Sarah Beattie-Smith calls for more ambition ahead of the new Scottish Climate Change Bill (consultation here).

The last few weeks have been significant ones for the world’s changing climate. Thousands were killed or displaced in flooding in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria; Hurricane Harvey battered America’s petrochemical heartland in Texas; and Hurricane Irma destroyed 90% of Barbuda’s buildings with similar devastation across the Caribbean.

Increasingly, the science points to climate change as a key driver of the severity and frequency of such extreme weather events. Cutting carbon urgently is essential if we’re going to limit the impacts as much as possible.

That’s why it was so encouraging to see some bold and ambitious commitments from the First Minister in last week’s Programme for Government. Nicola Sturgeon’s assertion that Scotland has “a moral obligation to tackle climate change” set the tone for what has rightly been dubbed the greenest Programme for Government ever.

The announcement that the Scottish Government will phase out new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032 is a hugely welcome piece of news, particularly for organisations like WWF Scotland who have campaigned for this kind of transformative action for years.

Similarly, news of a deposit return scheme; a commitment to having Low Emission Zones in four cities and air pollution hot spots; and the introduction of a Just Transition Commission to manage the shift away from oil and gas to renewables are just some of the significant steps forward.

By putting climate change and the move towards a low carbon economy front and centre of the Programme for Government, the First Minister has sent a clear signal to Scotland and the world that our wee nation is serious about climate change. What is needed now is the legislation and the policy action to turn those commitments into reality.

That is sometimes easier said than done. For example we’re still awaiting the details of how the Scottish Government will deliver on their commitment – made over two years ago – to make energy efficiency a National Infrastructure Priority. But I’m hopeful and confident that real change is not just possible, but that it’s coming.

Take that major announcement on fossil fuel cars. Just nine months ago in the Draft Climate Change Plan, the Scottish Government set out their commitments for what they would do on climate change over the next 15 years. That plan promised that just 40% of new car sales would be electric by 2032. That target came out of modelling based on an assumption that, without the Government having to do very much at all, the market would get us to 40%.

Yet last week, that target became 100%. What’s clear from the Programme for Government is that there has been a substantial shift in attitude at the highest levels of Government. In her speech, the First Minister said “to succeed, Scotland must lead change, not trail in its wake.”

Of course Scotland has a strong track record of leading change. Back in 2009, the SNP-led Scottish Government passed world-leading legislation, setting targets for a reduction in emissions of 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. At the time, those targets were seen as hugely ambitious – unachievable even. Since then, we’ve cut emissions by 41%, putting us on track to reach the 2020 target.

Yet much has changed since 2009 and as the science develops and the effects of climate change become more evident, it’s clear that we need to be even more ambitious than we set out to be eight years ago.

The 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement was a game changer, requiring much more ambitious emissions reductions, particularly from industrialised nations like Scotland.

The Scottish Government has committed to implementing the Paris Agreement in a new Climate Change Bill, due to be debated in Parliament in the New Year. Yet in its proposed form, the Bill barely stretches the level of ambition set in 2009 and the same target is proposed for 2030 as we already have today

The 2050 emissions reduction target is also lacking the ambition that the First Minister alluded to in the Programme for Government. The consultation on the Climate Change Bill (open until September 22nd) suggests a target of a 90% reduction in emissions against 1990 levels. Meanwhile the science tells us we need to get to 100% by 2050 at the very latest.

As well as unambitious targets, the Bill also looks likely to be limited in its scope. If it goes ahead in its current form, it will lack a single piece of policy action necessary to achieve those targets. Along with Stop Climate Chaos Scotland (SCCS), we think that’s a huge missed opportunity for Scotland to lead global change and set the agenda on climate action for the next thirty years.

We want the Government to use the Climate Change Bill to;

  • Set a target of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest, and a reduction of 77% by 2030
  • Ensure that future budgets are consistent with our climate targets
  • Commit to actions that cut emissions and deliver a cleaner, healthier, more prosperous Scotland:
    – greener farming: set a nitrogen budget for Scotland by 2020
    – energy efficient homes: ensure that all homes have at least Energy Performance Rating C by 2025
    – cleaner transport: phase out the sale of new fossil fuel cars by 2030.

We’ve (almost) secured the last of those asks with the announcement on fossil fuel cars last week. Now we need to see that commitment in law, alongside stronger targets, meaningful policy action and the cash to make it all happen. It won’t be easy, but as the First Minister said last week, “No one has ever built a better country by always taking the easy option.”

Join the SCCS campaign for a stronger Climate Change Bill here