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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 31 October 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Annual Target 2015), Promoting Active Travel, Decision Time, VAT Charges (Police Scotland and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service)


Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Annual Target 2015)

The next item of business is a statement by Roseanna Cunningham on “The Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions Annual Target Report for 2015: incorporating report on impact on emissions of exercise of electricity generation related functions”. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of her statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.


Last year, when I met Patricia Espinosa, head of the United Nations climate body, she spoke about Scotland’s “great achievement” on this defining issue of greenhouse gas emissions. Earlier this month, she met the First Minister and again congratulated Scotland on its leadership.

When we speak to international figures we make the point, which often surprises them, that there is cross-party consensus in Scotland on climate change, and that our Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 was passed unanimously in this chamber.

In 2015, Scotland was one of the first countries to sign up to the UN’s sustainable development goals—the overarching framework to tackle poverty and inequality, promote education and health and grow the global economy sustainably. At the Paris climate conference, the First Minister and the German minister spoke about the Paris agreement being the first big challenge for the goals.

Paris turned out to be a huge achievement. The recent decision by the USA to withdraw from it has served only to prompt renewed support for the treaty from states, regions, cities and progressively minded businesses.

In April, the First Minister signed a co-operation agreement with California Governor Jerry Brown to support his under2 coalition. The coalition includes almost 200 progressive states and cities, covering more than 1.2 billion people, or 16 per cent of the global population, and almost 40 per cent of the global economy.

Next year will be particularly important for the Paris agreement. California will host a summit for the under2 coalition to help boost global ambition. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will publish its special report on limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Next year will also see a major facilitative dialogue to take stock of the collective global effort. We know that more needs to be done—current Paris pledges could limit global temperature rise to around 3°C, but a wide range of outcomes is possible.

It is a crucial time for all countries, ours included, to show where they stand, so I am very pleased to announce that both the First Minister and I will attend this year’s talks in Bonn in a few weeks’ time.

This statement sets out the ever-stronger messages that we will take to Bonn. I will begin with a short formal statement on the statutory “Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions Annual Target Report for 2015”, which was laid in Parliament this morning. The report shows that Scotland’s annual emissions reduction target for 2015 was met, meaning that targets have been met for the second consecutive year. The report shows that the domestic effort target for 2015 was also met.

The report is based on the statistics published in June that show that Scotland continues to outperform the United Kingdom as a whole and to rank very highly internationally. Of the western European Union 15 countries, only Sweden and Finland have done better to date.

Scotland’s success in meeting its stretching climate targets is underpinned by a comprehensive package of on-the-ground measures that promote sustainable economic growth and help tackle inequalities while decarbonising Scotland’s economy.

The Scottish Government is working to finalise Scotland’s climate change plan for publication in February 2018. As part of this process, we are reflecting carefully on all the recommendations arising from parliamentary scrutiny of the draft plan and the Committee on Climate Change’s recent report.

The final plan will be strengthened by the bold new low-carbon commitments set out in the First Minister’s programme for government, which are exemplified by phasing out the need for new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032. Over the past 15 years, we have worked hard to decarbonise our electricity supply and will now direct our renewable energy to electrification on our roads.

The programme also commits the Government to doubling investment in active travel and I am sure that members will be looking forward to discussing that in the debate later this afternoon.

We have listened to the Parliament and the Committee on Climate Change and I can confirm that the final plan will include updated sectoral emission envelopes, reflecting our new commitments as well as the most up-to-date evidence. We continue to work with stakeholders, including the external advisory group—the members of which I thank for their valuable contributions to date—and the Committee on Climate Change, as we finalise the plan.

The UK Government published its clean growth strategy earlier this month. The strategy is the statutory counterpart to Scotland’s climate change plan, in that it sets out the approach to decarbonisation over the period to 2032. However, the UK strategy and our plan diverge in terms of their overall levels of action, reflecting Scotland’s more ambitious statutory targets. The strategy is an important document and we are considering it in detail to understand how it impacts on the people of Scotland, our economy and our decarbonisation ambitions.

