COP26 - Scotland’s priorities: First Minister's speech - 25 October 2021

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sets out how Scotland can lead the world into the green revolution.

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Thank you for joining me on what is a beautiful Glasgow morning at a really pivotal moment for Scotland and the world.

In just six days’ time, less than two miles from where we are now, one of the most important gatherings of this century will get underway.

The leaders of more than 100 countries around the world will meet here in Glasgow. 

Events, exhibitions, meetings, will take place across our city. In total, more than 20,000 people are expected to visit.

I know that Glasgow will make the world welcome and demonstrate again, that people really do make this city.

And although I am somewhat biased - since this city has been my home now for more than 30 years - I really believe we will also show Glasgow to be the right location for a summit which simply put must accelerate the world’s transition from an unsustainable present, to a greener and fairer future.

Indeed, this venue perfectly illustrates that point.

Strathclyde University was founded, as Anderson’s Institute, at a time when Glasgow was leading the world into the industrial age.

Today, the university hosts the largest wind energy research institute of its kind anywhere in Europe.

And the research happening in this building - on how to make renewable energies more efficient; on helping power grids assimilate energy; research on air and sea transport, and much more besides – will undoubtedly help lead Scotland, and the whole world, into the net zero age.

The vital necessity of making that transition quickly and also fairly must be the message - and drive the outcome - of the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate, or COP26 as it is more commonly known.

Over the past 20 months, as the world has faced the very hard reality of a global pandemic, it might have seemed that the threat of the global climate crisis has receded.

It has not. If anything the threat has intensified. And so the time really is now to use the lessons of tackling a pandemic to speed up our efforts to save the planet.

Science, collaboration, and action across our societies have helped us manage Covid – although not as evenly across the globe as should be the case.

Getting people in all parts of the world vaccinated quickly is a challenge - indeed I think it is a moral responsibility - that developed countries must step up and meet.

But there is no doubt at all that the speed with which vaccines were developed, almost from a standing start - just as one example of our response to Covid - has been testament to human ingenuity.

We must now bring that same urgency, immediacy and creativity to meeting head on the climate crisis.

And so today I want to set out what, in my view, this COP26 summit must achieve: in terms of hard commitments on reducing emissions and on climate finance, and also – crucially – on promoting both international and intergenerational fairness.

I will then talk about the part Scotland will seek play during COP itself - by encouraging dialogue, and bridging what is sometimes called the “climate gap” in perspectives on climate change.

And I will end by reflecting on the importance of Scotland truly leading by example – leading in actions not just in words - and doing so on some of the more difficult decisions countries like ours face in making the transition to a net zero future.

So first and foremost - what must COP26 achieve? 

Above all, it must secure commitments to emissions reductions that are capable of limiting global warming to 1.5°C - at the very least, it must achieve near term commitments that keep that objective well and truly alive in the longer term.

The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change could not have been clearer about the necessity of this.

Compared to pre-industrial times, global temperatures have already risen by more than 1 degree on average.

The impacts of this are no longer distant or theoretical. They are being experienced by many people across the world, right now. Just this year - wildfires in Greece; massive flooding in Nigeria and Uganda; a food crisis in Madagascar. And of course we won’t escape the impact here in our own country.

Of course, and this is a point we all need to recognise, limiting warming to 1.5 degrees won’t prevent all of the impacts of climate change. It’s probably already too late to do that.

But every fraction of a degree above that intensifies the catastrophic nature of what we face. If we allow it to happen, we do risk life on this planet becoming unrecognisable.

Every single leader – without exception - gathering in Glasgow next week knows that. No-one can pretend otherwise.

And each and every country gathered round the negotiating table also knows the action that is needed to prevent it. So there is no excuse for failing to act.

Despite this, the world is not yet meeting the challenge. It isn’t even coming close to doing that.

As the UN Secretary General made clear last month, the definite promises made by member states at that stage - assuming they were all delivered - were sufficient only to keep temperature increases to 2.7 degrees.

