- 13 Oct 2021
I’m going to start today with a question.
In other contexts, perhaps a risqué question perhaps – not one you would expect from someone in my position in a talk about climate change.
But it’s important.
Does size matter?
My answer – perhaps also unexpected – is that no, it really, really doesn’t.
And Scotland is proving that.
About a mile from here – in the National Museum of Scotland - you will find on display a steam engine designed by the great engineer James Watt.
A hundred miles from here, just off the coast of Aberdeen, is the world’s biggest floating windfarm.
And then, just a bit further north from there, in the Pentland Firth, we find the biggest wave power turbine being tested.
These are all extraordinary feats of technology and engineering, but they also demonstrate how Scotland – a relatively small country - led the world into the industrial age, and is now helping to power the world into the net zero age.
And there’s a lesson for us in that - when we talk about tackling climate change, we so often talk about the contributions of America, Russia, China, Brazil.
And that is important - we won’t limit global warming without these countries.
But we also have to recognise that the ambition, the leadership, and the action of small countries matters to.
In the words of the current Prime Minister of Estonia - “Small countries have no time for small objectives”.
And I really agree with that – we see examples of the leadership that small countries show everywhere we look.
Take Bhutan – one million people or thereabouts - became the first in the world to commit to being carbon neutral for all time.
Since then, 130 countries of all sizes have followed suit.
Or Fiji – in 2017, it hosted the UN climate conference and did so much to highlight the existential threat that climate change poses to island nations.
Now, a country like Scotland, with a rich industrial past, has a special responsibility. We have disproportionately contributed to climate change, so we must do more – now – to help tackle climate change.
So in recent years, Scotland, this small country, has decarbonised faster than any G20 country.
We have just become the first nation in the world that is not an independent nation – yet – to publish an indicative nationally defined contribution – showing how we will meet the objectives of the Paris agreement.
So we pledge to cut emissions by three quarters by 2030, and to be net zero by 2045.
We are also seeking to galvanise change on a global stage.
So we are currently the co-chair of a coalition that brings together 200 states, regions, devolved countries – like ours – to demonstrate leadership in meeting the challenge of climate change.
Now that coalition is not represented formally at UN summits - we are not signatories to the treaties that emerge from these summits.
But, collectively, we represent two billion people across the world.
And about half of the reduction in global emissions that we need to see will depend on the actions we take. They will depend on the legislation we pass; the infrastructure we build; the investments we fund.
So my point today is that yes, big countries matter, but the leadership of small nations matters too.
It’s often states and regions and small nations that can step in when the bigger countries fail to act.
So when Trump – disgracefully - took the America out of the Paris agreement, it was a coalition of states and cities that kept the momentum going.
And if we raise our ambition, and if we follow that through with action, then we can spur the bigger countries to go further - and faster, too.
And there’s one final point, where our voice and our contribution matters.
So often it’s states or devolved nations like Scotland that have to respond most directly to the impacts of climate change. Heatwaves, floods, hurricanes – we have to deal with the implications.
Now for Scotland, California, New South Wales – that is difficult but manageable.
For many others across the world, it is not. So climate justice matters too.
Which is why I’m proud that Scotland was the first country anywhere in the world to establish a climate justice fund.
It’s not enough to cut our own emissions, although that is vital.
We have to make sure that we are helping those who have done the least to cause climate change to do so too, and with the spirit of justice and fairness absolutely at the heart of that.
So, to conclude, my message today is that countries of all shapes and sizes must step up to this challenge.
We cannot allow our size to be something to hide behind.
When it comes to tackling climate change, size really, really does not matter.
We must think big in our ambition, we must act big in what we do, and we must be big when it comes to the impact we make.
Thank you very much.