I have already mentioned the important role that independent expert advice plays in the Scottish Government’s approach to tackling climate change. On 12 October, I wrote to Lord Deben, chair of the Committee on Climate Change, to thank the committee for its 2017 progress report. This letter, a copy of which has been laid in the Parliament, makes it clear that the Scottish Government is reflecting carefully on all of the committee’s recommendations as we work to finalise the climate change plan.

Scotland’s climate targets, under this Parliament’s Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, are already the toughest in the UK and among the toughest in the world. Unlike the UK Government, the Scottish Government has brought forward proposals for new legislation to raise the ambition of our long-term targets even further, in direct response to the Paris agreement. This reflects our recognition that Paris represents an increase in global ambition and our commitment to keeping Scotland at the forefront of the low-carbon transition.

Tackling climate change represents not only a moral imperative, but a huge economic opportunity, which we are determined that Scotland should seize. Public consultation on our proposals for a new climate change bill closed on 22 September. We have received almost 20,000 responses and are now taking time to carefully consider them all, alongside the full range of evidence available. As part of this evidence-based approach, I am aware that the underpinning scientific guidelines for how we measure greenhouse gas emissions are also continuing to evolve, especially in the land-use sectors, which are of particular importance here in Scotland.

It is, therefore, more important than ever that we have access to the most up-to-date information and expert advice. As Parliament has already been informed through my 12 October letter to Lord Deben, I have given the Committee on Climate Change the opportunity to provide any further advice on bill targets that it considers appropriate.

In addition to our climate leadership through domestic action, Scotland plays an active and strengthening international role. I mentioned the under2 coalition of high-ambition states, regions and cities. I am delighted that Scotland’s cities alliance has agreed to support the coalition and I look forward to working with our seven cities to promote their progressive position on climate change.

Scotland has been an active member of the Climate Group’s states and regions alliance for over a decade. The alliance brings together some of the most economically powerful regions in the world. We are supporting the alliance’s future fund to help developing countries in the network.

Our Scottish national action plan on human rights commits us to continue to champion climate justice. We continue to deliver the First Minister’s pledge at Paris to provide at least £3 million each year through our climate justice fund. Following on from over £6 million hydro nation funding for water adaptation projects in Africa since 2012, we gave £1 million in 2016 to the UN to support developing countries to engage with the Paris agreement. Hydro nation funding continues, with £2.5 million supporting access to water and waste water services in Malawi.

Our new climate justice innovation fund announced its first £600,000 for six projects in sub-Saharan Africa. We will very soon announce the award of our new climate challenge programme Malawi, with £3.2 million over three years. Between 2012 and 2021, our climate justice fund will provide £21 million to some of the world’s poorest people.

Climate action lies at the heart of the Scottish Government’s aim of creating a successful country through promoting sustainable and equitable economic growth. It is a vital issue, which spans ambition, delivery and international partnership working, and I will be proud to relate Scotland’s leadership at the forthcoming climate talks in Bonn.

We have around 20 minutes for questions.

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of her statement.

It is abundantly clear from yesterday’s news of concentrations of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere reaching a record high that we continue to face a major climate challenge. Nevertheless, we must pursue an agenda that will mean that Scotland will meet its commitments and be at the forefront of worldwide endeavour. I endorse the cabinet secretary’s comments on cross-party consensus in Scotland.

Having viewed the report, I know that there is a lot to be proud of, but it is deeply disappointing that emissions have gone up in the net Scottish emissions account; in 2015, they increased by almost 2 per cent on the previous year. We still face the challenge of lowering carbon levels in a variety of areas.

WWF Scotland has commented that housing is among the “weakest” areas to be dealt with in the draft climate change plan. What action will the Scottish Government take to address that in ensuring that Scotland takes a bold approach to reducing emissions?

Like most countries, we have to effectively own up to the fact that we continue to emit far more than we should. One of the enormous challenges that we all face is in getting emissions down as much as possible.

Set against other countries, Scotland is doing incredibly well, and I am always surprised that not all countries have clear-cut targets, such as we have. When we set ourselves against other countries as examples, we do so against countries that have set themselves targets, but there are many countries out there that simply have not done that. In those circumstances, measuring our effort against those countries is quite difficult.

