- 15 Apr 2019
Thank you, Jim, and thanks to all of you for coming. It is an honour to welcome you to Edinburgh and to Scotland.
You’re in a city and a country which, in the 18th century, were at the very heart of the European Enlightenment. If you walked down the High Street and Canongate to get down here, you will have passed by the statues of our great philosophers David Hume and Adam Smith.
At that time, James Hutton’s observations on Salisbury Crags – among other places- made him known as the father of geology.
And Edinburgh University – where you are holding your meetings this week - is where Joseph Black studied and was later a professor. In the 1750s he gave the first lectures on the properties of a gas that he called fixed air – and which we now know as carbon dioxide.
In fact, the range of breakthroughs and inventions coming from Scotland has been so great that one author has gone so far as to say that Scotland invented the modern world!
So you are in a city, and a country, which has a rich tradition of research and intellectual inquiry.
However – much more importantly - we also see scientific excellence as being central to our future. Scottish universities and businesses have immense strengths in areas such as life sciences, advanced manufacturing and big data. And low carbon technology is another area in which we excel.
For example Edinburgh University – where Joseph Black once studied - now has a centre for carbon innovation, and hosts an internationally recognised ocean energy simulator.
Scotland is also host to the only two floating windfarms anywhere in the world.
We are home to the world’s largest tidal power array, in the Pentland Firth off the north coast of Scotland. And we have significant strengths in areas such as smart grids and energy storage.
So in many ways, Scotland is the perfect venue for a conference of this kind.
And I want to stress how delighted we are to be your hosts this week.
Scotland hosts lots of international conferences and events - but I believe that this is the most important gathering that will be held in Scotland this year.
In fact, it is one of the most important gatherings that will take place anywhere in the world.
After all, climate change is the biggest economic, environmental and moral issue that the planet faces.
Brexit – which you may have noticed is consuming a lot of attention – is hugely significant for Scotland, but climate change is an even greater issue.
And although the responsibility of demonstrating leadership on climate change lies with politicians - we have to be guided by science and by evidence when we make our decisions.
Over the last 30 years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has amassed and analysed evidence with meticulous care. It has proven that climate change is already happening. It has shown the severity of climate change’s consequences. And in its report last year it demonstrated that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees - rather than 2 degrees or more - is still technically feasible.
The IPCC report also demonstrated – disappointingly - that the world is not currently on track to meet the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.
If we fail to meet those goals – more species will be at risk of extinction; there will be even more extreme weather events such as Cyclone Idai; and more people will die through food shortages and drought.
The IPCC’s next report, in 2021 will provide further evidence of the impacts of climate change. The area your working group is looking at– how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and remove emissions from the atmosphere – will be invaluable to policy-makers around the world.
Dr Lee - who I’m delighted is here this week - last year described the IPCC as “the voice of climate science”. I can assure you that in Scotland, your voice will be keenly listened to.
We will support the IPCC’s work in every way we can. We will value your research. We will take heed of your recommendations. And by doing so, we will ensure that Scotland plays its full part in the fight against climate change.
We are already making progress. For example, we have almost halved our carbon emissions since 1990.
Today, the Scottish parliament debated our latest climate change bill. They unanimously backed the principles behind it. It is based on the need to keep to the Paris agreement. And so it sets out the toughest statutory targets anywhere in the world for 2020, 2030 and 2040. It also sets a target of making Scotland a carbon-neutral economy by 2050, and of reducing emissions of all greenhouse gases by 90%.
Our statutory advisors – the UK Committee on Climate Change – previously told us that 90% represented ‘the limit of feasibility’. When I saw the IPCC’s most recent report last year, I asked the Committee to look at this again.
I have already said that I will change Scotland’s 2050 target to net zero, if they advise us that is feasible. We are determined to ensure that Scotland’s targets are as tough as is scientifically feasible.
To meet those targets, we are investing now in areas such as low carbon heat, and energy efficiency. In recent years we have doubled our investment in active travel such as walking and cycling, and we are promoting the use of electric or hydrogen vehicles - we have set out an ambition that by 2032, there will be no need for new petrol or diesel cars in Scotland.
And we have significantly expanded our use of renewable energy. Renewables already provide more than 70% of Scotland’s gross electricity demand.
All of this progress is important environmentally. And it is also starting to provide economic benefits. More than 40,000 people in Scotland are now employed in low carbon industries.
That reflects a further strand in our action on climate change. Scotland recognises that the transition to a carbon neutral economy is, first and foremost, an overwhelming moral imperative.
However it is also an economic opportunity. We have a chance to develop new technologies, create new jobs, enhance our environment and improve our health.
Jim is the chair of our Just Transition Commission – we have appointed that Commission because we know that major economic changes sometimes leave people behind. They lead to unhealthy concentrations of wealth, or unemployment in specific sectors or parts of the country.
So Jim’s commission will produce recommendations to ensure that the move to a low carbon economy doesn’t simply create a greener Scotland – we also want it to produce a fairer and healthier Scotland.
I began this speech by looking to Scotland’s past; but I want to end by looking to the future.
All of us should be determined to ensure that our generation does not let future generations down.
I am determined that Scotland won’t let the next generation down. I want us to play a full part, once again, in inventing the modern world – in leading the world into a carbon neutral future.
In doing that, we will always listen to the expertise and analysis of scientists here in Scotland, and right around the world.
So for all of those reasons, it is an honour to host you all. Scotland is delighted to be able to help the efforts of the IPCC.
I hope that this week’s meeting provides a firm foundation for the work that you will be doing over the next couple of years – and that by doing so, it helps the world to make real progress in tackling climate change.