He said that would create a “hellscape” on earth.

Since then, more pledges have been made to reduce emissions. And that process will no doubt continue as we approach the days ahead of COP. That is welcome. There has been progress in other areas too – such as stopping the international financing of coal powered projects.

But it is not yet nearly enough to keep global warning to 2 degrees, let alone 1.5.

So much more is needed.

I think small countries like ours can lead the way, and I will talk shortly about what we in Scotland are doing and what we need to do.

But in the coming days, it is the countries which emit the most, that most need to step up to this challenge.

They must commit to significant cuts in emissions by 2030 – which is crucial to keeping that ambition of 1.5 alive - and be clear in their determination to achieve net zero.

And to be credible, their pledges must be backed by action.

The hard fact is this: “keeping 1.5 alive” - which has become the strapline almost for COP26 is vital but it mustn’t become a face-saving slogan. It must be real.

And both in the run up to and at COP itself, there needs to be a significant uplift in ambition from the world’s biggest emitting countries to make it real.

The summit must deliver real progress in other areas, too. Climate finance is key.

12 years ago in Copenhagen, developed countries promised 100 billion dollars of climate finance every year from 2020.  In Paris, that promise was repeated.

Here in Glasgow, it must be delivered.

This money must go where it is needed most.

It must help the countries and communities now facing the worst impacts of climate change tackle the causes of it and also adapt to its consequences.

And it must be made available in a way that doesn’t load these countries with unsustainable debt.

Delivering on a 12-year old promise is – quite simply - the right thing to do. Failing to do so would be unconscionable. And it is essential to the building of good faith between developed and developing countries.

I also believe, though, that this COP needs to recognise much more fully the fundamental issues of fairness and justice at the heart of the climate crisis.

I mentioned Scotland’s industrial past earlier. That is a source of pride to us, but it should also be a real cause for reflection.

For a very long time, we have enjoyed all of the material benefits of the carbon emissions that are causing climate change.

And – like so many other developed nations - we have benefitted much more than those countries now facing and experiencing the worst impacts of the crisis.

Delivering on the 100 billion dollars a year commitment is a necessary first step that developed countries must take towards addressing climate injustice.

But we need to do more than that.

Most effort in developed countries is currently on mitigation – on averting the worst impacts of the crisis. Increasingly, and importantly, there is now a focus on adaptation too - on ensuring we can live with the changes that are inevitably to come. 

But there is a need also to address the loss and damage that has been, and is being, suffered already by communities around the world, due to drought, floods, desertification, loss of life and population displacement.

Here - as in other areas - Scotland is seeking to lead by example. Our climate justice fund was the first in the world and we have recently taken the decision to double the value of that. We are determined that it will help address loss and damage.

Of course, I recognise that in a global context, our fund is very small. But it is nevertheless important and through it we are acknowledging head on these fundamental issues of international fairness.

Loss and damage is being discussed in the second week of the COP summit and that is welcome. But it can’t simply be discussed – we must see progress. I know this is something I’ll be following closely during the summit.

This could be the first COP that sees the world takes this issue seriously. I hope it lives up to that responsibility.

There is also of course an intergenerational injustice at the heart of the climate crisis too.

I’m acutely aware that all of you here - students and youth parliamentarians - will live your lives with the climate that my and preceding generations have created.

All leaders at COP need to truly understand the concern - the entirely justified anger - that so many of you – so many of young people across the world feel.

Indeed, I know that in some ways what COP represents - rich countries coming together to haggle and negotiate over the future of the planet - might intensify rather than alleviate your anger.

On the need for climate action there is no doubt at all that your generation is far ahead of mine.

I know that some of the most challenging interactions I’ve had on climate policy have been with young activists.

I’ve been pushed to go much further and faster - and rightly so.

So for all of us in positions of leadership today, there is a really important standard that we must hold ourselves to

Can we look you and your peers across the world in the eye and say that we are doing enough?

Right now, the simple answer to that question is ‘no’, we’re not.

