Written by Mike Robinson, RSGS Chief Executive 

On 23rd September, the final debate took place at Holyrood to pass the 2019 Scottish Climate Change (Emissions) Bill.

The Stage 3 Debate came only days after marches by school pupils and adults across Scotland. Perhaps 25,000 young people in Glasgow, Edinburgh and a dozen other towns, cities and islands joined with literally hundreds of other protests around the globe. In total, the school strikes involved over 1.5 million young people, with nearly a third of a million in the UK alone.

The Stage 3 Debate also came only two days after Greta Thunberg addressed the UN “Climate Action” Summit. Her speech was heart wrenching. As someone who is versed in the science, and who has spent 20 years trying to drive positive action, I was in awe of her courage and plain speaking – and I delighted in the fact that she was actually being listened to.

But as a parent listening to what she actually said, it was heart breaking.

Here in Scotland we have seen our Parliament and most local authorities (and some universities and others) declare a Climate Emergency. However, we have yet to see the action in support of this. As one attendee at a Climate Emergency Summit we held in August at our offices commented, “Where are the blue flashing lights?” Lots of bold statements have been made, but where is the action?

The Stage 3 final debate of this latest legislation on emissions is the first tangible opportunity to test the veracity of – and commitments to – action to address this emergency.

Targets are helpful – and with the Paris Climate Agreement highlighting the need to avoid 1.5⁰C, and Scotland exceeding its 2020 target – there was no opposition to more ambitious targets. This was the key focus of the Bill.

The first headline target is the year in which Scotland will aim to become net carbon neutral (i.e. Net Zero). This has been set for 2045, as advised by the recent UKCCC Net Zero report and as proposed by NGOs across Scotland. This is 5 years ahead of the likely UK target. So in 26 years’ time Scotland plans to be net carbon neutral. But since time is running out to avoid dangerous temperatures, early cuts to emissions are vital.

So the real test was the 2030 targets.

The Government originally wanted only 70% cuts by 2030, but the night before the debate pushed it to 75%.  Labour and Liberal Democrats also wanted 75%, and the Green Party wanted 80%.

These are huge targets, and to get to 75% emissions reductions as was finally approved within the next 11 years is a bold aim. Especially if it includes all sectors like aviation, includes consumption and not just production emissions, and excludes trading or offsetting schemes.

I believe we should applaud this bold ambition and I am proud to be part of the Civil Society pressure, especially through SCCS that has pushed for so many years to ensure our government takes it seriously.

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 led to some really significant steps in tackling our response to this threat. These new targets are signals of something much greater, however. They will require nothing short of a complete transformation of our behaviours and our societies.

We will need to waste less, drive less, fly less, use renewable electricity and heat, use electric cars and trains, buy less tat, eat differently and repair and restore materials more than we do. We will need to remind ourselves of the value of community, society, environment, nature and place, and record more than just GDP. And we will urgently need to start building the future we want – properly creating houses, businesses, infrastructure that we need for a net zero carbon life, and not settling for the cheapest, least imaginative versions which are out of date before they are built and will look ridiculous in 10, 20, or 30 years’ time.

In short, we need to start treating this Climate Emergency like an emergency. And having these targets now in place is a welcome and significant first step.