Brendan O'Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the role and response of the devolved Administrations to COP26.
It is a pleasure to open the debate. May I put on record my gratitude to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for it?
Before I begin, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I seek your indulgence to mention, as a curtain raiser to COP26, that we are in the middle of Oxfam’s Second Hand September campaign? It encourages people to think about the 13 million items of clothing—95% of which are perfectly good, and could and should be reused and recycled—that we send to landfill every year. It will come as no surprise to my colleagues sitting behind me that today I am kitted out head-to-toe in clothes sourced from the wonderful charity shops across Argyll and Bute.
We are just 47 days away from the start of COP26, which will probably be the most important gathering of world leaders ever to take place. They will come to Glasgow with one job: to keep their promise to cut global emissions and limit global warming to 1.5°, and thus to give the world a fighting chance in the war against climate change. It will take courage, it will take determination, and it will take sacrifice. It will require all the developed countries to make good their promise to help others to move away from producing planet-warming emissions. They have no option: it has to be done, and it has to be done now.
Just last month, a report co-authored by 200 climate scientists and described as a “code red for humanity” was published by the United Nations. It makes harrowing reading. Those scientists were unequivocal in saying that global climate change is accelerating, and that human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are the overwhelming cause of that change. The UN Secretary-General said:
“This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.”
According to the report, global surface temperatures are reaching levels not seen in the past 100,000 years, and each of the last four decades has been the warmest on record.
Those scientists were simply confirming what we have all seen or experienced ourselves. We know that our summers are becoming hotter and drier, and our winters warmer and wetter. Flooding is increasing, as I know from my own constituency, where unprecedented levels of rainfall are causing the already unstable hillside which towers over the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful to crumble on to the road with alarming regularity. This summer saw the highest recorded temperature ever on the planet: 54.4° in Death Valley, California. We also witnessed wildfires raging out of control across Europe, Canada and the United States, and down into Central and South America. It was the same in Africa, Australia, and Russia, where fires were raging out of control and more intense than ever before. Now, human habitation is no longer possible across great swathes of the world, because we in the developed world have created a climate emergency—one in which, as always, those who are least responsible for creating the problem are having to bear the biggest burden of sorting it out
The world’s largest economies all signed up to the 2015 Paris climate agreement, but most of them are set to miss those targets because of our continued over-reliance on fossil fuels. Although it makes grim reading, the UN report does provide a glimmer of hope, saying that it is still possible to avoid catastrophic levels of warming—but only if we dramatically and permanently cut our emissions now, and that will require unprecedented and transformational change. We have a very small and fast-diminishing window of opportunity in which to act, but act we must. This COP26 meeting is the most important meeting that any city has ever hosted, because the world has one last chance to deliver on what was signed up to in Paris, and we have to get it right.
Although it is the UK Government who will be officially hosting COP26, it is hugely important, given that it is the Governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast who are designing and implementing their own policies to tackle climate change, that all the nations of these islands are given a fair voice at the meeting. It is also important to recognise that the nations of the United Kingdom are not necessarily moving at the same speed, or with the same priorities or the same degree of urgency, in addressing climate change. In that regard—and despite being the host of an event in Scotland—the Prime Minister does not necessarily speak for the whole United Kingdom on these matters.
Just last week, when the public in Scotland were asked who would better represent Scotland at COP26, the Prime Minister polled just 16% of the vote, while our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, polled well over 50%. That was not an accident. I believe that those figures reflect the fact that the people of Scotland trust their Government to make these difficult but important decisions—the ones that are required to save the planet—and that they are extremely sceptical about the ability, or indeed the commitment, of the Prime Minister to make those changes. Scotland knows that our Government were among the first in the world to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency, and that this conference will provide Scotland with a fantastic opportunity to showcase to the rest of the world our ambitious approach to tackling the climate emergency and achieving a net zero future.
