaches a similar amount of priority to reaching net zero as this Parliament has done.

You need to wind up, Mr Golden.

Maurice Golden

I think that the Scottish Government’s proven track record of failure proves that the problem is not money but the policy makers themselves. That is why, as a Parliament, we need to get together and ensure that we are tackling the climate emergency, because the Scottish Government certainly does not appear to care about that.


Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

Such is the seriousness of the global climate emergency that it can often be overwhelming and demoralising to think about what to do about it. However, if, collectively, we continue to think global and act local, we can make a meaningful difference, as years past have shown.

I am of the firm view that, together, we can make progress on the issue only if we have a positive discussion about it. Yes, we must be realistic, honest and practical, but we must be positive. As a Parliament, we have indicated on several occasions that we all care about the issue and are committed to tackling it. Given that we share the same objective, we need to think about what we can do to work collectively for the benefit of our constituents.

In this Parliament, we hear evidence from experts all the time. Sometimes, it really sticks with you when you hear someone speak at a committee or in another forum. At the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee’s meeting on 23 April this year, Chris Stark made his last appearance as chair of the Climate Change Committee. That evidence was extremely compelling, and I would like to repeat a number of the things that he said that day.

One of his key points was this:

“The benefits to this country of achieving net zero are immense—not just to the climate but in the form of jobs, to the landscape around us, to trade and to a host of social issues. Those reasons, alongside the climate benefits, are why you should want to pursue net zero.”

He also said:

“The transition is good for the climate, good for the economy and good for people living in this country.”—[Official Report, Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, 23 April 2024; c 47, 48.]

For me and my constituency, that applies in a number of different ways, every week and every day. Nova Innovation is developing some of the most remarkable tidal technology in the world and, in doing so, is growing as a business, and it was recently announced that Vestas, a world-leading blade maker, has begun the process of securing planning permission for a site at Leith docks in Edinburgh. During this week of wind energy, it is worth noting that that development will create new jobs and will play a huge part in the remarkable contribution that Scotland can make to wind energy, to the benefit of us and people elsewhere.

Low-emission zones are already making a difference. Clean air day last week was important in reminding us as a society that, in Scotland, there have been 1,700 premature deaths due to pollution, which is the leading cause of preventable ill health in Scotland.

Those are all reasons for achieving net zero and tackling the climate emergency. I go back to the words of Chris Stark, who said:

“I am increasingly of the view that, if we are going to get to net zero by 2045, we probably will not do so by making the arguments solely on a climate basis. For example, it is jobs in Falkirk that should drive the investments to decarbonise Grangemouth, and the fact that that also helps the climate should be a secondary reinforcing concern. Similarly, the fact that we are making homes warmer and reducing energy bills is the reason why we want to make the investment in buildings, and the fact that it helps the climate is a reinforcing aspect.

I am happy for net zero to step into that reinforcing secondary role. We still have to get to net zero—it is very important that we do that—but we have been through quite an odd period, frankly, where the primary reason for a lot of what was being done was net zero alone, and that is a strategy that probably does not have that much longer to run.”—[Official Report, Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, 23 April 2024; c 35.]

The benefits of net zero are widespread, so I am very pleased that the Government remains committed to achieving net zero by 2045 and all the benefits that it will bring.


Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I take the opportunity to extend my best wishes to the cabinet secretary as she is about to embark on maternity leave. I look forward to continuing to work with Ms Martin and to working with Dr Allan when he takes up his post.

The motion is right to ask the Parliament to reaffirm our collective

“commitment to tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss through a just and fair transition”.

Very few people in Scotland would disagree with that.

We have had really helpful briefings, including those from Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates, Uplift and the Scottish Rewilding Alliance.

Tackling the climate emergency is an era-defining challenge, and all politicians and Governments have a moral responsibility to act. We cannot slow down or lose courage. However, as colleagues have said—and as, I think, the Government recognises—the Government has been struggling to turn ambition into action. We have heard about its failure to meet legal targets, which is important. Sarah Boyack set out that the Government’s new climate bill must be introduced—we cannot have any more delay—and it must be backed up by a climate change plan.