A fundamental test of success for COP26 is that it starts to turn that ‘no’ into ‘yes’.

My pledge today is that the Scottish Government will do everything and anything we can to ensure that COP26 is a success.

We won’t be at the negotiating table directly. We’re not an independent state - not yet.

But as host country, we do have a big role to play - and we also carry a big and very serious responsibility.

I have made clear to both the UN and the UK government that we stand ready and willing to do anything and everything we can to support the negotiations.

The UK’s Presidency of COP26 is a massive opportunity, but also a serious responsibility.

I know that the Prime Minister, and the UK Government, are determined to step up in the days ahead and show real commitment and leadership. The Scottish Government will do everything we can to help.

After all, this summit will shape the future of the world we live in.

So absolutely nothing - and certainly not party politics – should stand in the way of us working together towards a successful outcome.

One of Scotland’s objectives during the summit itself is to be a bridge builder - to connect those whose voices are too rarely heard, with those making the decisions.

I quoted Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, earlier. In the same speech that I quoted he talked about the need to “bridge the climate divide”.

And so part of our role at this COP will be to provide the spaces and forums, and support the initiatives, that will allow these bridges to be built.

Firstly, between the developed and developing worlds.

We have supported the Glasgow climate dialogues which facilitate discussion between the global south and the developed world, and also the global citizens’ assembly to give people from around the world the opportunity to be heard on climate action.

Second, between young people and the leaders whose decisions will shape your future.

The Scottish Government has funded the Conference of Youth, which starts on Thursday and is the first major in-person event of COP. 

More than 400 young people from more than 120 countries will gather to draw up their demands of world leaders. I will speak at the opening event - but more importantly I will listen.

I have also made a commitment to meet regularly throughout COP with Vanessa Nakate from Uganda. Vanessa is the founder of Youth for the Future Africa, and the Africa based Rise-up Africa movement.

Hearing her perspective at key stages over the two weeks will I think - be an important reality check.

And thirdly, we will seek to build a bridge between the UN member states in the negotiating room, and the governments of cities, regions and devolved nations like ours.

Scotland is currently the European co-chair of the Under 2 Coalition, that  is a powerful alliance of city, regional and devolved governments from around the world.

Collectively, we represent almost 2 billion people - and around half of the reduction in emissions necessary to meet the challenge of 1.5 degrees will depend on decisions taken by governments like ours.

So we carry a great deal of responsibility - but also a great deal of influence. We intend to use it to the full during COP.

Today a new Just Transition Alliance is being established within the Coalition to ensure that all member governments can access the resources, support and information necessary to deliver just transitions.

And last week, the Coalition agreed a new memorandum of understanding. It commits us, collectively, to reach net zero by 2050 at the latest and to do so individually as fast as possible. Scotland, of course, is legally committed to doing so by 2045.

Along with my fellow co-chairs from California, Korea, Mexico and South Africa, I will be working during and after COP to increase support for those commitments.

The focus at COP 26 will – inevitably – be on the negotiations between the big countries.

But Governments at all levels have a responsibility.

And Scotland is determined to play our full part.

But our ability to do that depends on our own climate credibility.

Scotland cannot urge other countries to set and meet ambitious targets, if we fail to do that ourselves.

We must lead, not by the strength of our rhetoric, but by the power of our example.

And so that’s the final issue I want to focus on today.

In most comparisons of international climate targets, Scotland does rank very well indeed.

Indeed, the UK Committee on Climate Change confirmed last year that we have decarbonised more quickly than any G20 nation.

We’ve already halved our emissions since 1990.

We are committed to a 75% reduction by 2030, which means halving them again over the course of this decade.

And we aim to reach net zero – and therefore completely end our contribution to climate change - by 2045 at the latest.

Our targets are not just amongst the most ambitious anywhere in the world - they are also amongst the toughest.

For instance we are one of very few countries to have legally binding annual targets for every year of our journey to net zero.

We are also one of only a few to include shipping and aviation in the calculation of our emissions.

