Scotland Beyond Net Zero: Net Zero Secretary keynote speech

Speech delivered by Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero, Just Transition, Màiri McAllan at the launch of the Scotland Beyond Net Zero initiative at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh, 23 January 2024. 

Thank you very much for that very kind introduction. I am so delighted to join you this evening – and to do as what’s described, to help launch the Beyond Net Zero Initiative between the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

I am particularly enthusiastic about your project – not just because I am a proud graduate of the University of Glasgow but also because as Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, with the responsibilities that have just been narrated, and frankly as someone, and I don’t mind saying this, who lies awake at night ruminating on Scotland’s climate challenge and how we overcome it. So truly I am so pleased to have your support in this mission and to have so many excellent minds coming together to find the solutions to the many challenges that we face.

I want to come back to the importance of cooperation in my remarks – but I always think it important to begin an evening like this with a reminder of both the scale, the enormity of the challenge we face, and the vital importance that we overcome it.

Speaking personally, I believe very firmly, that climate change – and the connected crisis of nature loss – are together probably the single greatest long-term threat that we face as a global community of nations and people.

I believe our ability to collectively tackle it will make the difference between, on one hand, a future with equilibrium in our natural world, a future of safety and security. And, on the other hand, a future of great insecurity, of instability and potential for violations of human rights on an epic scale.

And I believe that the scale and pace of the twin crises has been more starkly depicted in the last year alone, than perhaps ever before.

2023 has been confirmed the hottest year on record.

And we witnessed, across our news outlets, the deadly impact of this.

We saw wildfires in Greece and Hawaii. Heatwaves across Europe. Deadly cyclones in Malawi, and flooding and earthquakes tragically claiming tens of thousands of lives in Libya and Turkey and Syria.

The fact is that climate change is creating severe weather patterns and with it intolerable ironies - like that while flooding submerged one third of Pakistan in water – killing people, livestock and ruining crops – at the same time, millions faced drought induced starvation across the Horn of Africa.

And of course, as communities around the world face the first and worst impacts we are far from immune in Scotland.

In summer 2022, I oversaw, for the first time, the need to limit abstractions from our water courses because of prolonged dry spells.

Equally, we are in the midst of a storm season of unusual severity and frequency. Indeed we are here together today as Storm Isha retreats and Storm Joyceline approaches. Coming so soon after Gerrit and Babet, the point is that our people, our communities, our infrastructure are being challenged by this.

So, my point is that action commensurate with the scale and pace of that evolving climate emergency is both an environmental imperative and a moral necessity.

Now amid all of these challenges – there is hope. And if we don’t have hope we don’t have much.

And my hope tends, largely, to coalesce around three things.

Firstly, that progress is being made in Scotland. We are about halfway with emissions having been reduced by some 50% since baseline. Equally, whilst we know more than we ever have about the damage of greenhouse gas emissions and resultant climate change and nature loss – we also know more than ever about what we need to do to reverse it.

Secondly, done correctly, as well as being an environmental imperative and moral obligation, the action we can take here in Scotland will also present to us, perhaps, one of the greatest socioeconomic opportunities we have been presented with for many years. Most obviously perhaps in our energy transition – supporting our businesses and workers and the communities they support to transition from being world leaders in oil and gas, to Scotland being the renewables capital of Europe – helping to power the green industries of the future. I am determined that this is done, and I am determined it is done fairly, and that we take our people and communities with us in a way that observes our climate obligations and equally supports our people and the communities they support.

And of course, the socioeconomic opportunity stretches far beyond the energy transition and into our natural world. I was speaking to colleagues tonight about the opportunities presented there in tree planting, in peatland restoration, eco-tourism and the production of regenerative food and drink. I am a rural MSP and so I am particularly passionate about these issues but, equally I am committed to the transition being fair, both for the energy workers and also for our rural and traditional communities.

And, returning to my three primary reasons for hope. The final reason is that we, as a society, are ever more coming together and cooperating in all that needs to be done to tackle this quite enormous challenge. We are sharing our knowledge; we are sharing our ideas – both things that have worked and, frankly, things that haven’t and shouldn’t be repeated. And we are taking a whole of society approach to what is essentially a whole of society and whole of economy challenge and opportunity.

And, ultimately on this last point, that is why I am so enthusiastic about what the Beyond Net Zero initiative represents.

Two fundamental truths are that – no one government, no business no organisation or community can do this alone. Second, quite frankly, we simply do not have time not to plan it.

The intellect, the innovation, the determined pursuit for progress that has always defined Scotland’s universities and academic institutions really is needed now more than ever as we seize what is our greatest challenge and opportunity of modern times.

So, to conclude, I want to thank the organisers again for inviting me to speak this evening.

I want to wish the project the best of luck, not that you need it.

I look forward to receiving the outcomes of the research and the work that you are doing. Nobody has a monopoly on the ideas, not least the Scottish Government and I absolutely welcome these brilliant minds coming together and assisting us. And I also hope that your project proves to have the convening power that we so much need to drive that whole economy change.

Together we will tackle the climate change with the pace and the urgency required, but equally fairly. It really is our collective mission in which we cannot fail. Thank you very much.

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