First Minister speech at the 43rd T.B. Macaulay Lecture - 2 November 2021

Speech given by the First Minister at 43rd T.B. Macaulay Lecture at the University of Strathclyde on Tuesday 2nd November. 

What an honour it is to to be part of this Macaulay lecture. An honour obviously  because of the history and heritage of this lecture – T.B Macaulay founded his Institute in 1930 to improve the productivity of Scottish agriculture. So it’s an honour for that reason but also because of the continued and very current relevance of how Scotland’s understand. I would argue that the work that he started – which continues as part of the James Hutton Institute - is more important now than at any time in the last 91 years.

The Hutton Institute is now making a significant contribution to Scotland’s understanding – and the world’s understanding – of key global issues such as food, energy and environmental security.

It’s also a huge honour to follow Anuna, Lola and Julieta – who spoke so brilliantly – and to speak just before Christiana Figueres, who I have been a huge admirer of for a huge number of years. In fact, I was on her podcast - “outrage and optimism” – which is probably a good summary for all we are feeling right now – just a couple of weeks ago.

We spoke then about the role that small countries can play in helping to confront and address the global challenge of climate change and the accompanying nature crisis and that’s relevant to what I want to talk about tonight. I want to highlight some of the ways in which Scotland is seeking, not always succeeding but seeking to show leadership and also in doing that I hope illustrating the power of small countries, particularly when we come together with cities, regions, state governments across the world to make sure we’re living up to our responsibilities but also apply pressure to the bigger, more powerful countries that often fail to step up to do what is required.

But before I do that I wanted to say a word or two and I’m sure Christiana will reflect on this as well later on COP, on what is happening not too far away from where we are right now.

I, yesterday morning when I arrived at the COP Summit site took the opportunity to sit down for a short while with Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate and I did that and deliberately did that as one of the first engagements I had at COP because I decided and I feel very strongly that nobody in my position should feel comfortable about the discussions that are taking place here this week and next week. When I spoke to Greta and Vanessa and I think we’ve heard here this evening again, the frustration is tangible and I understand and sympathise with that a great extent but something in COP and what I hope COP is and represents and I’ll come on the more positive impacts shortly but there is something in what it represents that I can understand is almost obscene to people who are seized of the urgency of climate change, it’s rich countries, vested interest coming together to negotiate and haggle over the future of the planet and if that frustration, the frustration at the absence, relative absence sometimes of the voices of the global South, of women, of young people is tangible and understandable.

But we are where we are, here in the great city, the greatest city in the world of Glasgow, obviously in my entirely unbiased opinion. With COP26 happening here and therefore it’s important that we do everything we can to make it as successful as it can be and to make sure it represents as much progress as possible.

Coming in to this summit, there’s probably been no time in our history when it has been as clear, as starkly clear what was needed and what needs to be done and therefore the objective of this summit, it has been described as and I think rightly so our best chance but very probably our last chances, to secure commitments that will limit global warming to 1.5°C – or at the very least, to secure the near term commitments that keep that goal alive as an objective.

Also to deliver on the promises, the now 12 years old promises on climate finance so that the countries like this one that have done to cause climate change, repay our debts, live up to our obligations to the countries that have done the least to cause climate change but are living most immediately with the most stark consequences of that.

And also in my view the obligation of this Summit to address for the first time really the loss and damage that is already being suffered by too many communities around the world as a result of the climate crisis. So those were the clear objectives, are the clear objectives for this Summit, coming in to it though there was a gulf between commitments and requirements and it is likely to be the case that as this Summit closes there will continue to be a gap between commitments and requirements, so I think it’s really important that yes we recognise and mark the progress that will be made because progress will undoubtedly be made, we are seeing some of that, not enough, over the early days of these discussions but also to recognise with honesty and with transparency that inadequate progress is not enough, the warming of the planet, the dire catastrophic, existential consequences of that will not wait for the world to decide that it needs to take sufficient action to deal with the reality and the urgency of that so as the Summit close in almost just under two weeks time it is going to be so important to be honest and transparent about what continues to be done and to be clear on the process that must come out of this to make sure the remaining progress, the significant remaining progress can be made.

