Tackling the Climate Emergency: Opening speech by the Minister for Climate Action

Minister for Climate Action, Gillian Martin's opening speech to Scottish Parliament on 26 June 2024.

Thank you Presiding Officer. The First Minister has confirmed that tackling the climate crisis is one of his top priorities for the Government, alongside eradicating child poverty, growing the economy and improving public services.

And that commitment to climate change – both here and internationally – has long been at the heart of this government.

Indeed, in Scotland, we were among the first to take bold, early action, and we continue to lead globally in responding to the climate emergency.

The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are clearly with us now, and tackling them is the collective fight of all of us in our lifetime given, that they are perhaps the single greatest long-term threat that we face globally.

The motion today calls on this Chamber to recommit itself to the undeniable imperative for action.

The science and evidence is not only clear about the scale and the urgency of climate change, but the importance of being part of international action as well as pushing forward domestically.

Our domestic and international aspirations come together in an unwavering commitment to reaching net zero emissions by 2045. That is both five years ahead of the UK and still one of the most ambitious targets in the world.

But a just transition to net zero by 2045 will require genuine, transformational action and investment across our economy and society, with significant changes in sectors such as energy, heat, buildings, transport, and agriculture.

And just as this Parliament set that high ambition for 2045 it is essential that we come together to reaffirm that ambition and the action needed to meet that ambition. All too often this has not always been the case with modest measures the Scottish Government has brought forward not being supported. I hope that this can be a point at which to reset.

I want to talk about our role in addressing the global challenge of climate change.

In 2012 we were the first government to establish a Climate Justice Fund, solely committed to supporting the most climate-vulnerable communities in the Global South to build resilience to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.

We were the first Global North government to commit finance explicitly to addressing loss and damage and have helped to galvanise global ambition with over $750 million now committed worldwide.

Recent programmes have included support for the urban dimension of loss and damage, supporting households in Malawi following the devastation of tropical storm Freddy, and piloting an innovative approach across a loss and damage window with Scotland’s Humanitarian Emergency Fund.

Those have not only been projects critical to supporting those countries, but actions focused on helping individuals and communities with the impact of climate change – a hallmark of our approach domestically as well as internationally.

And as European co-chair of the European Under2 Coalition, we have driven international co-operation to further collective climate action.

I am also very pleased to announce today that Scotland will be taking over the Presidency of the Regions4 Development Network. A network of states, regions and devolved governments focusing on tackling the twin crises of climate and biodiversity and advancing sustainable development. 

Our international role is rooted in what we have done domestically, and where we can point to real progress.

We are now exactly halfway to net zero, with Scotland achieving its largest reduction in emissions of any nature in the UK between 1990 and 2022. And we have decarbonised faster than the average of the EU27 countries.

That is reflected in the action we are taking.

For example, we have the most comprehensive network of electric vehicle public charging points per head of population in the UK outside of London.

We are now supporting Low Emissions Zones to bring clean air to Scotland’s cities and help protect public health.

We have some of the most generous grants and loans in the UK to encourage the switch to cleaner forms of heating and to make energy efficiency improvements. This includes higher grants for rural homes.

More than 75 per cent of all tree planting in the UK in recent years has been in Scotland.

And the Circular Economy Bill, which will shortly complete its Parliamentary process, will support Scotland’s transition to a zero waste and circular economy, significantly increasing reuse and recycling rates, modernise and improve waste and recycling services and build on a range of transformational measures we are already putting in place, including: banning problematic single-use plastic items; reforming extended producer responsibility for packaging; and our ongoing £70 million investment in local authority recycling infrastructure.

Our commitment to net zero will help boost our economic growth and prosperity.

Scotland's economy grew by 67 per cent in real terms between 1990 and 2022 at the same time as we cut our greenhouse gas emissions in half, demonstrating that tackling climate change and growing our economy absolutely go hand in hand.

We want to combine Scotland’s vibrant entrepreneurial nation, world-leading academic and research institutions, valuable natural resources and our businesses and communities in a shared agenda to deliver net zero.

And as part of this, we will help businesses and investors through development and delivery of our Green Industrial Strategy, so that the people of Scotland can share in the enormous economic opportunities of the global transition to net zero.

One of the key areas where we are seizing these opportunities is in our vision for Scotland to become a renewables powerhouse that the people of Scotland see the benefit from.

In 2022, 87.9% of electricity generation came from zero or low carbon sources.

This has already brought huge benefits to Scotland in terms of economic growth, export opportunities and well-paid skilled jobs. And that was evidenced by the recent significant investments by Sumitomo at Nigg and Haventus at Ardersier.

ScotWind is absolutely central to this. As the world’s largest commercial round for floating offshore wind, that has put Scotland at the forefront of offshore wind development globally.

We see huge potential for Scotland in hydrogen production as well. There is a great demand for green hydrogen, and Scotland is well placed to develop a significant hydrogen sector which will create many jobs and income for the nation as a whole – whether using hydrogen domestically or exporting it to other countries.

And similarly, our approach to net zero will also ensure support for our commitment to ending child poverty.

For example, if you look at our policy of making public transport more accessible and affordable, it is a key part of this approach.

Our Scotland-wide bus schemes offer free travel to a larger percentage of the population than anywhere else in the UK.

Our ScotRail Peak Fares Removal Pilot is a first in the UK.

We also have a range of policy interventions which are designed to decrease fuel poverty and we continue to press for reform in the reserved areas that affect this this at source.

Moreover, the Just Transition Plans are in development for Transport, Agriculture and Land Reform, and Buildings and Construction, as well as the site-specific Plan for Grangemouth, demonstrates this commitment in action.

We are also strengthening Scotland's resilience to the impacts of climate change and will set out how we are doing this with the publication of our Scottish National Adaptation Plan later this year and are consulting on a new national Flood Resilience Strategy right now.

Given the constraints of devolution, we cannot do all this alone, of course.

Scotland lacks the full range of levers to deal with the long-term challenges in the way that others can.

But we also want to make the point that the UK needs to invest significantly in climate action if both Scotland and the UK are to meet their targets on net zero. One of us can’t do it without the other.

The impact of the UK Government’s completely wrong-headed, real-terms cut to Scotland’s capital funding of almost 9 per cent over five years is having an impact on what we  do.

Presiding Officer, I hope that Parliament recognises the urgency of tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, as the science and the imperative to be part of global action demands.

This government remains fully committed to rising to the challenge, reaping the economic benefits of a just and fair transition to net zero. I move the motion in my name.

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