Donald Cameron asked about housing. He will know that there are significant challenges in respect of housing—not the least of which is the existing domestic housing stock. We are addressing the challenge that is faced by any Government in dealing with the need to ensure that existing households become more energy efficient. As a Government, we are addressing that challenge through the huge amount of energy efficiency money that is going into that work.

That is a challenge for individuals, as well. Those of us who are owner-occupiers have a responsibility to look to our own housing and to consider whether it emits far more than it needs to or should emit. There is also our requirement to deal with the rented sector and social housing.

There are a number of issues that Donald Cameron is quite right to point to, and which we are looking at very carefully. I hope that he will be content when he sees what is in the final climate change plan in relation to the housing sector.

I thank the cabinet secretary for prior sight of the statement.

In the context of the Paris agreement, I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to the climate justice fund to support some of the world’s poorest people. However, climate justice is not just a global issue; it is also a local issue.

In her statement, the cabinet secretary referred to

“on-the-ground measures that ... help tackle inequalities”.

Can she identify any specific policies that will be actioned in Scotland to ensure that our approach to meeting climate change targets is inclusive—especially in the sectors that are progressing most slowly, which are transport, agriculture and buildings? Will she expand on how the shift to the low-carbon economy in the energy sector and other sectors will take into account affected workers and communities through a just transition strategy, and will she say something about the commission that Scottish Labour hopes for?

I will try to cover as many of those issues as I can. If I miss any, I will undertake to come back to Claudia Beamish—I know that she cares passionately about them.

In a sense, Claudia Beamish picked up a little bit from the issue that Donald Cameron raised. One of the big concerns that we all have is to ensure that parts of our society are not left behind, as we move forward with decarbonisation. The irony is, of course, that, as climate change progresses, the poorer sections of society will be hardest hit.

We are addressing a lot of that through the forthcoming warm homes bill and the energy efficiency measures that we have discussed. I advise Claudia Beamish that there is a deal of serious conversation on that to ensure that nothing that we do on climate change makes things worse for people—in particular, in terms of fuel poverty, which is a big issue.

On transport, we made a number of commitments in the programme for government. They include commitments on active travel and on the need to increase availability of public transport, as well as on issues around cars. I appreciate, however, that being able to swap out a petrol or diesel car for an electric vehicle may be but a fond hope for many people who cannot afford a car the first place. There are huge issues around that.

However, I go back to the point that, if we do not make progress on climate change, it is precisely the most disadvantaged sections of society that will be most hit by its advance. We need to try to strike the right balance as we move through the various sectors in order to ensure that we do not make the situation worse, but we must also remind people that it will get worse if we do not take the actions that we are taking.

As the cabinet secretary is aware, the EU emissions trading system is the main mechanism to reduce emissions in the traded sector. Therefore, it plays a key role in supporting our climate change ambitions. Will she advise how our ability to continue in the ETS will be impacted if the UK leaves the EU, and whether she is aware of any work that is being done by the UK Government to address that?

Graeme Dey is correct to raise the EU ETS, which is currently the world’s largest carbon market. It means that there is a level playing field for businesses throughout the EU and it protects us against carbon leakage, which is a considerable matter that needs to be addressed. The Government therefore considers that continued participation in the ETS will be best for Scotland, in the future. It is the most cost-effective means through which the traded sector can decarbonise.

It is a matter of some concern that the UK Government has, until this point, been unwilling to discuss future participation in the ET with me or other Scottish ministers. Indeed, the EU has now intervened to protect the integrity of the scheme with legislative proposals to prevent surrender of any new allowances that will be allocated after 1 January 2018 to a member state in respect of which there are lapsing obligations. Of course, only one state is in that frame.

That intervention could have significant repercussions for Scottish businesses and could impose additional costs. There is significant market reaction. That demonstrates the risks of the UK Government’s approach to the negotiations and the real risk of a disorderly exit, which I am sure that members will agree would be a wholly unacceptable situation. I should add that Mr Russell and I have written jointly to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy seeking urgent discussions on that matter.

We are supportive of the electrification of our roads. It will, of course, bring challenges for the transmission network due to the expansion of electricity demand. Does the cabinet secretary support a distribution system operator balancing model at a more local level?

I will do my very best to establish what that actually means, and will get back to Maurice Golden. He is allowing his inner geek to come forward, in that question. It is a splendid example of a question that perhaps means that the member could not think of a better one to ask.