So what is Scotland seeking to do to lead by example? Seeking like I said bit not always succeeding, as I mentioned already, I deliberately sat down with Greta and Vanessa yesterday to start my involvement in this COP with a significant degree of discomfort because everybody in my position should feel that – so let me say this loudly and clearly before I briefly say what Scotland is seeking to do.

Scotland is not doing enough and you can quote me on that because it is really important that none of us shy away from the scale of the challenge and thus far, our failure to properly face up to that, we are a small.. relatively small country but we are seeking to lead by example so we have already decarbonised, faster than most other countries across the world, certainly faster than any other G20 country, we are half way to net zero but the first half of any journey is usually easier than the remaining half.

We set targets that are consistent with the Paris Agreement, a 75% reduction in emissions by 2030, climate neutral net zero by 2045. We have legally binding annual targets so that they’re not simply targets in the distance we need to report against, we don’t always meet them and that’s where we need to do better but we’re legally obliged to catch up for those years where we fall short.

Secondly, this is not easy for a country like Scotland, we’re not shying away, I am trying not to shy away from the really tough issues and that includes oil and gas, that is particularly oil and gas, Cambo was mentioned earlier on.

Scotland is a country that for four, almost five decades had lots of employment, lots of economic activity, lots of revenue generated, it depended on fossil fuels, it dependent on oil and gas, so this is a big issue for Scotland but any country that only faces up to the easy issues and shy's away from the tough issues is not doing everything that is required. We cannot go on, drilling for new oil and gas indefinitely, we simply cannot because that is not compatible with the obligation we owe the planet and the generations we hope will inhabit the planet in the future so we must accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels, we cannot accept the unenviably of a certain period in the future where we continue to drill for oil and gas.

We’re also seeking to use our land, one of Scotland’s greatest assets, restoring peatlands, planting trees, innovating in agriculture with the Hutton Institute of course is so important and so world leading.

And lastly in terms of what we are seeking to do in leading by example is recognising the massive debt and obligation that countries like ours, industrialised, developed countries like ours owe to the global south.

We are here in Glasgow, the city that quite literally was the birthplace of the industrial revolution, the Summit is taking place on the banks of the Clyde, 100 years ago somebody looking up and down the Clyde would have seen around a fifth of the world’s shipping tonnage being built on the River Clyde.

We have benefited down generations form the emissions that are now causing climate change, it has generated the prosperity that we have enjoyed, we have an obligation now to help those dealing with the consequences of that, mitigate, adapt and repair the loss that has already been suffered, that’s why and it’s small given Scotland’s relative small in a global context, we’re increasing our commitment to climate justice funding, not reducing it. We’re increasing our commitment to international aid and we’ve become, yesterday. One of the first developed countries to say that we are going to commit resources to loss and damage.

So are we doing enough? No we are not. And we need to be challenged each and every day on that but we are seeking as a small country to show the way and the leadership that we are bringing to this and I hope the voices that we’ve heard tonight, the voices like Greta and Vanessa and young people across Scotland, continue to make life uncomfortable for people like me.

Time is running out. That is what was said to us earlier on. When I sat in the opening ceremony of the Summit yesterday, one of the videos encapsulated our challenge but our morale responsibility very well, reminded us that we are probably the only civilization in the universe, we may have been the only one ever, we may e the only one ever and yet we are threatened, our existence, our future is threatened.

We are a species that know the threat, we see the threat and we know what we need to do to avert the threat. Imagine being the generation that didn’t take the action that was necessary and allow this planet of ours to become unsustainable, uninhabitable, extinct – let’s not do that.

So lets keep listening to the voice that are telling us what must be done and let’s keep challenging ourselves each and every day because time is running out to do everything that is required.

Back to top