And we have pledged to meet our targets through domestic effort, not by reliance on international credit trading.

So we here have much to be proud of.

But still we need to do much better.

It is not enough to set tough targets - we must meet those targets.

Despite all of our progress, we have fallen short on our last three annual milestones.

Two years ago, our emissions were 51.5% lower than in 1990. But to meet that year’s annual target, they needed to be 55% lower.

The law in Scotland stipulates that if we miss any annual targets, we must outperform in future years to make up for it.

So this week we will publish a catch-up plan.

It will highlight some of the actions already announced this year.

And also set out a range of additional measures - for example, to decarbonise public sector buildings; promote home upgrades; and make bus travel cleaner and more accessible.

Many of these measures were committed to in the Co-operation Agreement between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party - an agreement which explicitly, and rightly, places climate policy at the heart of everything we do.

Over the next three weeks, we will highlight other aspects of the work the Scottish Government is doing to put the climate front and centre - it will include planning policy, agriculture, nature restoration, wave and tidal power and green hydrogen. On all these, we are stepping up our ambition and our action.

For example, there is a licensing round underway right now for up to 10 gigawatts of offshore wind power.

And later this week we will set out plans to further increase our onshore wind capacity.

We will also talk – as we need to do – about the future of our oil and gas industry.

I want to address that issue now, since it’s one – rightly – that the Scottish Government is often challenged on.

Before I do so, though, I want to reflect briefly on the UK government’s decision last week not to give priority support to an important part of Scotland’s planned journey to net zero.

The Scottish Government is a strong supporter of the Scottish Cluster of proposed projects for carbon capture and storage – or CCS. The cluster includes the Acorn project in Aberdeenshire, which recently bid for support and funding. 

Despite the fact that Acorn was considered the most advanced of the projects bidding to be taken forward, it was passed over.

I find that decision inexplicable on any objective grounds.

Acorn is the lowest cost, and most deliverable, planned CCS project anywhere in the UK.

And the Scottish cluster would support approximately 15,000 jobs over the next three decades or so – many of them in the North East and around Grangemouth, which of course are currently highly dependent on high-carbon industries.

It could also have stored up to 5-6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2030 – approximately 10% of Scotland’s current emissions - and up to 20 million tonnes by around 2040.

I know – and it’s important to recognise this – that there is a fear - and I understand that fear - that carbon capture and storage will simply be used to justify the unsustainable extraction of more and more fossil fuels.

That must not be the case.

But it is a vital part of meeting our climate targets.

That is why the Scottish Government made clear that we would support the project. And why in my view last week’s decision must be revisited.

The fact is that CCS can help reduce emissions and capture carbon where we have no alternatives - but it does not, and must not mean that fossil fuel extraction in Scotland can continue without limit.

Because – and this is the fundamental point - there must be a transition away from dependence on oil and gas.

The question all countries face is how fast that will be.

For countries like Scotland - with a significant and long established oil and gas industry - this is undoubtedly one of the most difficult issues we face as we tackle the climate emergency.

Tens of thousands of jobs are dependent - currently - on oil and gas production. Those jobs and the people in them matter.

And of course much of our energy use is still catered for by oil and gas.

So for countries like ours - with significant remaining reserves of oil and gas - it is tempting to tell ourselves that for both economic and energy reasons, we must keep exploring for and extracting oil and gas until the last possible moment.

That in my view would be fundamentally wrong.

That approach would lead only to a vicious cycle of inaction and missed opportunity. 

The more we tell ourselves we will always have oil and gas as a safety net, the less motivated we will be to speed up the development of the alternatives, to train people for new jobs in emerging technologies, and to deliver the just transition we and the world needs.

It’s an approach that cannot be justified in the face of the climate emergency - but it cannot be justified economically either.

In Scotland, we already have a highly advanced renewable energy industry. Nearly 100% of our net electricity demand already comes from renewable sources.

