Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing the world today. Scientific evidence that the global climate is changing and that the primary cause for this change is the release of greenhouse gases from human activity is compelling. Without a concerted global effort to curb the emissions of these harmful gases to ensure we live within environmental limits, climate change will cause devastation across the world.
Climate change is already happening. Its impacts over the next 30 to 40 years are unavoidable; they are already locked into the system. Perversely, those in the developing world - those who have historically contributed least to the problem - and who are most vulnerable to its effects - will suffer the worst impacts. But the rich nations of the world are not immune. Many countries in Europe, including Scotland, have recent first hand experience of the types of climate extremes that will become increasingly common as a result of climate change. If we do not prepare for the inevitable impacts we will have failed to act responsibly in light of sound scientific evidence that Scotland's climate will change significantly over the coming century.
Scotland has a leadership role to play in tackling climate change. While Scotland is a small country that contributes relatively little to global greenhouse gas emissions, as a developed nation it is right for us to promote good governance and be among the first countries to reduce their emissions. No one country can resolve climate change alone. Developed nations must lead by example if we are serious about encouraging a collective global response to this most pressing of issues. We must also capitalise on the opportunities climate change and the need to mitigate and adapt will present, to create a stronger, healthier, and more just society and a more productive, competitive and sustainable economy.
Scotland is making reassuring strides in reducing its own emissions and the Scottish Executive is committed to delivering further carbon savings. Latest data for Scotland show that our greenhouse gas emissions fell by 10% between 1990 and 2003. Over the same period our carbon dioxide emissions fell by more than any other country in the UK. In addition, the amount of carbon emissions removed from the atmosphere by our carbon sink - our soils and trees - has increased by 20% over the period. This has resulted in our net carbon dioxide emissions in 2003 being 14% lower than 1990 levels.
The Scottish Executive has reviewed its strategic approach to tackling climate change and strengthened it. This Programme updates the one we published in 2000 and sets the framework for future action. It complements the UK Climate Change Programme and demonstrates how Scotland will deliver carbon savings from devolved policy measures and reduce its vulnerability to the changing climate. It represents a stepping-up of our efforts to transform Scotland into a technologically advanced and sustainable low-carbon economy. In short, it demonstrates our commitment to changing our ways.
Our new Programme commits the Executive to a Scottish Target in devolved areas. It quantifies, for the first time, Scotland's equitable contribution to UK climate change commitments by means of the Scottish Share. And it commits us to delivering more than this fair share by setting an ambitious and overarching Scottish Target.
Our new Programme will be reviewed regularly and we will continue to work closely with stakeholders on its implementation. We will report annually on our progress to Parliament and will coordinate our assessment activity with the UK Government. We will work in partnership with a diverse range of stakeholders to implement the Programme and will engage widely to get the climate change message across.
We need your help to tackle climate change: we need you to change your ways. If everyone makes a few small changes to their daily lifestyle it will make a big difference. The Energy Saving Trust's Save Your 20% booklet provides a range of ideas to help you save energy, money and the environment. We ask you to take the 20% challenge and encourage others to do likewise. Together we can make a difference.
Jack McConnell, MSP
Ross Finnie, MSP
Minister for Environment and Rural Development