Arctic Circle Assembly 2017: First Minister's speech

First Minister speaks about climate change.

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President Grimsson, I remember last year when you welcomed us all to the 2016 conference, you referred to the Arctic Assembly as a "dynamic and growing coalition". That sense of dynamism and momentum – of a forum whose time has come - was immediately obvious to me then on my first visit to this Assembly, and it is apparent once again today.

So I am delighted to return for my second Arctic Circle Assembly. And I am delighted that Scotland is – as we promised last year – playing an increasingly prominent role.

John McNairney, our Chief Planner, is leading a session later this afternoon about planning for a low carbon future. Nordic Horizons – an independent think tank - are also leading a session on sustainable development in communities.

And next month, Scotland will host our first ever Arctic Circle Forum – "Scotland and the New North" – a two day event in Edinburgh which will focus in particular on innovation, science and sustainable development. I am hosting a reception tonight to promote that event on the third level of this centre. I hope to see a large number of you there.

Scotland's involvement in the Arctic Circle is just one strand of our efforts to build closer alliances with our northern neighbours. For example two weeks ago we published a revised policy statement for Baltic and Nordic nations. It illustrates how we are working with – and learning from – those countries across a range of different policy areas.

And perhaps the key message of my speech today is that I want that co-operation to deepen and strengthen further.

I want to begin by talking about an event which is happening next week, which is deeply relevant to the session we had earlier this morning. On Wednesday - together with representatives of Statoil, Norway's state energy company, the Norwegian Government, and Abu Dhabi's Masdar institute, who are coinvestors in the project – I will open the Hywind Scotland offshore wind farm, 25 kilometres off Peterhead.

Hywind Scotland is the largest floating wind farm anywhere in the world. It will generate enough electricity to power for 20,000 homes. But it is maybe even more important as a sign for the future, as we develop offshore wind in deep waters.

And its establishment will further enhance Scotland's reputation as a home to new energy technology.

Scotland is already home to the world's largest tidal power array.

The European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney is the foremost wave and tidal power testing site anywhere in the world.

And we have impressive capabilities in other areas – for example smart grids and battery storage.

Now, when Ban-Ki Moon addressed this conference last year, he described the Arctic as the "ground zero" of climate change. He highlighted that a temperature increase of 2% worldwide might well mean an increase of 4 or 5 degrees within the Arctic Circle.

Patricia Espinosa has further underlined this morning how crucial it is that the world meets the Paris agreement ; that we ensure that global climate change is limited to well below 2 degrees celsius.

Scotland is determined to play our part. Our renewable electricity output has almost trebled in the last decade and is now equivalent to more than half of the electricity used in Scotland. We are on on course to meet our 2020 climate change target – which when we set it was the most ambitious anywhere in the world.

But we know that we need to go even further. We decided last week not to allow fracking in Scotland. This week, I announced that by the end of this parliament, Scotland would establish a new publicly-owned energy company. Later in this parliament, we will legislate to further strengthen our climate change targets.

And we are setting other ambitious long term goals. Last month, I announced that by 2032 Scotland aims to eliminate the need for new diesel and petrol cars and vans. Scotland's baby box generation - the children who received those first baby boxes in August – will probably never drive new conventional petrol cars.

We see tackling climate change, first and foremost, as an overwhelming moral imperative. However we also see it as a major economic opportunity. Scotland already employs almost 60,000 people in low carbon industries, and there is scope for signiifcant further growth.

And our approach to low carbon industries mirrors our wider approach to innovation and economic growth. We believe that if we set a clear ambition to lead technological change, not trail in its wake, we will better position ourselves to be the inventor and producer of new technologies, not just the consumer of them.

Arctic nations, and the other countries represented here today, are obvious partners in this. I've mentioned Hywind Scotland – as an example of a project delivered in Scotland through international partners.

Scotland is also currently working with Norway and other European nations on carbon capture and storage.

We are learning from Denmark's energy efficiency programme. And when I was in the USA earlier in the year, I signed a co-operation agreement on climate change with Governor Brown of California.

In addition, after I arrived in Iceland yesterday, I visited Carbon Recycling International – their process for producing methanol in a sustainable manner potentially has applications in Scotland and I'm sure in many other countries. It's a fantastic example of the fact that the countries and territiories represented here – far from being peripheral or remote – are often at the centre of technological change.

Arctic nations already provide 5 of the 10 largest sources of foreign investment into Scotland. They also provide 3 of Scotland's 6 largest export markets.

That reflects the fact that we have strong ties – not just in energy and low carbon technology, but in areas from food and drink and sustainable tourism, to other fields such as education, life sciences and advanced engineering. I believe that all of us have a huge amount to gain from further integration and collaboration.

And it's maybe worth stressing that the benefits of collaboration apply to social policy, as well as economic policy. Since August of this year, parents of new born babies across Scotland have received baby boxes. That's a policy we learned about from Finland. We are also finding out about Denmark's experience in delivering disability benefits. And we are working with Iceland and others on issues such as the protection of vulnerable children.

This social dimension to our collaboration shouldn't be surprising. One of the questions which countries across the world are struggling with at present is how to ensure that a dynamic, open and innovative economy goes hand in hand with a fair, inlcusive and sustainable society.

No country has all of the answers, but Arctic countries on many measures are doing pretty well. For example they account for 5 of the top 11 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index. So for Scotland, it clearly makes sense for us to look north as well as south when we tackle major social and economic challenges.

Now of course, as we do that, an important part of the context to all of this is our relationship with Europe. The Scottish Government will continue to argue that, even if the UK is determined to leave the European Union – a decision we deeply regret - it should remain a member of the single market and the customs union.

The five nations of the Nordic Council provide quite an interesting comparison here. All of them have different ways of interacting with Europe, and only two are actually members of the European Union. However all of them are members of the single market.

The Scottish Government believes that the UK Government's approach to Brexit is deeply damaging and counter-productive. So Scotland will continue to argue strongly for single market membership.

We believe it is the best way - or at least, the least worst way - to protect our scientific research base, preserve jobs and retain the rights of EU citizens. And it also forms the best basis for trading and co-operating with countries across the world – including the nations of this Arctic Circle Assembly.

In all of this, Scotland is determined, despite Brexit, to remain an open, internationalist, outward looking nation. Strengthening our role in the Arctic Circle is an important part of that.

President Grimsson, you spoke last year of a growing international awareness that the Arctic "can play a profound role in the future of humankind".

Scotland will be a willing partner in that enterprise. We are a nation which is linked to so many Arctic countries, not just through history, geography, culture and kinship, but also through shared policy priorities, interests and values.

Our hope is that working more closely with the Arctic Circle, will help us build a fairer, more prosperous and more sustainable society within Scotland. But we also believe that we can play a part – together with all of you - in bringing benefits to nations across the Arctic and around the world.

I look forward to working with all of you to achieve that - over the course of this assembly, in Edinburgh in November, and in the months and years to come.

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