Dr Shivali Fifield, from the Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland, has said:

“To the Government we say: show us your homework. Too many times, you have overpromised and underdelivered, and in a climate emergency, the stakes are too high for wishful thinking.”

We agree that the failure to meet targets is not the only case of the Government failing. Many people, including from the Climate Change Committee, have said that there has been an absence of climate policy.

I agree with Transform Scotland that the Scottish Government’s commitment to cut car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030 is to be commended, but we are now three years on from that commitment being made, with no real plan in place. That is not good enough. I hope that we will have answers on when the route map for reducing car kilometres by 20 per cent will be published and on what policy measures it will contain.

Gillian Martin

Does Monica Lennon recognise the significance of the ScotWind auction round being the largest of its type in the world? The Scottish Government and Crown Estate Scotland have done that, which is a significant step in decarbonising our energy supply not just for Scotland but for the whole of the UK.

Monica Lennon

I was talking about transport but, on ScotWind, I hear concerns that Scotland’s sea bed has been sold off far too cheaply. We can have another debate about that.

I go back to my point about transport. What additional policies will be introduced to support the expansion of train, tram and bus services? I might steal some of Graham Simpson’s lines, but when we discussed the issue at the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, there was real concern about bus deserts—areas where people young and old have a free bus pass but there are no buses to get on. More and more councils across the country are cutting back on school transport because they do not have the budget, including in Lanarkshire, which is affecting my constituents. We need the Government to get real on that.

I agree with Uplift’s call regarding workforce. To achieve a just transition, the Government needs to urgently deliver a coherent transition plan for workers, or we will risk situations such as those that exist in Grangemouth right now occurring around the country.

I will bring my remarks to a close. Lord Deben, the outgoing chair of the Climate Change Committee, said:

“Our children will not forgive us if we leave them a world of withering heat and devastating storms where sea level rises and extreme temperatures force millions to move because their countries are no longer habitable. None of us can avoid our responsibility. Delay is not an option.”

I agree with that. Scottish Labour stands ready to work with the Scottish Government where necessary, and we will push it to be bolder at all times.


Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

I welcome the Scottish Government reaffirming its commitment to tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. All too often, tackling climate change is seen as something that Governments can concern themselves with when things are all rosy, when finances are in abundance and when life feels easy. However, we cannot afford to think like that, because the impact of the climate emergency is exacerbating existing inequalities for people all over the world, and especially for people who have not contributed to climate change.

Scotland has continually shown early and sustained leadership in meeting our climate responsibilities. It was one of the first countries to declare a climate emergency and set an ambitious 2045 net zero target. We have already achieved the largest reduction in emissions of any nation in the UK, and statistics show that we are halfway to net zero and decarbonising faster than the EU 27 average. Electricity supply emissions have fallen by 88.1 per cent, industrial emissions by 56.8 per cent and waste management emissions by 75.4 per cent from the baseline.

Scotland created 63 per cent of new woodland in the UK between 2022 and 2023, which is more than all the other UK nations combined. Although Labour and the Tories are backtracking on serious climate policy and investment, which is jeopardising the just transition and the race to net zero, the Scottish Government is attracting international investment to grow the green economy and create skilled jobs. In her opening comments, the minister referred to investments by Sumitomo Corporation in the offshore wind sector, creating around 330 jobs and bringing £350 million of inward investment to Scotland, and by Haventus in regenerating Ardersier port, which has the potential to create 3,000 jobs and reskilling opportunities. That demonstrates the SNP Government’s ambition for Scotland’s green economy.

In my Greenock and Inverclyde constituency, I joined the local bus company, McGill’s Bus Services, to celebrate its milestone of reaching 10 million zero-emission miles. Thanks to continual investment by McGill’s, its net zero fleet has grown to more than 110 electric buses, which have prevented 11,270 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Sarah Boyack

Bus companies are doing some fantastic work—Lothian Buses in Edinburgh is doing similar work. However, the key issue is that we simply do not have enough bus services for people to use—we have lost hundreds. We are not seeing the results of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, which should have improved the number of bus services in the country.

Stuart McMillan

I will come on to that point, because that is where planning is really important.

To go back to the point about McGill’s, the reduction is equivalent to planting around 1.3 million trees in an area the size of 2,784 football pitches.

