Thursday, 7 May 2009

All Party Support for Principals of SNP Climate Change Bill

Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): The radical Scots academic Dr Malcolm Slesser died at the age of 80 only two months after the Scottish National Party Government was elected in 2007. He was twice an SNP candidate, a renowned mountaineer and a valued fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology. Before that, he lectured at the University of Strathclyde in the 1970s, where he wrote about his concerns for the planet.

In his groundbreaking book The Politics of Environment: Including a Guide to Scottish Thought and Action, which was published in 1972, he examined how modern technology was being exploited by an irrational economy of

"unlimited industrial expansion in limited space",

which, as the blurb in his book states,

"must inevitably destroy itself, the land, the community and very probably, hazard the future of mankind".

He was an inspiration to many of us in the SNP, an eco-hero who will not be forgotten. His message appeals across party lines, so it is most fitting that in addressing the challenges of climate change, the bill puts practical steps in place to reduce radically greenhouse gases, a science which was in its infancy and of which Malcolm Slesser was only beginning to be aware in the 1970s.

We need action plans to ensure that Scotland shows a lead to other nations by taking our full share of the fight against climate chaos in time for the Copenhagen conference in December. I want to focus on a couple of issues that can make a real difference via the bill. Scotland has many advantages in playing its carbon-busting part. We now know how blessed Scotland is with the largest proportion of high winds, big waves and strong tides in Europe. That gives us a huge economic opportunity to contribute to the UK contribution to the EU's 2020 targets. Tidal and wave power in the Pentland Firth will follow on from the huge arrays of offshore wind turbines to provide secure and safe green power to ourselves and our neighbours to the south and across the North Sea.

Heat represents more than 50 per cent of our energy needs in Scotland, yet heat generated from renewable sources represents less than 1 per cent of demand. A massive increase in the delivery of renewable heat will be required in the domestic and commercial sectors in the years ahead if overall targets for greenhouse gas emission reduction are to be met alongside the targets for renewable energy. The further behind we get on delivering renewable heat, the steeper the targets will need to be in the electricity and transport sectors to meet overall energy targets, and the steeper the targets will need to be across the whole of society in order to meet climate change targets.

I therefore welcome the response from the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change to the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee's report, in which he pledged that the renewable heat action plan will contain a target to supply 11 per cent of heat demand from renewable heat by 2020 as part of the overall EU targets.

With regard to job opportunities from climate change mitigation, the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee's conclusion on the financial memorandum in its stage 1 report discusses the Government's estimate that 16,000 jobs will be created in the field of renewable energy. Members were "extremely concerned" about the veracity of that estimate, but I am glad to say that at the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee yesterday we heard evidence that verifies that figure—indeed, we heard evidence from some who believe it to be a conservative estimate.

As a member who represents the Highlands and Islands and has a long-standing interest in land use and tenure, I agree with RSPB Scotland on the need for an holistic approach to rural land use. Scottish land plays a big part in our greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions are falling slightly, but they must fall faster. Scottish risk impacts reports must be prepared for our Government, to complement the advice from the UK Committee on Climate Change. Particular features, such as the huge blanket peat bogs in the flow country in my region and our precious native pine woods, would then be subject to technical scrutiny from dedicated Scotland-based scientists. Such reports would provide that scrutiny and an annual reporting mechanism. Annual reporting is already provided for in the UK Climate Change Act 2008, and it should appear in our bill. I hope to hear from the minister on that.

I was privileged to visit Eigg last weekend to see its self-sufficiency drive for renewable energy for all houses on the island. From four windmills, a solar voltaic array and a run-of-river hydro plant, each home gets 5kW of electricity. Few in the cities could cope with such low amounts of electricity, but Eigg folk are leading the fight in limiting demand and securing clean energy supplies.

Malcolm Slesser would be proud that we, as members of the Scottish Parliament, are finding our way to the best means to stop climate chaos. Some 37 years ago, in "The Politics of Environment", he wrote:

"Modern technology need no longer be the servant of economics. It is now able to halt expansion-for-expansion's sake without entailing unemployment and recession. There is now no excuse whatever for trying to impose this servant 'economics' willy-nilly over the more biological, nourishing, attributes of human communities".

The principles of the bill are world class, and the amendments at stage 2 must make it easier for Scots to adapt to climate change. I believe that members of the Parliament can empower the citizens by our scrutiny of the bill now and after it is passed, and I fully support it.


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