Arctic Circle Assembly 2016: First Minister's speech

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP delivers a speech to the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, October 2016.

Thank you, it's a huge pleasure to be here.

Scotland and Iceland share ties of trade, culture and kinship which go back for centuries. In fact the early history of the Orkney Islands, in the north of Scotland, was chronicled in the Icelandic sagas more than 800 years ago. More recently, in 1874, the national anthem of Iceland was composed in central Edinburgh. And even more recently than that, Scotland gave Iceland another anthem. Your football supporters' 'Viking chant' – which attracted worldwide attention at Euro 2016 – was reportedly inspired by a similar chant by fans of a Scottish football team – Motherwell. I bring that up because of course from our point of view, it was nice just to have any Scottish presence at Euro 2016!

At the moment, Iceland and Scotland co-operate on areas ranging from energy policy to marine science to sustainable tourism – in fact our tourism agencies are today signing a memorandum of understanding.

And of course Scotland's ties with Iceland are mirrored in our connections to many of the other countries represented here today – for example our ancestral ties to Canada or our trading links with nations such as South Korea and Japan. We also often learn from your countries in our social and economic policy. For example, we are aiming to adopt Finland's policy of giving expectant parents a Baby Box containing vital items to help them look after their babies in the earliest days.

Scotland may not quite, geographically, be part of the Arctic Circle, but in our heritage, culture, policy approach – and sometimes maybe even our weather! – there is much that we share.

Those shared interests are actually the theme of a Scottish art installation – Prospect North – which I am opening later today on the first level of this venue. I hope that as many of you as possible will visit and enjoy it.

And of course Scotland and Iceland also – like so many of the delegates to this forum – share a strong commitment to tackling climate change. That's an issue which I discussed with former President Grimsson during the Paris Climate Change summit last December, and it's the reason why he invited me to speak here today.

And so, I'm going to concentrate in this speech on the steps Scotland is taking to tackle climate change and to promote climate justice. And in doing that, I want to set out a wider message about the positive contribution Scotland wants to make to the rest of the world, and our desire for even stronger partnerships with our northern neighbours.

Now, the Paris Agreement which stemmed from last December's summit is the most significant step yet towards tackling climate change. I am sure that all of us welcome Wednesday's announcement that the agreement will come into force on 4 November. It's a remarkable achievement – not least for Ban-Ki Moon, who will address this forum tomorrow, and who has prioritised climate change throughout his time as Secretary General of the UN.

However Paris marks a milestone, not a final destination. A global temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius – which is what we saw in 2015 – has already brought the melting of glaciers and ice-sheets here in the Arctic, together with drought and extreme weather incidents around the world. The consequences of a 2 degree increase would be deeply damaging for all nations, and catastrophic for some. Among other things, it would bring rising ocean levels, an increased number of famines – and, almost certainly, a displacement of populations far beyond what we have seen from recent and current conflicts such as Syria. That helps to explain why – when Ban-Ki Moon spoke in Paris last year – he called climate change 'the defining challenge of our time'.

So it is essential that the world meets the overall target we set ourselves in Paris, of limiting global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and making serious efforts to keep them below 1.5 degrees.

Let me be clear – that means going beyond the specific pledges made last year, which would still lead to warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius. We cannot simply applaud ourselves for the agreement reached in Paris – important though it is. We need to deliver on – and exceed – the specific commitments made last year.

Scotland will play its part. As the video showed, in 2009 our Parliament unanimously passed its Climate Change Act. Using the year 1990 as a starting point, the Act committed Scotland to a 42% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and an 80% reduction by 2050.

It's worth noting that, at that time, a 42% reduction by 2020 was the most ambitious legal target anywhere in the world. Scotland deliberately set a goal that we thought would be difficult. However we achieved our 2020 target in 2014 – and we did so six years ahead of schedule. So we are looking to do even better. We aim to more than halve our 1990 emissions by 2020.

That involves looking at a huge range of issues. Scotland has reduced energy use by almost a sixth since 1990 – but we know we need to do more. That's why we recently made energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority. And we see big opportunities for Scotland in areas such as renewable heat and developing the circular economy.

And of course we're expanding renewable energy supply. When our Climate Change Act was passed seven years ago, 28% of Scotland's electricity demand was met by renewable power. Last year, the figure was 57%. That still puts Scotland a long way behind countries such as Iceland and Norway, but it's a big increase – largely caused by onshore wind production.

We aim to do better in the years and decades ahead. And so we're now increasingly looking at offshore resources. The video highlighted that our European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney is a global leader. In fact, more wave and tidal power companies have demonstrated their technologies there than at any other site in the world.

Last month I launched the first stage of the Meygen tidal array project. When it is fully deployed in the Pentland Firth, it will produce enough electricity to power approximately 175,000 homes – that makes it the largest planned tidal stream project anywhere in the world.

There are also some hugely significant projects in relation to offshore wind. The largest floating windfarm in the world is being developed by Statoil – the Norwegian energy company – off the North Sea coast of Scotland. It is potentially a hugely important step towards making offshore wind economically viable in deep waters.

Scotland's northern seas were central to the Norse culture that so many of the countries here share. But they can sometimes seem peripheral to the wider world. So it is wonderful that they are now at the cutting edge of global energy innovation – technologies being tried and developed there now will play a part in providing the renewable energy the world needs in the future.

And of course, that won't simply bring environmental gains, it will also create economic benefits. In Scotland, the low carbon and renewable energy sector already supports more than 21,000 jobs.

