Ben Wilson: Scotland can lead the world by strengthening its Climate Change Bill
Ben Wilson details Scotland’s legislative efforts to tame its carbon emissions amid a growing sense of urgency over climate change.
While good progress has been made on improving the Climate Change Bill, especially on the target to reach net-zero by 2045, more still needs to be done to fully enshrine the Paris Agreement in Scots law.
The Paris Agreement commits countries to hold global average temperatures to well below 2C, and to pursue efforts towards limiting warming to 1.5C. Recent reports have clearly shown the tremendous human costs of the planet exceeding these temperature increases. Countries now need to enshrine in their domestic law targets which contribute to this global effort.
The Paris Agreement doesn’t just set this headline goal, it clearly states that in order to achieve the goal, wealthy, developed countries like Scotland should take the lead in cutting emissions while also providing support to developing nations in the form of finance, technology transfer and capacity building.
Around the world, a mass movement is growing, led by young people, which has helped turn climate change into a huge political issue. Maintenance of this public pressure will be crucial to countries achieving their commitments and preventing a climate catastrophe.
On the international stage, Scotland has been hailed as a leader on actions to challenge the climate emergency. When the Paris Agreement was finalised in 2015, the Scottish government was quick to offer its support and committed to introducing a new Climate Change Bill. This was introduced in 2018, and last month it completed stage two at Holyrood. After the summer recess, it will be further debated, amended and passed in the chamber.
The final push to wholly enshrine the Paris Agreement in Scots law is now on.
The headline target of this bill, to reduce emissions to net-zero by 2045, puts Scotland amongst the most ambitious countries in the world. When the Scottish government first introduced this bill in 2018, it set a target of a 90 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050. At the time this was said to be the “limit of feasibility”. However, over the past year, a number of major scientific reports have shown that this crisis is even worse than originally thought.
Due to the mounting scientific evidence of the need for action, and the mass mobilisation of the public that it has ignited, things which were once “unfeasible” have become feasible. The science shows us that we need to act. The question should not be about what is feasible, but what is necessary. This must drive innovation and inspire our political leaders to make the changes that the planet and its people are demanding.
Domestically, setting a strong net-zero target is crucial to driving ambition. However, achieving this will require bold new policies to rapidly reduce emissions, and make Scotland a greener, healthier, and more prosperous country for all. This needs urgent action on how we grow our food, how we heat our homes and how we travel around. The government must set this out in the next Climate Change Plan and 2019-2020 Programme for Government.
In global terms, the Climate Change Bill must be amended to fully enshrine the principles of the Paris Agreement. To do this, it must include safeguards to ensure Scotland continues to be at the forefront of global climate action.
Crucially, we must also ensure that Scotland doesn’t achieve our targets by shifting the problem onto other countries. We need to reduce our demand for ever more goods, thereby helping other countries reduce their emissions. If we don’t, we will not succeed in preventing this catastrophe.
The Climate Change Bill has set an ambitious long-term target, and that is very important. However, things have changed and this law must no longer be about just setting targets: it will inform action on climate change for decades to come. If we can get these details right this autumn, we will have shown the world how to truly implement the whole of the Paris Agreement, and played a huge part in the global effort to avert a climate catastrophe.
Ben Wilson is a policy officer at SCIAF, the views expressed here are his own. This article first appeared in The National.