The Tories treat net zero as a burden—Chris Skidmore, the former energy minister, is planning to vote against the Tories next week due to their abandonment of climate pledges and dismissal of the economic opportunities of net zero—and Labour has abandoned its £28 billion green investment pledge. The damaging decision to cut energy investment will destroy Scottish jobs and harm economic growth.

I come to my point about planning. The Transport Scotland briefing that Monica Lennon touched on is very helpful. It says that to reduce transport emissions, we must see a modal shift away from private car use. That is where planning is hugely important. Local authorities and planning authorities need to fully consider that issue when assessing housing applications. That includes Inverclyde Council in relation to the redevelopment of the former Inverkip power station site. Sadly, if that goes ahead, the development will rely solely on private car use. There will be no buses and there will be no access to trains—only private car use. That will destroy the economy in the western part of Inverclyde.

I will not stand here and take lessons from Labour and the Tories on climate. I truly believe that Scotland could make an even greater contribution to global climate action if we were not reliant on decisions made elsewhere.

I advise the chamber that the time that we had in hand has pretty much been exhausted, so members will have to stick to their time limit allocation.


Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I wonder why you made that announcement just before I started speaking.

I am delighted to be speaking on the climate change crisis that we face. I do not want to spend my time blaming everyone else; I want to identify some of the problems that we face in reaching our net zero target by 2045.

As we rely on increasing amounts of electrification across Scotland, and not only from offshore and onshore wind, there are various things that we have to come to terms with, one of which is the increased amount of power lines and battery stations that we will need to have across Scotland. Only the other day, I was speaking to Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks about what is required. Of course, it does not tell us that, because it works to a 10-year plan and it does not make clear what is required in local communities. However, its answer was that, in 2045, the Beauly to Denny power line, which stretches through the middle of the Cairngorms national park, will have not one line, but four.

That is a major problem in remote and rural areas across Scotland where there are no power lines. They might face one or two power lines down the track, but there is only a certain amount of community benefit that communities will accept. Only a certain number of village halls can be built as a result of the benefit from wind farms and electricity companies. We need a bit more honesty from the transmission companies. My inbox is full of emails from people across the Highlands complaining about the arrogance of SSEN, which turns up demanding that power lines be put in but is not clear about what will be required.

I believe that the Government has a role in striking the balance of achieving net zero and getting SSEN to speak more constructively to communities.

Gillian Martin

I am glad that Mr Mountain has raised that. Will he support me in the calls that I have made in the past year to ensure not only that community engagement and community benefit are made mandatory by the UK Government, but that codes of practice are associated with both things?

I do not think that it is necessary for the UK Government to step in and do that.


Edward Mountain

The minister asked for an answer, so she should let me answer and not barrack me from a sedentary position.

I do not believe that it is up to the UK Government to do that. SSEN should step up to the plate and deal with communities properly.

Turning to other ways of dealing with our problem, I note that we could be generating more electricity than we are at the moment by using hydrogen. At times when we are generating power and it is not being used, hydrogen is also a very good way of storing that power. I accept that the UK Government has a role in that. For example, it could ask electricity companies to ensure that 20 per cent of the electricity that is used is generated from hydrogen. We could also use more hydro-treated vegetable oil to allow vehicles to run on non-fossil fuels and older cars to be allowed into low-emission zones.

I support the electric vehicle infrastructure fund that the Government announced last year. It has to deliver more charging points by 2026. The Government will say that we have more charging points per head than anywhere else in the UK, but that makes no difference if there is not one in a person’s locality. The Government promised £30 million for that, and it was to generate £30 million from private investment. However, I have not seen the £30 million from the Government and I have heard no news of the £30 million from private investment. Perhaps the minister could address that when she sums up.

The final speaker in the open debate is John Mason. You have up to four minutes, Mr Mason.


John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

Thank you for the opportunity to speak in the debate, Deputy Presiding Officer.

We can be positive about a lot that has already happened. We have seen a tremendous growth in wind power and other forms of renewable electricity generation, and I understand that electricity supply emissions have fallen by 88 per cent, industrial emissions by 56 per cent and waste management emissions by 75 per cent. However, we all accept that we have further to go.