Put simply, we are one of the countries with the greatest capacity to make the transition away from fossil fuels - and to reap the economic benefits of doing so.

So it is vital that we accelerate the development of alternative sources of energy.

We must do so, of course, to reduce reliance on an unsustainable source of energy - but also to seize the economic opportunities that the transition offers us.

This need to face up to the climate emergency and speed up the transition is why, for example, we believe that the proposed Cambo development must be reassessed.

The International Energy Agency is even blunter - in its assessment, there should be no new oil and gas fields approved anywhere.

Not everyone will agree with that, of course, but the necessity of accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels could not be clearer.

As part of that, we must accept - as our Co-operation Agreement already does - that continued unlimited recovery of hydrocarbons is not consistent with meeting the aims of the Paris Agreement.

And nor, in my view, is it consistent with maximising the economic benefits of the transition to renewable and low carbon sources of energy.

To support our transition domestically, the Scottish Government will publish a new Energy Strategy next year.

The principle underpinning it will be the one already encapsulated in our Co-operation Agreement - that unlimited extraction of fossil fuels, or maximum economic recovery in UK policy terms, is not consistent with our climate obligations.

Instead, our focus will be on achieving the fastest possible just transition for the oil and gas sector - one that delivers jobs and economic benefit, ensures our energy security, and meets our climate obligations.

Arguably, there is no country in the world better placed than Scotland to maximise the benefit of that transition.

To inform the strategy, we will carry out an analysis of Scotland’s energy requirements as we move to net zero.

This research will help us determine how the sector can help deliver our contribution to the Paris targets, and how meeting our own energy needs can help build a new low-emission energy industry.

And absolutely central to our work will be protecting and supporting those who currently work in oil and gas.

As part of the new strategy, we are developing a Just Transition plan for the energy sector, with a particular focus on the north east of Scotland and already backed by £500 million.

In many areas - offshore wind and green hydrogen are good examples of this - the skills that oil and gas workers currently already have are hugely valuable and eminently transferable.

In fact, many leading employers in the oil and gas industry are already investing in some of the opportunities the transition will bring.

So we will help workers take advantage of these opportunities which is a fundamental part of ensuring that Scotland’s transition to net zero is a fair one.

In a building like this one – with so much astonishing research work being carried out - it’s clear how many opportunities for both economic and environmental progress the transition to net zero can bring.

But we must recognise that those opportunities won’t always be so obvious to those whose current jobs feel threatened.

That is why, in Scotland, our just transition will put fairness for workers and communities front and centre.

That focus on justice and fairness will be central to Scotland’s whole approach to COP26.

We will seek to set a strong example in our domestic actions, even where the decisions around that are difficult as the decisions on oil and gas undoubtedly are.

We will do everything we can to support an outcome that will keep alive the imperative of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, and which also recognises the vital importance for climate justice.

And we will use our position, as the host country, to create spaces and dialogues which encourage empathy, promote understanding and help people share perspectives.

We will encourage national governments to match the ambition of cities, regions and state governments.

We will help those around the negotiating table listen to activists in the developed world and from the global South.

And we will work to ensure that leaders of my generation understand that our failure to act now will represent a betrayal of young people right around the world.

If Scotland can successfully play a role in bridging these gaps in understanding and experience, we will – I think – massively increase the chances of COP 26 being the success that we need it to be.

And we will ensure that the urgency used in tackling the Covid crisis, is finally brought to bear in tackling the climate crisis.   

There is a lot at stake in our city over the next three weeks, there is no doubt about that. This may well be the world’s best – but also possibly its last - opportunity to avert climate catastrophe.

But if that opportunity is taken, the benefits will be plentiful.

So this is a moment for hope, but above all a moment for delivery, for turning promises into actions.

And for Glasgow - this great city that helped lead the world into the industrial age - it is an opportunity in this new era to help power the planet  towards net zero.

The Scottish Government – as I hope I have indicated today - will do all and everything we can to help bring that about.

Because there is no doubt whatsoever that the future of our planet demands it.

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