There is the potential for many more. And of course other low carbon advances – such as better energy efficiency – will make our businesses more competitive. The need to tackle climate change, first and foremost, is an overwhelming moral imperative – but it is also a significant economic opportunity. It is one that all of us should aim to seize.

Scotland's approach to climate change is part of a deeper desire to be a good international citizen. We want to set a good example through our domestic policy – and to learn from other countries as we do so. However we also want to recognise our international responsibilities.

Today we have announced a £1 million contribution to the Capacity Building Initiative for Transparency. That's the fund established by the United Nations after Paris, in recognition of the fact that many developing nations currently lack the capacity to measure their greenhouse gas emissions accurately.

Scotland's contribution comes from our Climate Justice fund. One key point about climate change is that its worst effects are often felt in developing nations – despite the fact that those nations have not usually been major emitters of greenhouse gases. In addition, the individuals affected by climate change are often the very young, the very old, the ill, and the very poor. Women are suffering disproportionately, since they are often the main providers of food, fuel and water.

So, the countries which have done least to cause climate change, and the people who are least equipped to cope with its consequences, are the ones who are being hit hardest.

That's why, in 2012, Scotland became the first national government in the world to establish a climate justice fund. We increased our support for the fund this year. So far it has supported 11 projects in four sub-Saharan African countries.

The fund is small in terms of the scale of the problem – tiny, in fact. But it makes a significant difference in the communities where it operates. And it is a powerful statement from a country which is determined to do the right thing.

That motivation also lies Scotland's increasing role in international development.

Last year, we were one of the first national governments to confirm that we would adopt the new sustainable development goals. In doing so, we committed ourselves to tackling poverty and supporting sustainable growth within Scotland. And we also pledged to promote international development overseas. That's been a growing priority for us in recent years – we have development partnerships with Pakistan, Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda.

In doing that, we work closely and well with the UK Government. However we also look to learn from other countries. For example the annual Contribution to Development Index suggests that four of the five most effective countries in the world – in terms of the overall impact of their policies on international development – are Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.

And so Scotland is now pursuing approaches which have been pioneered by Sweden and others – such as the idea that all Government policies, not just aid policies, should be consistent with international development goals. It's a good example of how the exchange of ideas among Arctic Circle countries can have a positive impact across the world.

Scotland's commitment to internationalism is relevant to one final issue I want to talk about this morning. Earlier this year the Scottish Government argued strongly for the UK to remain a member of the European Union. We welcome the EU's practical benefits – free trade, free movement, social and environmental protections. But, for all its imperfections, we also admire the principle behind it – we like the idea of independent countries working together for a common good.

And we believe that on some issues – and climate change is a good example – 28 independent nations working together can have a bigger impact than one on its own. In Paris last year, the European Union was plausibly able to negotiate with the United States and China as an equal. It played an important role in influencing the talks towards a successful conclusion.

For all of these reasons, people in Scotland voted clearly – by 62% to 38% – to remain in the EU. And so the Scottish Government is currently looking to find solutions which enable us to retain the benefits of European Union membership. We are also arguing strongly for the United Kingdom to retain membership of the single market, even as it leaves the EU. After all, the different Nordic countries here have taken different views on European Union membership, but all – including Norway and Iceland – have chosen to be members of the single market.

Fundamentally, Scotland will do everything we can to remain an open, inclusive and welcoming nation – working with our neighbours, playing a positive role in the world, and strengthening rather than weakening our partnerships with other nations. Our friendships and partnerships with the countries around us matter deeply to us. We will not allow them to be damaged by Brexit.

And that, of course, is why we warmly welcome the chance to contribute to this Arctic Circle gathering. At a time when insularity and protectionism can seem to be gaining ground, Iceland should be praised for establishing an important new forum for international co-operation. Scotland will support it in any way we can.

In doing so, we recognise that the principles behind this Arctic Circle resonate with a significant moment from Iceland's recent past.

Tuesday will see the 30th anniversary of the Reykjavik summit between President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev. It took place less than a mile from here. The summit did not see any immediate agreement, but General Secretary Gorbachev subsequently referred to it as a 'turning point' in the Cold War. Within 14 months, the USA and the USSR had negotiated reductions in missile stocks, which would have seemed inconceivable in previous decades. And just three years later, the Berlin Wall fell, as the Cold War came to an end and barriers across Europe came down.

Just before he departed for Reykjavik, President Reagan remarked on Iceland's willingness to act as host. He said that 'there could be no better testimony to the enduring commitment of the Icelandic people and government to the search for a just peace.'

The fears of the Cold War have been replaced now by other issues, including rising isolationism and international security concerns. But arguably the defining challenge of our generation – as Ban-Ki Moon said last year – is climate change. And so it is fitting that Iceland is again demonstrating its enduring commitment to a just and peaceful world. You are bringing people together to help find solutions to climate change, and to the interrelated challenges and opportunities that Arctic Circle countries share.

Scotland – a country proud of our Nordic connections, committed to our European neighbours, and keen to work with our friends from around the world – is an obvious and willing partner for you.

So I wish all of the delegates here all the best for the rest of this assembly. I hope that it can play some part in addressing climate change, promoting climate justice, and encouraging peace and sustainable prosperity. Because by doing so, it will make a positive contribution – not just to the people and environment of the arctic – but to the wellbeing of the wider world.


Email: SG Communications

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