Transform Scotland points out in its briefing that transport is the largest source of climate emissions in Scotland. That was probably not helped by all the fans going to the Euros. However, it is a little simplistic to say that this is a devolved area and that Scotland can boost public transport and take similar measures all by itself. The Scottish Fiscal Commission, in its report “Fiscal Sustainability Perspectives: Climate Change”, which was published in March, emphasises the interrelationship between the actions of the UK Government and those of the Scottish Government. It points out that, although Scotland

“controls most public spending on Surface Transport ... many aspects of its regulation are reserved”,


“banning polluting vehicles or imposing more stringent emission standards.”

In addition, Scottish funding is very much linked to Westminster, be it our resource funding, which largely comes from the block grant, or the capital funding, which has been cut lately.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will if it is very short.

Please be brief, Mr Harvie.

Patrick Harvie

The member is right about some of those restrictions, but it is a matter of fact that, for many years, successive Scottish Governments have prioritised the building of high-carbon infrastructure such as roads instead of investing in low-carbon infrastructure.

I will take that as a statement and leave it in the air.

Scotland is dependent to a large extent—

Will the member give way?

John Mason

I am sorry, but I do not have time. If I give way again, Mr McArthur will get me.

Scotland is dependent to a large extent on the UK, especially in relation to funding, while the UK is also dependent on Scotland to meet its targets, not least because we have so much more land per head of population. We have 32 per cent of the total UK land mass, roughly half of the trees and 70 per cent of the peatland. The Climate Change Committee estimates that 30 per cent of UK-wide costs that are associated with land use, land use change and forestry are assigned to Scotland. Therefore, the UK insisting strictly on using the Barnett formula for the funding that is required to reach net zero is not going to cut it for either Scotland or the UK.

I have a few comments on the Conservative amendment. The Conservatives have picked up the phrase “anti-science”, which I think came from Tom Greatrex of the Nuclear Industry Association, who is a former Labour MP. However, that is a nonsense phrase in this context. Science is very good at telling us how nuclear power works—and even how nuclear weapons work, for that matter. We might note in passing that, thus far, science has not told us what to do with nuclear waste. However, science cannot possibly tell us whether nuclear power is a good thing or a bad thing. That is not science’s job and, in fact, it is totally unable to make that distinction.

It is human beings who have to weigh up the evidence from science, the evidence concerning the economics and the evidence concerning the environment. We should absolutely consider the science on a wide range of questions that we face but, at the end of the day, it is human beings who have to make moral judgments as to what is the right and wise way to go. That is beyond the scope of science—and, for that matter, of artificial intelligence.

In the interest of balance, I will pick up on a phrase in the Green amendment, which says that fossil fuel companies are the “godfathers of climate chaos”. I think that that slightly overstates the case. Fossil fuels have been a tremendous boon to our society and we have all gained from progress made through the industrial revolution and since then. However, just as we moved from coal to oil and gas, we are now moving away to cleaner, renewable energy. I think that we all broadly agree that that is the right way to go. Where we probably disagree a bit is on how fast we can and should make that move. We certainly need to get the balance right as regards the speed of that move.

In conclusion, we all agree on the need to tackle climate change and I think that we are all committed to reaching net zero, so we should all be able to support the Government motion.

We move to closing speeches.


Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I join other members in giving my best wishes to the cabinet secretary. I, too, am looking forward to working with Dr Allan in the months ahead.

The minister asked us at the beginning of the debate to recommit to the declaration of the climate emergency and I am happy to do that. Of course, I am happy to celebrate the work that was done in the Sturgeon era on climate justice, particularly the whole debate about loss and damage at the 26th UN climate change conference of the parties—COP26—and the commitments that were made there.

However, the minister has to acknowledge that the debt that Scotland owes to countries that are not responsible for climate change but are now bearing the brunt of the crisis is now spiralling out of control. It is many orders of magnitude beyond what the Scottish Government put on the table for the loss and damage fund at COP26. That should inspire us to take more meaningful action to reduce our emissions and meet our global obligations.

The minister went on to challenge the chamber to back action, which I absolutely agree with. However, I also ask the Scottish Government to reflect on how we have got to the point at which the 75 per cent target has had to be dropped.

