World Forum on Climate Justice: First Minister's speech

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's speech at World Forum on Climate Justice in Glasgow on 19 June 2019.

Thank you, Pamela. Thanks to Professor Jafrey and her team for organising this world forum on climate justice. And a special thanks to all of you for coming along here to take part in these discussions and deliberations. It is an absolute honour to be able to welcome delegates from 35 countries right around the world to my home city.

It’s a particular honour to welcome all of you to such an important event. Looking at the programme, I’m really struck by the impressive range of topics you’ll be discussing - from the role of trade unions to the redefinition of GDP; from gender justice in the Philippines to the redevelopment of New York City’s waterfront.

That range and breadth really reflects the fact that the global climate crisis and climate emergency really does touch every aspect of our lives. It is the most important and pressing environmental, economic and moral issue that the world faces today.

And climate justice has to be, must be, at the heart of our response to that. We must all of us recognise the imbalance between those who are most responsible for climate change, and those who are most affected by it.

I know that Mary Robinson spoke this morning. I think it is interesting that her foundation has come to the conclusion that climate justice - having been almost a taboo topic in 2010 – is now widely accepted and that is hugely important and hugely encouraging.

I like to think that we in Scotland have played our part in that process of making it accepted as an important issue. In 2010 we became the first government anywhere in the world to establish a fund for climate justice. In 2017 this university became the first to establish a centre for climate justice. And so it seems fitting that Scotland this year is hosting the first ever global forum for climate justice.

I’ll talk about climate justice specifically in a moment. But I want to begin by stressing a point that I hope everyone is aware of, a point that is important to stress and be unequivocal about, Scotland is determined that we will play our full part in the battle against climate change and a battle we intend to win against climate change.

Scotland has already reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 40% since 1990. However we have now stated that we will aim to achieve net zero emissions by 2045. We will become carbon neutral by 2040. If this new target is approved by parliament – as I expect and hope it will be – Scotland will then have the most stringent and ambitious statutory targets anywhere in the world.

Becoming a net zero nation, as we intend to do, will require changes to virtually every aspect of everyday life. Decarbonisation will change how we travel, how we keep our homes and our workplaces warm, how we design our towns and cities in the future. We will have to move very rapidly from a throwaway culture to a genuinely circular economy. We will need to develop and apply new technologies, while also planting millions of trees and restoring peatlands.

All of this has to be a truly national endeavour. That is why the Scottish Government over the summer will be launching a Big Climate Conversation. We intend to arrange consultation events around the country; help communities to stage their own events; and reach as many people as we can through digital communications.

We hope to reach thousands of people and organisations to hear about their concerns, priorities and ambitions. We want to understand how people are already changing their behaviour; what further changes they are already willing to make; and what further changes we all need to be persuaded to make and what action we can take as a whole, as a country, to take to tackle the global climate emergency.

By doing this, we want to be very clear about the scale of the changes that we require, and the scale of the challenges we face.

However we also want to set out the fact that this journey, this transition to decarbonisation can also bring huge opportunities and rewards. We can make our lifestyles healthier, we can make our air cleaner and our landscapes even more beautiful. We can develop new technologies and techniques which in turn, if we get it right, can create new jobs for the future.

And if we ensure that the transition to a net zero economy is a just one – making sure as far as we possibly can that people aren’t left behind as new industries develop – then we can ensure that Scotland is a fairer country as well as a greener and more environmentally friendly country.

That is why, last year, we appointed a Just Transition Commission. Again becoming one of the first countries to focus in that way on the concept of just transition. It will consider the whole of our economy, and indeed the whole of our society, and make recommendations about ensuring that the benefits and costs of decarbonisation are fairly distributed. It is an important way of ensuring that a net zero economy can bring benefits for everyone.