Can the cabinet secretary advise how Scotland is showing its strong support for the Paris agreement?

In my statement, I said how important we consider the Paris agreement to be, and how important that year’s climate change talks were to the Scottish Government. Our proposals for a new climate change bill represent a direct statutory response to the aims of the Paris agreement. As I said, that response is not normal: many countries are not responding in that way.

The UK Committee on Climate Change advises that increasing the 2050 target to a 90 per cent reduction would be aligned to the Paris aim of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Our proposals will also enable the setting of a further target for net zero emissions as soon as the appropriate date to do so can be determined in an evidence-based manner. That will support the Paris aim of reaching global net zero emissions in the second half of the century. Other bodies in Scotland have also been showing support for the Paris agreement.

All three key architects of the agreement—the French minister, Laurent Fabius; the former head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat, Christiana Figueres; and the president of COP20, Manuel Pulgar-Vida—have visited Scotland and received the Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s Shackleton medal for their joint efforts, and all three are well aware of how committed this country is to the Paris agreement.

I welcome the statement from the cabinet secretary. Scotland is one of the first countries to debate domestic climate legislation following ratification of the Paris agreement.

Within days of the establishment of the new labour-led Government in New Zealand, vigorous and dynamic new agricultural climate change targets were set. What can the cabinet secretary learn from New Zealand and from best practice around the world?

I am aware that New Zealand has begun, under its new Government, to make some significant moves on climate change. I have to say, however, that the 2015 statistics from Scotland show that agriculture emissions are down by more than 25 per cent from baseline levels, so we have been doing a considerable amount of work ourselves. I will look closely at any other country’s particular interest in sectors that look as though they might be analogous to Scotland’s.

However, I gently caution David Stewart that when one looks very closely at some other countries’ proposals, it sometimes transpires that they are not quite what they appear to be on the surface. That means that we are often comparing apples not with apples but with pears—to use a horticultural expression. One has to be rather careful of that. That issue relates to the comparisons that we often make between ourselves and Sweden, even though, in actual fact, we are not both doing the same thing in terms of getting to where we want to go.

Is the cabinet secretary aware that, on 21 September, Nicaragua signed up to the Paris agreement, meaning that only two countries—Syria and the United States—are not signatories? Will the Government use the Climate Group states and regions approach to work with the states in the United States to mitigate the anti-science effects of the presidency and far too many of that Government’s administrators?

I might have seen the same tweet as the one from which the member might have picked up that information about Nicaragua. All of us would have preferred the United States not to have taken the position that it has taken on Paris, and it is a matter of some regret that it has chosen to do that.

We work closely with the Climate Group. It is an important forum for this country, and the member will be grateful to know that, when I visit Bonn in a couple of weeks’ time, I will attend a number of round-table discussions with other members in that group, particularly with California, for example, whose approach has been of interest to us. Those conversations will continue.

I perhaps should have said to David Stewart that, when I am in Bonn, I will take every opportunity to see whether I can have useful discussions not only with members of the Climate Group but with others who might be there.

I thank the cabinet secretary for an advance copy of that very positive statement.

Our ability to cut carbon in future is partly dependent on the spending decisions of Derek Mackay today. The green bus fund, home energy efficiency and investment in reopening railways are just some of the infrastructure priorities that are needed to cut carbon, improve economic efficiency, and tackle exclusion and even air pollution. How will the Scottish Government budget prioritise investment that will cut emissions, rather than simply locking them in for generations to come?

I am not in a position to pre-empt the budget or any statements that my colleague Derek Mackay may make in the coming weeks and months. The member will have seen in the programme for government that the active travel budget is being doubled, which I presume he has welcomed. The green bus fund is being extended, too. Those issues were raised in his question, so I would have expected him to be happy that increased support has been given in those areas.

The Government was widely hailed for its programme for government. I think that the phrase used was that it was among the greenest programmes for government ever. Although that is a piece of hyperbole that I may want to repeat often, it is one that people should reflect upon. I hope that they will welcome everything that is in the programme for government, and in the budget process, which we are about to embark upon.

