The heat is on

It is disappointing that Scottish Government has missed another annual climate change target.   Every party in the Scottish Parliament voted for these targets.  And every party knows that every time we miss one, it will require more and more effort next year, and the year after, making it harder and harder to meet our crucial goals.

The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition, Mairi McAllan MSP, admitted it was “disappointing”, but referred to it as a narrow miss, and “not far behind where we need to be”.  She was at pains to point out that the Government will be publishing an even more ambitious climate change plan later this year, which she insisted : “will contain even greater ambition while steering our emissions reduction pathway out to 2040.”

Scottish Green climate spokesperson Mark Ruskell MSP said: “These statistics… underline the scale of the challenge that we face…  at every step of the way we face massive resistance from opposition parties who seem to think that the climate emergency can be tackled through wishful thinking. They have all supported the targets to reduce emissions but have opposed and attacked the very policies needed to deliver them: from reducing city centre traffic through low emission zones through tackling litter via the Deposit Return Scheme.”

Although Government cannot do it alone, it can and clearly must do more.  It needs to set the ground rules for others to operate in, it needs to set clear long-term objectives and it needs to provide certainty, in order to drive innovation and investment and leverage private finance.   That is true for both Scotland and the UK Governments.  Businesses need to do more too, to deliver against their net zero commitments and not simply by buying land and planting some trees.  And NGOs need to do more to win public support for change.  It is vital that key high-emitting sectors like housing, transport and agriculture really accelerate action, but that requires more commitment, prioritisation of effort and funding.   And it also needs more public understanding and greater investment in new skills, as almost every sector is struggling with a sustainability skills-shortage.

The warning signs of climate change are everywhere.  We don’t need to look very far in the media to see its impacts both at home and abroad, especially with the added strain of this year’s El Nino, unprecedented ocean heat, wildfires and the high likelihood of exceeding the 1.5C threshold for the first time – so something has to change.

The climate change plan that is being written this year by Scottish Government (which we are inputting to) has to really step up, and provide a comprehensive list of actions and commitments, or we are going to continually fail to meet annual targets and miss our 2030 and 2045 targets. What happens (or begins to happen) over the next three or four years will largely determine if we are successful, so time is of the essence, which is why I am also helping coordinate a compendium of climate solutions with the whole NGO community, via SCCS, in an attempt to inform and accelerate delivery.

A climate emergency was declared by governments throughout 2019 in response to the massive upswelling of concern expressed through young people in the school strikes.  In the same year the target for 2030 and 2045 was agreed in Parliament.   But then Covid happened, and then COP26 dominated efforts.  For this emergency to be taken seriously, and with these now behind us, it requires a step up in domestic action across every sector and at a scale that is meaningful.  We now need to regroup and recapture the priority and focus on climate action that we had in 2019, that will take us through to 2030 and beyond, or risk a legacy of failure.  The heat is on.

By Mike Robinson – Chief Executive, RSGS