Some are calling the First Minister’s trip to the United States a wasteful “indy tour”. Others have been grumbling about that fact that she has centered a key speech on climate change, even as she has added to her carbon footprint a plume of transatlantic flight emissions. But, frankly, I’m glad she is issuing this key message around climate. I find it rather strange that some people seem to want her to not show global leadership on the crucial issue of our times.
We can mock her for telling us all something we already knew – that, for instance, we are on course for 2 degrees rise – but statements like these are needed to remind us of our trajectory in a world of multiple distractions.
As Alok Sharma said, six months after he chaired COP26, we are now in a situation where a lot of “international bandwidth” is taken up with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sturgeon’s speech focussed on her ambitions for Scotland. “We will lead by example in our own actions,” she said, “we will contribute to international energy security, and we will work with allies across the globe as we strive, together, to build a fairer, more secure and more sustainable world . ”
We will also, she says, become a “test bed for green technologies”.
I firmly believe that Scotland can lead the way, and welcome these signs that we may be about to push harder – but we have to acknowledge that at the moment our mark-sheet reads something like ‘could do better’. We have to be aware of the scale of the effort it is going to take.
One form of leading the way, of course, is in what we say, the messages we send out – and Scotland certainly has been proving itself on that front: one of the first countries to declare a climate emergency, a net zero target of 2045 , a 75 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
We also have a leader who is finally distancing us from fossil fuel, who said recently that it was “not credible” to suggest an increase in North Sea production as a short-term solution to the crisis caused by the invasion of Ukraine.
I have welcomed all of that – even when it does sound like rhetoric.
But what I particularly welcome about Sturgeon’s speech is her emphasis on “actions”, rather than words. We might want to look at Scotland’s record in terms of action – which while mostly good, is mixed.
Oft quoted is the fact that between 2008 and 2018, Scotland’s emissions fell faster than any G20 nation, largely because of the shift away from coal to renewable electricity generation in the power sector.
But, that was the low-hanging fruit – greater challenges are ahead. And right now there are some areas in which we are failing to make significant progress, in which, indeed, we could do better.
Last year, a report into Scotland’s emissions from 2019 found that we had failed to meet our annual reduction target for the third year in a row.
Last December, Lord Debden, chair of the UK’s Climate Change Committee, warned that the Scottish Government was unable to prove it would hit its promise to cut emissions by 75 percent by the end of the decade.
“Clarity and transparency on policy,” he said, “supported with detail on how these policies will be delivered, has been lacking.”
It feels like too many pieces of the jigsaw are still missing. Partly they are missing because Scotland is not in control of some aspects. Energy is reserved to Westminster. The UK government is in control, and its oil and gas regulator is approving new projects, including, the Sunday Times reported this week, the previously rejected Jackdaw field.
We also still await the publication of the Scottish Government’s Energy Strategy, which has been put back from this spring to this autumn.
Meanwhile, another key piece of the net zero jigsaw is the retrofitting and decarbonising of our buildings – and while we do have a Heat in Buildings strategy, it’s hard to imagine how, financially, it will be achieved. Though the Scottish Government has committed £ 1.8 billion to this cause, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the £ 33 billion it has been suggested this will cost.
Councils are questioning how they deliver their part of the equation.
The challenges remain huge – and in the middle lurks the question of whether an independent Scotland could be freer to lead on climate mitigation. The answer is, yes, it could. But progress on climate has to be made right now ,, without delay.
It can’t be put off till a moment of independence. That’s why I’m glad Sturgeon is making it her central message from her.
I want us to do our part and do whatever we can to create vital global change.