I expect that Conservative Members will be primed with notes saying, “What about this target that was missed?” or “What about that goal that was not reached?” Of course, they may be factually correct, but it is a consequence of setting the bar so high, and having an ambition to achieve that goes far beyond anything that has been achieved before, that on occasion, unfortunately, things will not go to plan and targets will be missed. But I —and, I am sure, the people of Scotland—would not want our Government to have taken the path of least resistance and to have set low, almost meaningless targets. And what we are doing is working, with Scotland recently managing to produce 97% of its electricity requirements from renewable sources. In the decade to 2018, Scotland reduced emissions by 31%, faster than any other nation of the UK and ahead of any G20 nation. Transport, however, remains the largest source of emissions, which is why the Scottish Government are committed to reducing emissions by 75% by 2030, and have set a legally binding target of achieving net zero by 2045.
As we all know, the oil and gas sector is a significant and important player in the Scottish economy. That is why the Scottish Government are committed to a challenging but necessary “just transition”, to move away from fossil fuels and to a future based on renewable energy. We all understand that, while moving away from oil and gas is essential, and while it is important to do that as quickly as possible, it must also be done fairly. Those of us old enough to remember what happened in Scotland in the 1980s, when the Tory Government callously destroyed mining communities to such an extent that many have not fully recovered to this day, will understand why we could not possibly let that happen again. That is why, backed by £500 million, the Scottish Government’s Just Transition Commission will work with communities, businesses and trades unions to ensure that those in high-quality, highly skilled jobs are supported in transitioning away from traditionally carbon-intensive sectors.
While Scotland is doing everything it can to meet those challenges, there are areas in which, because of the current constitutional situation with power being held in this place, we will require the UK Government to assist Scotland in becoming net zero by 2045. Specifically, that relates to our ability to benefit from the world-leading tidal energy technology that has been developed by companies such as Nova and Atlantis, but whose growth is being stymied by the lack of a proper route to market via the contracts for difference options, which would allow this hugely important sector to grow and flourish.
It is a similar story for the development of carbon capture and storage. The Government will remember, as we all do, how they pulled the plug at the last minute on the Peterhead carbon capture and storage plan back in 2015. After all the work that had gone in to preparing it, that was a particularly cruel blow for the UK Government to inflict. The only silver lining is that Scotland now has the infrastructure in place for when the UK Government announce their preferred carbon capture and storage facility next month. That would mean all the emissions from the Peterhead power plant, from the hydrogen production facility at St Fergus and from Grangemouth—Scotland’s largest polluter—could be captured and stored in a basin deep under the North sea. Indeed, so vast is that basin that it is estimated that 6.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide could be captured and stored each year by 2030, totalling half a gigatonne of C02 by 2050, with the ability to expand even further thereafter. As well as allowing Scotland to reach its net zero target, it is estimated that this one CCS project could create up to 20,000 green technology jobs. The Scottish cluster is ready to go, and if the UK Government fail once again to deliver this facility to Peterhead, it will quite rightly be seen as a political decision taken in this place, against the interests of Scotland.
In conclusion, the Scottish Government have repeatedly said that they are committed to working closely with the UK Government and others to deliver a safe, secure and, above all, successful COP26. However, they are also determined that this will be a people’s COP and that the communities and groups whose voices have been continually ignored and sidelined in climate discussions will be heard. Often vulnerable indigenous communities whose land has been devastated by soaring temperatures, a lack of rain, too much rain or rising sea levels, or destroyed by hurricanes or deforestation, must be heard and they must be heeded.
I am delighted that the Scottish Government have set up the world’s first climate justice fund to support vulnerable communities in Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda to address the impact of climate change. It would send a wonderful message to the world if the United Kingdom Government were to follow that lead and establish their own UK climate justice fund ahead of COP26. However, we should be in no doubt that in Glasgow next month the world’s leaders will be drinking in the last chance saloon. For all our sakes, they have to get it right. Will be watching closely what they do.