In 2020, as Sarah Boyack mentioned, the UK CCC wrote to the Scottish Government and identified a range of areas that the Government had to move on then—not now, but then—in order to get anywhere close to meeting that target. One of those areas was heat pumps, which is within the Scottish Government’s devolved responsibilities, and it could have acted on it then. The reality is that the climate plan that came on the back of that target was not fit for purpose, as numerous parliamentary committees told the Government. However, the Government did not make the necessary changes that were needed. I hope that the Government recognises and learns from that experience.

The minister went on to mention the UK Government’s cut to capital infrastructure funds. She is absolutely right that those cuts have been devastating. When we talk about the interests of members around the chamber—solar panels for Sarah Boyack, tree planting for Edward Mountain, bus infrastructure for Alex Rowley, EV charging points for Douglas Lumsden—we see that they all require capital infrastructure and for us to build our way out of climate change.

Will the member take an intervention?

I think that I am a bit short of time.

You have time for a brief intervention.

Michelle Thomson

I will be brief. With reference to the fiscal sustainability report, I want to bring to the chamber’s attention that the UK’s debt to gross domestic product ratio is about 98 per cent, and it would be 289 per cent without mitigation. Reflecting on those kinds of figures, it seems utterly astounding that the Scottish Government is receiving a 20 per cent cut in capital expenditure over the next five years.

Mark Ruskell

That point stands up and it reinforces what I am saying. The question is for a new Labour Government—and we will be backing the Labour amendment in the debate. However, if the party cuts its net zero commitment from £28 billion to £5 billion, that would leave us in a poor state. Reflecting on Labour’s manifesto, Greenpeace said:

“You can’t deliver real change with spare change”.

We absolutely need infrastructure, which I know that the Tories do not always like. They do not like transmission lines or wind farms. They love nuclear, but Mr Lumsden cannot say whether he would love nuclear if it was in his backyard. We need to get serious about what is needed.

Patrick Harvie summed it up well when he talked about the new climate bill being a pivotal moment where we need to take bold policy choices. I ask the Government to double down on what we were starting to achieve collectively through the Bute house agreement and not to roll back on the initiatives that were started. I ask the Government to resist pressure within its own party and perhaps among those who are not speaking in the debate who want to see certain policies rolled back.

We are absolutely on the right track with heat in buildings—it is a template for the rest of the UK, and we should be doubling down on the work of Patrick Harvie when he was in Government and delivering on that, just as we will be doubling down this afternoon on the work of Lorna Slater with the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill. When it comes to the onshore wind sector deal and the vehicle mileage reduction plan, we need to be raising revenue to reinvest in public transport so that we can deliver safer communities. We need the Government to raise its ambition. As Ben Macpherson spelled out in his speech, we need to see climate co-benefits being delivered alongside climate change, and we need to make people’s lives easier, not harder, in tackling the crisis. That is what the Government needs to do: it needs to double down. We will be backing those actions and those policies in the chamber.


Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

In closing on behalf of Labour, I wish the cabinet secretary the very best for her maternity leave.

Both Labour speakers, Sarah Boyack and Monica Lennon, made the point that, if we are serious about tackling the climate emergency, we need to begin by working together across the Parliament. Sadly, even in the speeches in this debate, that has not been the case.

Labour was last in power at the UK level in 2010, and in this Parliament in 2007, and yet a number of SNP members have, today, attacked Labour for somehow being responsible for the Scottish Government’s failures to reach its targets. For me, that signifies the problem in this Parliament. Those who first created the Parliament envisaged a place where, even through the way that it is laid out, politicians would come together and work together. There may be an election next week, but this debate is typical of the debates that we have in the Parliament. It is no wonder that the people of Scotland are quite fed up of it. They often ask questions about what we achieve in here, although I have to say that there have been many achievements.

I agree with what Maurice Golden said when he talked about the damage to public trust. There is an inability to acknowledge the shortcomings of certain policies, and we have to be able to do that. A few members in the chamber today have talked about transport. A few weeks ago, when the cabinet secretary made her statement about reductions—and the fact that we seem to be dumping the targets—I made a couple of points.

