The first and most important duty I have today is to say welcome to Scotland, welcome to my beautiful home city of Glasgow.
I am proud to call this city home and hopefully for those of you not from Scotland, over the next few days you will feel very at home here as well.
One of the things that is well known about Glaswegians I think, is that we are not backwards in coming forwards. We like to express ourselves, sometimes very loudly and very bluntly. We like to say our piece.
And that of course is the philosophy underpinning the work of this Global Climate Assembly. So let me say what a huge privilege it is for me to welcome you to COP26, to hear something of your stories and your proposals.
My government in Scotland believes really strongly that putting people at the heart of climate action – as we do through our own regular public engagement and indeed our own Climate Assembly – and we believe that is important in every country, it is important globally, and we want that approach to prevail as far as possible on the international stage.
Now the question I’ve been asked to address briefly today is: Why do we need a Global Citizens’ Assembly?
To me and I think to most people, the answer to that question should be really obvious. The impact of the climate crisis is being felt already by people all over the world. Clearly it is being felt much more acutely in some parts of the world than in others, but there is no part of the world any longer that cannot say that the impact of the climate crisis is with us in the here and now.
And while much of, most of the responsibility for that, and for tackling that – putting into reverse the process of climate change falls on governments and on industry, those who emit the most, often some of the best ideas, some of the best solutions, and some of the most intense pressure comes from citizens and communities.
It’s one of the reasons why, during the talks that will take place here in Glasgow over the next few weeks, Scotland will seek to provide a bridge between those whose voices are so rarely, all too rarely heard, and those making the decisions.
A Climate Assembly provides a platform for those often unheard voices – especially the voices of women, of young people and those from the Global South. People must be able to bring not just their views, but most importantly of all, their lived experiences directly to the table and to do so not as outside observers but as participants and as equals.
And when leaders like me listen to you, genuinely listen to people’s voices from across the world, then I believe that will and certainly should lead to fairer outcomes, and outcomes that are respected more by everybody whose lives are impacted by them.
That concept of fairness of justice was at the heart of Scotland’s Climate Assembly – whose work was grounded in statute, in legislation, conducted obviously entirely online because of the challenge of the Covid pandemic, but a climate assembly that involved children and young people, as well as a broad spectrum of people from across our country.
That body of our citizens has challenged really hard Scotland’s government to do more, to think more deeply about what climate justice must look like here at home and across the world.
Over the next two weeks in this city, which is sometimes affectionately known as the ‘dear green place’, leaders must live up to the hopes and expectations of people across the world.
Frankly, leaders have arrived at this summit today knowing that they are not doing nearly enough, and they also know what the consequences and impacts of not doing nearly enough will be. So there is no longer any excuse for inaction.
This generation of leaders will not be forgiven, should not be forgiven, if there is not action taken over this next two weeks that lives up to the scale of the urgent challenge the world is facing.
We must see more action on reducing the emissions gap. We must see more action in reducing the finance gap. It is shameful that a commitment to climate finance made 12 years ago has not been met on schedule, is not due to be met on current projections until 2023. That is not good enough.
The aim of “keeping 1.5 degrees alive” is a laudable aim. It’s the bare minimum aim that anybody should expect, but it must be real. It mustn’t just be a strapline.
Unless countries like mine – we’re standing here in the city that helped propel the world into the industrial age – countries like mine that have benefitted so much from climate change, that have done so much to cause climate change, unless we step up and pay our debt to developing countries now living with the impact, we will fail, and that failure will shame all of us.
That means it’s not an option. We mustn’t allow this summit here to fail and therefore we must listen to the voices of the people who are affected most by the decisions that will be taken.
If leaders listen, I mean really listen, then we can begin to much more effectively address the deeper issues that we face. We have a big obligation over the next two weeks. Anybody with any position of responsibility has a big weight on their shoulders.
This is a turning point, must be a turning point for the world. But for us to ensure we take it, leaders must do less talking, they mustn’t do less delivery, they must do less talking and more listening that leads to greater delivery.
So I believe a global climate assembly, like the Scottish climate assembly that we have experienced, can be a real force for powering that change forwards.
So thank you for everything you are doing to make your voices heard, to make sure there is no hiding place for the leaders gathered here today.
I sat just a matter of moments ago in the opening ceremony of this COP, and David Attenborough put it very powerfully when, and I’ll paraphrase, his words were much eloquent than mine will be – but imagine being the generation that knows our planet’s very existence is on the line, and also the generation that knows what needs to be done to save it, but stands back and allows our planet, the only part of the galaxy with civilisation, allows it to die.
That’s not thinkable. So let’s make sure that we start to see action at this COP, powered by the voices of people across the world, to make sure that is not something any of us contemplate.
Thank you very much and good luck for everything you do.
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