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McInnes warns of complacency over tackling climate change

November 24, 2011 5:00 PM

Meeting of the Parliament 24 November 2011: Transcript from the Official Report


Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) (LD): Alex Johnstone remarked earlier on the familiar faces in chamber this afternoon and it is something of an unexpected pleasure to be back speaking on climate change for the Lib Dems. I and, I am sure, the minister, thought that those days were behind me, but I am afraid that my colleague, Jim Hume, is away on a humanitarian mission this week, so here I am again.

I see that not much has changed in the few months since I last spoke on climate change. The Government is still quick to trumpet our "world-leading" climate change Bill, but is rather more circumspect when it comes to actually putting in place the measures that will enable us to meet our ambitious targets. I will turn to that in a moment; however, I start by welcoming the fact that Scotland will be represented on the UK Government's delegation to the COP17 conference in Durban next week. It is important to recognise the work that has been done by Chris Huhne at the Department for Energy and Climate Change, not only in driving the UK Government forward to ensure that it is the "greenest" ever, but also for the pro-active and inclusive approach that he has taken in engaging with the Scottish Government.

The Government's motion is right to highlight that action on climate change should not be seen as a burden but, rather, as an opportunity for innovation and growth. Scotland has the opportunity to develop itself as a green energy powerhouse, and it is right that we are able to share our experiences with the rest of the world. As has been said already today, the fight against climate change cannot succeed on the basis of action being taken in just one country. The conference of the parties summit is a vital forum for engagement, and I am pleased that it is one in which Scotland can participate fully.

The motion this afternoon also notes the urgent need for action. I fully endorse that sentiment. Early action is absolutely vital - global action that will mitigate and limit the worst effects of climate change, and the action that we need to take here to meet the targets in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. On that, I was interested to see the Minister's appearance at Rural Affairs, Environment and Climate Change Committee yesterday to discuss the use of carbon credits towards targets from 2013.

From the beginning of our work on the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, everyone involved was clear that domestic effort must be the focus of our efforts. The use of carbon units should be a last resort: indeed, we chose not to allow them to be used towards the 2010, 2011 and 2012 targets at all. I recognise, of course, that in setting the latest limits, the minister is following the advice of the UK Committee on Climate Change and that the availability of carbon units does not necessarily mean that they will be used. Indeed, despite the relatively low price that was mentioned by the minister yesterday, I must trust that the Government will not be tempted to rely on the credits as an easy way to hit our targets.

Patrick Harvie: I am grateful to Alison McInnes for giving way, but I am slightly concerned that she says we "must trust ... the Government" not to do that. If we want the Government not to do it and the Government says that it does not want to do it, why should we pass an order that will allow the Government to do it?

Alison McInnes: Patrick Harvie will know that I am keen to ensure that we do not allow the use of carbon units at all, but we are where we are. I said, "I trust" - I do not mean that I really believe that that is the case. I genuinely hope that I am proved wrong and that the Government does not intend to use the units if at all possible. Our emissions are our own responsibility and purchasing credits cannot be looked at as a substitute for real domestic action.

Actually, it is not the credits themselves that I would like to touch on but, rather, a worrying detail that is mentioned in the advice of the UK Committee on Climate Change. It notes that, given the current EU-wide target and the current policies that are outlined in the RPP, our 2015, 2016 and 2017 emissions targets would be missed. Even if we add the maximum effect of all of the RPP's proposals, the 2017 target would still be missed, and that is the best-case scenario, so to speak. For the RPP's proposals and policies to become a reality, they need to be properly budgeted for; I am afraid that, on current evidence, that is simply not the case.

Transport is one of the biggest contributors to the non-traded sector of emissions in Scotland, yet the Government has budgeted, by some fairly generous calculations, just £30 million for low carbon transport measures in 2012-13. Friends of the Earth Scotland estimates that, over the three years that are covered by the latest spending review, funding for sustainable travel is barely a tenth of what is needed to fully fund the RPP and barely 5 per cent of the amount that will be spent on roads.

Kevin Stewart (Aberdeen Central) (SNP): Will the member give way?

Alison McInnes: I am almost at the end of my speech. There seems to be a worrying trend across the spending review: a real-terms cut in support for sustainable and active travel, in support for bus services, in funding for the zero waste initiative, and so on.

There are tough decisions to make, but it is up to the Government to decide what its priorities are. Ensuring that Scotland's message on climate change to other countries has substance and is not empty rhetoric should be one priority.

Some movement has taken place on energy efficiency in homes. I would like action to go further still, but I welcome the increase in the budget for energy efficiency measures. However, I will sound a small note of caution. My experience of a recent visit at home from a local company that is working on a home insulation scheme highlighted that people are still largely unaware of the financial support that is available to help to improve energy efficiency and, thereby, to reduce emissions at home. The Government still needs to address that lack of public engagement.

As the minister will well remember, we spent a great deal of time last summer on ensuring that the RPP was comprehensive and ambitious. It is the sort of document that might well serve as a best-practice example at next week's summit, but it will be of use only if the Government has the will to follow it through.

I think that we all agree that we should be proud of the action that we have taken on climate change and that engaging positively with other COP17 participants is important. However, I echo Sarah Boyack's sentiments: we must work with other nations and encourage them to do their bit to reduce emissions, but it is just as vital that we do not become complacent in our efforts here at home.