With regard to the first, Stuart McMillan talked earlier about the early successes. One of the biggest reasons for those early successes was more to do with Scottish Power than with the Scottish Government. When Scottish Power decided to close Longannet, there was, overnight, a massive reduction in the emissions from there. In fact, there has been very little progress after that, and that is where we need to make progress.

Secondly, as Mark Ruskell said, transport is the largest source of climate emissions in Scotland, at 36 per cent. However, the failure to join up government, which I level—fairly, I think—at this Government, is, in my view, one of the major issues. The Government says that it will cut car kilometres by 20 per cent—that is a target, although it might not remain one, given the Government’s record.

However, the fact is that if we look at the policies around that, we see that there is no joined-up thinking and no joined-up strategy. There has been the bus partnership fund, which was welcomed. However, we know that if we are serious about getting people to leave their cars at home, public transport has to be affordable, accessible and reliable.

I hear what Patrick Harvie and John Mason said earlier about capital, and cuts to capital investment. However, we can look to Greater Manchester, and what has been achieved there, where they have gone for bus franchising. It is about giving control over buses back to public organisations, which can then set out the bus routes—

Will the member give way?

Alex Rowley

I do not have enough time—sorry.

They can set out the bus routes that will be available, so that bus companies in Greater Manchester can bid for a collective of routes. In Scotland, however, we have the situation that we saw in West Lothian with the company that was mentioned earlier. Where the company thinks that there is not enough profit in bus routes, they simply pull those routes. That becomes part of the problem.

Earlier, the cabinet secretary was critical of Labour for not supporting the workplace parking levy. The reason that we do not support the workplace parking levy is that we think that it is ill thought through and ill considered, and we think that it would actually put people out of work. I do not know whether ministers and other members in the chamber have ever actually tried using public transport, but I have constituents who talk to me regularly about it. Some have been offered jobs and were not able to take them, because the public transport could not get them there. They were then threatened with having their benefits removed and so on.

As I said, we have to be more imaginative than the Scottish Government has been. We need to look at peak fares—the pilot was a good move and we need to continue with that policy. We also need to look at flat fares, because a lot of people cannot afford to use the buses.

In summing up, let us dump this constant barrage of fighting in the chamber, and find ways to work together, rather than always trying to score political points—as we have seen, I have to say, from the SNP today. It is not good enough, and it lets the people of Scotland down.


Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

I also wish Màiri McAllan the very best of luck as she leaves to have her baby and I look forward to working with the other ministers in their new roles.

Alex Rowley calls for us all to work together. I agree with him that we should work together, because there is a lot of consensus on the issue. However, in order to agree on that, we have to agree on what the problem is.

The Government has tried to tell us that tackling the climate emergency is one of its top priorities, but it could have fooled me. Yesterday, Parliament rejected a series of amendments to the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill—and would have rejected others, had they been moved—that would have meant real change in the way in which we deal with goods and waste, and that does not show that the Government is serious about the issue.

Just last week, the Scottish Government revealed in its own report that it has, yet again, missed its legally binding targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions. That failure is not a one-off but part of a pattern that has lasted for the past decade. Maurice Golden listed a number of failures, so he saved me the trouble of doing the same.

How can Parliament—or, indeed, the Scottish public—believe that the Government is prioritising the climate emergency when, as a number of members have pointed out, it has missed nine of its past 13 climate targets? Not only that, just months ago, in an admission of that failure, the SNP Government scrapped its target of reducing emissions by 75 per cent by 2030.

When Nicola Sturgeon announced Scotland’s climate change targets in 2019, she boasted that Scotland had the

“most stretching targets in the world”.

They proved to be too stretching for the SNP Government.

Domestic transport accounts for the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland, at 28.3 per cent in 2022, which was up from 26.2 per cent the year before. Emissions from international shipping and aviation have almost doubled in the past year. Those figures are heading in the wrong direction.

The Greens’ answer to transport emissions is to tax motorists even more, through nasty road charging schemes. We have yet to hear what the SNP has in store for us, perhaps because it fears a voter backlash. Where is that plan to cut car miles? We have yet to see it and we do not know when we are going to see it.

The SNP Government is always quick to blame Westminster for anything. It says that the Scottish Parliament lacks responsibility for energy and that it needs more capital investment to deliver net zero.