I, too, thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of what is generally an upbeat statement and echo her comments about the cross-party support in the Parliament. However, in light of comments from Scottish Renewables today about what it calls

“the first decline in renewable heat output that Scotland has seen since measurement began in 2008-09”,

will the cabinet secretary inform the Parliament of any additional measures that the Government will bring forward or is contemplating in the final climate change plan that will help to deliver more renewable heat in Scotland so that we can indeed meet our renewable energy targets?

I should remind Liam McArthur that I said that the final plan will be published in February 2018. He will forgive me if I operate on the basis that stating in advance what is going to be in the plan is not in keeping with the publication date of February 2018.

Scotland’s record on renewables has been pretty extraordinary. We sometimes have difficulty because of decisions that are taken elsewhere, which do not help us. Nevertheless, I continue to be as upbeat as I possibly can be in the circumstances. We will continue, in so far as we are able to do, to make further advances in that area, which, as I have indicated, has been one of Scotland’s climate change success stories.

We can have three more questions if we can squeeze them in.

Despite the ambitious approach to reducing emissions that has been outlined by the cabinet secretary, we will not be immune to experiencing the effects of climate change, which will be faced all over the world. What progress is the Scottish Government making specifically on climate change adaptation?

The member is right to raise the point that there are two sides to dealing with climate change. One is mitigation, which tends to get most of the coverage; the other is adaptation, which tends to be discussed less often. The Paris agreement makes it clear that climate change adaptation is enormously important. In the past year or so, there have been a number of important reports on Scotland’s progress in that area, including an independent assessment of the current Scottish climate change adaptation programme and the climate change risk assessment.

There was a meeting in Stirling last week, between my officials and a range of stakeholders, to begin consideration of the next adaptation programme, which is due in 2019. We have recently launched our new national centre for resilience, a national coastal change assessment and new adaptation indicators. Collaborative partnership approaches to adaptation are also emerging in a variety of different local areas, including climate-ready Clyde, Edinburgh adapts and Aberdeen adapts. There is a considerable amount of work on the ground, which is where adaptation efforts need to take place. However, the member is right to raise adaptation as an issue, because most of the focus tends to be on mitigation, and we must not forget that adaptation is becoming ever more important.

This morning, the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee took evidence on air quality management areas and low-emission zones. Evidence that was given to the committee during our inquiry raises concerns about the funding available to deliver better air quality. Given that the transport emissions mitigation budget has been cut from £179.8 million to £153 million, will the cabinet secretary assure Parliament that sufficient funding will be made available to Transport Scotland, local authorities, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and others to implement successfully the Scottish Government’s good intentions on air quality?

I just looked with some query at the transport minister, who does not immediately understand where John Scott’s information comes from. We will undertake to check that.

I ought to point out what I said earlier about the budget discussions that are about to take place. Low-emission zones are part of the programme for government. We are committed to introducing one low emission zone by the end of 2018, to rolling out the zones to the other major cities as soon after that as possible, and to having them in all air quality management zones where it is considered necessary.

We are now in a process whereby negotiations around the funding of those zones are becoming active. Last week, I had a meeting with one council, which, of course, wanted to explore that issue. It is not a secret that Glasgow is the preferred first low emission zone. The discussions on that are also active. The low-emission zones will be funded appropriately as and when they are rolled out.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that the green bus fund has been of enormous benefit to bus operators throughout Scotland, including those in the Falkirk district, where Alexander Dennis has secured through the fund multiple orders for its world-class hybrid envirobuses. Given the success of the fund, will the cabinet secretary and the transport minister consider altering the fund to ensure that it also provides for bus retrofits at the proposed engine retrofitting centre, which would truly assist greatly in future emissions reductions not just in LEZs but in towns and villages countrywide?

As I understand it, the transport minister is in discussion with bus companies about that very issue. I hope that the member will liaise with the transport minister as that discussion progresses.

The green bus fund has been very helpful in accelerating the uptake of low emission buses into our bus fleet, which obviously has benefits with regard to air quality and climate change. We have been very committed to the fund, which is being extended. We are looking forward to that progress. The bus service operators grant and the low-carbon incentive, along with the green bus fund, have helped to bring almost 500 green buses into the Scottish fleet. By any measure, that is a really good figure.