Now, I’ve emphasised our domestic actions, because doing the right thing here in Scotland is in many ways the most important contribution we can make.  After all, these domestic policies lend weight to our support for global action. It means we are leading, not just by our rhetoric, but leading by the strength of our example. We can’t expect others to reduce their emissions unless we are serious about doing so ourselves.

However in addition to taking action here in Scotland, where we can, we will directly help other countries.

The consequences of the climate crisis are becoming increasingly evident in developed countries – we are seeing more and more extreme weather events such as severe storms and droughts. But of course, the consequences are far more serious in many developing nations. For island and low-lying nations, the climate crisis poses a genuinely existential threat. Many other countries are facing humanitarian emergencies as a result of drought or flooding which of course in turn can, and does lead to a mass displacement of populations.

The countries which are most affected are usually those who have done least to cause climate change. In addition, the individuals who are most affected are often the most vulnerable in our society – the very old and the very young. Women, too, are disproportionately affected in many different ways. Climate change can cause poverty and resource scarcity, which increases the burdens that women face in supporting their families. They have to walk further when they get water, and are put at greater risk of gender based violence.

For all of these reasons, it is impossible to properly tackle the climate crisis, without recognising the need for climate justice at the very heart of everything we do. Countries, like ours, which have become prosperous, partly as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, need to help those that are being impoverished right now as a result of greenhouse gas emissions.

Scotland is determined to do our bit, to play our part, to live up to our moral responsibility. That is why in 2012 we created the world’s first ever climate justice fund. It supports projects in Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia. In recent years, it has provided access to clean water for more than 70,000 people, and access to renewable energy for 80,000.

We are working with village communities in south Malawi to restore water points, and to train people in the use of energy efficient stoves. We trained farmers to use methods which reduce their vulnerability to the Fall Armyworm - a moth larva which can destroy a range of different crops.

And we’re helping to build a network of Young Malawian Climate Leaders. We want young people – who will be most affected by the climate crisis – to have a stronger voice, not just here at home, but internationally in tackling it as well.

Now it’s worth pointing out, as you probably know, that Scotland’s Climate Justice Fund is small when you look at in comparison to the overall scale of the problem we face.

But it does, nevertheless, bring significant benefits to tens of thousands of people who are already directly affected by climate change. It helps to empower communities in adapting to the crisis. And it sends a signal to other countries around the world that climate justice matters.

I mentioned earlier my hope that by ensuring a just transition, the move to a net zero economy could make Scotland a fairer country as well as a greener one.

That’s an ambition which – as the sustainable development goals acknowledge - we should also have for the world as a whole. The world must become fairer, as well as becoming more sustainable. Promoting climate justice can help us to achieve that goal.

The final point I want to make, is that the Climate Justice Fund is also important – not simply because of what Scotland is doing, but because of how we are seeking to do it.

The fund achieves a disproportionate impact because we work alongside others in partnership. In Malawi, for example, our development funding is backed by a network of individuals, schools, universities, colleges, faith groups and non-governmental organisations.

In fact, in all of the work Scotland is doing to address climate change – in setting and striving to meet strict targets; in developing new technologies; in supporting a just transition; in promoting climate justice - we try to make working in partnership a key principal of everything we do.

That of course includes partnership with governments and organisations in other countries. We believe that we have a great deal to offer the world from Scotland – but we also know that we have a huge amount to learn from countries all across the globe. Which is why it is genuinely heartening to see experts from so many different countries gathered here in Scotland.

I hope you have a fantastic time here in Glasgow. I hope that these discussions that you are having are stimulating and productive. And I hope you can gain a long term benefit from the contacts you make here, from the information you are gathering and the experiences that you are sharing.

If you do that, this conference will be a success, not just in its own terms, but a success in terms of the action it can spark for the future. I hope it will deepen understanding, inspire that action, and ultimately advance the cause of climate justice which is so close to the heart of everyone here. And as a result of that, this conference will contribute to tackling the climate crisis.

For all of those reasons, it is a great pleasure to be here today. I wish you all well for the rest of the week.


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