In September, Humza Yousaf called Westminster rolling back on its climate pledges “unforgivable” and vowed that Scotland would

“continue to show global leadership in the face of the climate crisis”.

However, we have yet to see that, and pointing the finger of blame south of the border is not going to save the planet.

In what way does decarbonising faster than the rest of the UK and the EU27 not demonstrate global leadership on emissions reduction?

Graham Simpson

In what way does missing nine of the past 13 targets demonstrate it? It does not demonstrate it at all.

We need to get real—Scotland’s record is not good. We need pragmatic plans that bring people with us on the journey to net zero. Douglas Lumsden’s speech was all about plans, but we do not have them from the Government.

The Climate Change Committee’s damning report was published in March. It should have been a wake-up call for the Scottish Government, because it found that the Scottish Government has failed to achieve its ambitious climate goals yet again, that the publication of the draft climate change plan has been delayed yet again, and that

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

yet again. Most concerning of all, the committee said that

“there is ... no comprehensive delivery strategy”

from the Scottish Government. No wonder its actions continue to fall short of its legal requirements.

I mentioned transport. I am very keen to know when we might see a route map for the Government’s plan to deliver 24,000 EV charge points by 2030. I would also like to know when we will see an integrated ticketing system for our public transport network, to get more people using public transport. We have been promised that for well over a decade, but there is no sign of it.

Our amendment also calls on the Scottish Government to

“reverse its anti-science approach to new nuclear technology”.

When I asked the—

Will the member take an intervention?

Graham Simpson

I have no time, I am afraid.

When I asked the First Minister about that last week, he told me that the Government does not support new nuclear power stations because they are more expensive. He failed to mention that renewable energy is far less reliable than nuclear, with wind available only 45 per cent of the time and requiring back-up from gas.

Now that the annual targets are being scrapped, such debates will become less frequent but, Presiding Officer, I sincerely hope that we will not be back in this position in 2045—well, you and I will not be. If tackling the climate emergency is really a priority for the Government, it needs to take responsibility and take action.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Simpson. I will check my diary for 2045.

I join other members in wishing the cabinet secretary all the best for her maternity leave. In the meantime, I invite her to wind up the debate. You have a generous eight minutes, cabinet secretary.


The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy (Màiri McAllan)

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer, and I thank all members who have passed on their kind wishes.

I am really pleased to close the debate, which is the fourth in the Government’s series exploring the First Minister’s top priorities for the Government that he leads. As Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy for one more day, I am delighted that the First Minister has placed the climate and nature emergencies among his top priorities, alongside growing our economy, delivering excellent public services and eradicating child poverty.

During the time that I have worked on the matter, in a number of different roles, I have had the privilege of seeing ministers, Government officials, parliamentarians from across the chamber, communities, organisations and businesses alike work exceptionally hard to rise to the challenge before us—and it is a significant challenge.

Like every country that is dedicated to this journey, we are, naturally, grappling with the scale and complexity of the challenge. As such, the work that we have undertaken has been actively iterative. Scotland has both led the way and learned as we have gone along. In that time, we have achieved so much of which I am proud. I am pleased that members across the chamber have highlighted some of those successes today. My colleague Gillian Martin kicked us off in that regard, but Rona Mackay was absolutely right to highlight the transition that Scotland is on to becoming a renewables powerhouse while, at the same time, platforming the unacceptable situation of transmission charges that we continue to face.

I am also pleased that my colleague Ben Macpherson raised the important link between air pollution and ill health, which I am very passionate about solving, and that he spoke of the development of four low-emission zones in that regard. I am also pleased that, in the past number of years, we have seen all the air quality monitoring sites in Scotland meet their objectives for the first time outside a lockdown period. That is undoubtedly having an impact on Scotland’s public health, and I welcome it strongly.

I am grateful to Mark Ruskell for highlighting the work that we achieved together in government, and I look forward to continuing to work with him and his colleagues as we take forward a number of those areas.

The emissions reduction impact of much of what we have done in the past five years will not be felt until the future. That is particularly the case for our natural environment and the energy transition, but we have to act now to see results in future years. The Government continues to do that on an on-going basis, and I often talk of our acceptance that we must continually challenge ourselves in that regard.

