Financing the green economy: First Minister’s speech

Speech by First Minister Humza Yousaf at the Financing the Green Economy event, Climate Week NYC, on 18 September 2023. 

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It’s genuinely a real pleasure to speak at today’s event. These discussions are of course of the utmost importance. But I think we can all agree when it comes to tackling the climate crisis that all of us face, the time for talking is over. What we need now is action.

Everybody here today knows, we have now entered an era of climate change that stands between us and the very advancement of global civilisation.

An era of climate impacts without borders – made evident when New York’s skyline turned red this summer, by the smoke of raging wildfires in Canada. How many people have lost their lives to climate catastrophes this year?

On the 7 June this year, the air quality in this very city was the worst of any city in the world.

In Scotland, a country famed for its rain, we had warnings of water scarcity.

In July of course, the UN Secretary-General said: “the evidence is everywhere: humanity has unleashed destruction.”

“Humanity” is not an abstract construct. It is you and I, we, the human race, no one else. We have unleashed destruction. But not a destruction that is felt equally, one that is rooted in inequality that harms the poorest, the most vulnerable in our society, the most vulnerable on our planet.

Government pledges come in by the billions, but far too often the money doesn’t go out the door.

When you have a crisis, you have to act with urgency. The urgency that crisis demands, and I am afraid those of us in the Global North are simply not responding fast enough.

I ask other heads of governments, are we really moving with the urgency this crisis demands?

Ask those in Lahaina on Maui if we’re moving fast enough.

Ask those in Derna in Libya, the survivors, if we are moving with urgency and pace.

Ask those in Greece, Italy and Spain who were engulfed in wildfires as record temperatures set their countries ablaze, ask them if we are demonstrating enough urgency.

Ask those in Pakistan, China, India and South Korea who have lost their homes, swept away in devastating floods, ask them if they think the world is prioritising its response to the climate emergency.

No, the truth is that we are collectively guilty of catastrophic negligence, and our children have every right to be angry and they have every right frankly not to forgive us if we do not step up.

Not a single community on Earth will be left untouched by the effects of climate change, but that suffering is not divided equally.

It is for this reason that our acts of global solidarity as a community are more important now than ever before.

Friends, I am very proud to be the First Minister of Scotland. I’m also very conscious of our history.

As a country of innovation, invention, ideas. Around 250 years ago existed some of the world’s most prominent moral philosophers resided in Scotland: Adam Smith, Fanny Wright and David Hume to name just a few.

It was Adam Smith who famously said:

“No society can surely be flourishing and happy of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”

That is just as true now as it was 250 years ago.

That is why tackling the climate catastrophe isn’t just the right thing to do for the sustainability of our planet, not just right to do for our economy, but it is also our moral obligation too.

For communities in the Global South, new climate shocks arrive before they have even had time to recover from the last one.

And the recent UN stocktake emphasises that loss and damage risks are still growing, as extreme weather events increase in frequency and severity. Alongside slow-onset risks like sea level rise.

In Malawi, for example, generations of residents have contributed little in terms of emissions, but it is their communities being washed away by a warming planet.

Homes are destroyed. Hospitals overwhelmed. Schools swept away. Businesses, farms, even burial grounds having to be moved to higher ground.

My goodness, it isn’t just the living that are suffering the consequences of our inaction, even the dead. This is climate injustice.

So, when the need is so clear, why hasn’t more progress been made?

At a time when budgets are tight, believe me I know, It is hard for governments and businesses to do this. But funding must not only be pledged, it must be mobilised.

This is also our moral obligation.

Pledging is the easy bit.

Pledges alone don’t rebuild communities, pledges alone don’t fund flood resilience, pledges alone don’t fund a just transition.

It is money – not pledged but deployed - that makes the difference.

It is action and help on the ground that makes the difference.

And this is where I feel, and certainly hope, Scotland can play a significant role in calling for greater international action – even though Scotland’s entire population is less than that of this great city.

I say this because Scotland, in comparison to this great country, we are small, but we are also agile. We are an outward-looking nation, ready to put people at the heart of our international climate action.

Our policies have been informed by tireless advocacy from Small Island States, climate vulnerable communities in the Global South, by environmental NGOs and of course our interaction with UN agencies.

And our policy is to rollout programmes that meet the real needs of the communities most affected − informed by the experience of experts and most crucially by communities on the ground.

Scotland recognises that governments and communities in the Global South have been paying the price for the impacts of climate change not for years but for decades. 

Scotland was the first country to declare a climate emergency in 2019, and the first Global North country to commit funds to loss and damage.

And 11 years later, it remains the only government-led climate justice fund in the world.

That’s something we’d like to help to change.

Not because mobilising £36 million, Scotland’s contribution, will change the entire course of climate history, but because we hope it might inspire others to come with us, on a journey of practical action.

Today, I am pleased to announce that we will be extending our funding to communities impacted by Storm Freddy in Malawi to a total of £800,000 − in partnership with the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund.

This programme so far, in just eight months, has reached over 86,000 people in Malawi, protecting them from future floods, helping to build resilient homes, and increasing access to safe drinking water. 

And just as I have said, we are not going to just pledge money, we are going to make sure it goes out the door. In that vein, I am also pleased to announce that the Climate Justice Resilience Fund will be our partners delivering a £5 million Non-Economic Loss and Damage programme, which will be mobilised this year.

This will help families and individuals who have suffered non-economic loss, such as health impacts, gender based violence and nature loss, as a result of the climate emergency.

We will provide a further £1 million of funding, for action to address loss and damage, that will be mobilised through Scotland’s Humanitarian Emergency Fund.

Taken together that means that the £7 million Scotland pledged at COP 26 and COP 27 has been allocated in full. It’s not not sitting in the government’s treasury but, during what’s undoubtedly the most strained economic conditions our government has faced in recent memory, we are putting our money where our mouth is and ensuring the people who need it the most receive it. That to me is climate action. A call I hope other governments can heed.

Friends, at times the situation can feel bleak, in the face of the enormous existential challenge we face.

But I don’t believe we can allow ourselves to become fatalistic, we cannot allow ourselves to fall into a spiral of doom.

Because there is hope. And I can tell you where to find it – in our young people. They are our moral compass, the moral compass of our world, and they are rightly not prepared to be silent, they are angry that their future is being taken away, and they are mobilising.

So let us do right by our children, let us do right by our grandchildren, by those generations yet unborn. Our young people are rightly taking to the streets in every city, town and village, including here of course in New York yesterday.

So let us take this moment to rededicate ourselves to the cause of climate justice. Let us pledge not to offer mere warm words, but action.

I can pledge Scotland will continue to play our part. We will transition from being the oil and gas capital of Europe to unleashing our renewable potential and becoming the net zero capital of the world.

We will show moral leadership and ensure funding for loss and damage is not just pledged - but paid, and I would urge other nations to join us. The very existence of our planet and humanity depends on it.

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