I agree entirely with Alex Rowley that there is a need to reach consensus, and I commit myself to doing that in the chamber and with an incoming UK Government. However, I must put on record my regret that, from my experience in this role, occasionally, Scotland’s Opposition parties appear unable to recognise our nation’s successes, even as they, rightly, hold the Government to account.

I will always celebrate our success while always being clear that more needs to be done. However, Douglas Lumsden and Maurice Golden’s contributions were relentlessly negative and did not seem to accept that their own party’s record has been about standing in the way of even modest measures in the Scottish Parliament. Indeed, their party has a horrendous record in the UK Government, which is contributing to their electoral support utterly falling through the floor.

I began my speech earlier by saying that I welcomed last week’s news that Scotland’s emissions are now more than 50 per cent below their 1990 level. Is that being “relentlessly negative”?

Màiri McAllan

No, it is not. I am grateful to the member for putting that on the record in the first place and for repeating it now.

However, perhaps another example is that of Sarah Boyack, who I know cares deeply about the issue and has been working on it for a number of years. She was right to talk about the importance of decarbonising buildings, but she did so without speaking to, for example, our “Heat in Buildings” report for 2022-23, which highlights how, through £170 million of investment, we have helped 138,000 households through the Home Energy Scotland advice service, made the homes of more than 8,000 fuel-poor households warmer and easier to heat and installed more than 5,000 zero direct emissions heating systems.

Further, we have not talked about the new build heat standard, which my colleagues in the Greens introduced when they were in government. That is a demonstrably positive move in the decarbonisation of buildings in Scotland.

Sarah Boyack

Part of the point of the Opposition is to push the Government to go further and harder—that is why we do that. I can talk about heat networks now. We have huge opportunities in Scotland. Midlothian Council is working with Vattenfall to provide a heat network. There are big opportunities with renewables. That would also reduce people’s bills. We can do that in our big cities and towns. It is about doing more and doing it fast.

Màiri McAllan

I understand that, and I share Sarah Boyack’s desire for us all to work together to do more and to do it faster. However, my point is that that progress did not emerge because we wished it to; it happened because of strong political leadership, careful policy development, the prioritisation of scarce public money, and a truly cross-societal effort, to which this Government redoubles and restates its commitment today.

I again take the opportunity to highlight and thank all those who have contributed to the progress to date. In an earlier debate, the Conservatives used their motion and their precious time in our national Parliament to criticise those who are campaigning for climate action. It is distasteful and wrong to criticise those who have peacefully but bravely raised their voice in the name of action, calling for ambition from Governments, including my own.

Climate activists act for our future here in Scotland and in the UK, because they know, as this Government does, that communities around the world are truly on the front line of climate change, losing everything up to and including their lives.

My colleague Gillian Martin spoke of much of the work that the SNP has done in recent years to support campaigners in the global south. The people—the climate activists—whom I have met on this journey do that because they have to, frankly. Many have seen utter devastation in their countries and have been forced to act, such as Brenda Mwale from Malawi, Ineza Grace from Rwanda and Salote Soqo from the Pacific, with whom I have worked. There is also my friend Elizabeth Wathuti, who is a Kenyan environment and climate activist and an incredible woman. In addition, there are the women whom I will not name but with whom I have worked on our human rights defender programme, who have risked so much to lead the way on gender and the environment.

Presiding Officer, as politicians, we are often asked who our heroes are. Those activists—those women—are my heroes.

All that work, in Scotland and internationally, is precisely because we fulsomely accept climate science and expert advice that tells us that the impacts of human-caused climate change will continue to intensify.

[Made a request to intervene.]

[Made a request to intervene.]

Do I have any time to take those interventions, Presiding Officer?

You must conclude, cabinet secretary.

Màiri McAllan

That is why we have deliberately framed our motion today on climate science and independent advice. I ask all members from all parties to support us in that.

I am very conscious of time, so I will conclude. I am very pleased to close today’s debate. It is apt that it should be the last that I take part in for the Government before my maternity leave, but whether it is for our own children, those around the world or generations to come, we owe it to them all to stand against climate wars and climate denial and to stand for action that is capable of rising to the emergency before us.