Greens and environmentalists clash with Scottish Government over 'timid' Climate Change Bill

Patrick Harvie derided the bill as promising slower progress “for the next 20 years than we’ve seen in the past 10.”

THE DRAFT CLIMATE CHANGE BILL put before the Scottish Parliament today [24 May] has attracted heavy criticism from both the Scottish Green Party and environmentalist groups for its failure to set a net zero emissions target.

The bill sets a target to reduce carbon emissions by 90 per cent by 2050, which critics argue constitutes a slowdown from the current rate of action intended to combat climate change.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie MSP described the bill as committing to “slower emission reductions, slower progress, for the next 20 years than we’ve seen for the past 10 – and why on Earth should parliament vote for that?”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon responded that Harvie was “wrong in his characterisation” of the Climate Change Bill, instead describing it as “the most ambitious statutory target for reducing carbon emissions anywhere in the world.”

Sturgeon cited the Committee on Climate Change as describing the Scottish Government’s stated target of a 90 per cent reduction by 2050 as being on the “outer limit of feasibility”, and argued that there is a very clear process for raising that target to 100 per cent “as soon as practically possible.”

Sturgeon continued: “Other countries are often cited as being more ambitious, but as I’m sure Patrick Harvie knows, when we compare commitments on a like-for-like basis, that’s simply not the case.

“When you take Sweden, for example, which is often held up as already having 100 per cent targets, Sweden reserves the right to achieve 15 per cent of its reduction through international credits – in other words, by paying other countries. Scotland’s target will require to be met by domestic measures alone, which is much, much tougher.”

Harvie was unimpressed, responding: “It really does take some nerve to publish a bill, the first section of which is titled ‘The Net Zero Emissions Target’, and then fails to set a net zero emissions target.”

READ MORE: International voices call for ‘Scotland the Brave' to lead on climate change

Speaking afterwards, Harvie commented: "The First Minister was keen to make comparisons with other countries, and in reality it’s clear that in countries like Sweden, New Zealand and Iceland, Greens in government are already setting net-zero targets well ahead of Scotland.”

Scottish Greens climate spokesperson Mark Ruskell MSP also criticised the Scottish Government for what he described as a “timid decision”, saying: “Scotland has a chance to drive up improvements in housing, jobs, transport and farming but it seems it’s going to take opposition parties and the wider climate movement to force the SNP to do the right thing.”

The Scottish Greens have previously called for a target of 100 per cent reduction by 2040 to meet international climate science accords such as the Paris Agreement, and help facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has defended the bill, saying: "Our Climate Change Bill sets out our commitment to reduce emissions by 100% with ambitious interim targets which strengthen Scotland's world-leading position on climate change.

"Our 90 per cent target will be tougher even than the 100 per cent goal set by a handful of other countries, because our legislation will set more demanding, legally-binding, annual targets covering every sector of our economy.

"By 2030, we will cut emissions by two-thirds and, unlike other nations, we will not use carbon offsetting, where other countries are paid to cut emissions for us, to achieve our goal.”

Cunningham continued: "The fight against climate change is a moral responsibility but Scotland's academic and engineering expertise, coupled with our outstanding natural resources, mean it is also an economic opportunity.

"Climate change is one of the defining challenges of our age and Scotland's international leadership means our plans must be ambitious, credible and affordable - which is exactly what the new Climate Change Bill delivers."

READ MORE: Campaign group urges Scottish Government to do more on climate change

Following the publication of the bill, Stop Climate Chaos Scotland chair Tom Ballantine said: It’s hugely disappointing that the Scottish Government has failed to live up to its own rhetoric on global climate change leadership, by failing to set a net zero emissions target in the Climate Change Bill published today.

“The Government claims Scotland will be one of the first countries to achieve zero emissions, but the Bill does not commit to that. It sets a target of only a 90 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050. 

“By failing to ally with the global momentum towards zero emissions, led by countries like France, Sweden and New Zealand, Scotland is missing a huge opportunity to end its contribution to climate change in a generation, attract clean investment and retain its position as a leader on the global stage.

“We’re now calling on MSPs from all parties to push for stronger targets on emissions - net-zero by 2050 at the latest, 77 per cent by 2030 and the action needed to deliver on them in line with the Paris Agreement.”

Claire Mack, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, also commented: "While this bill continues to show Scotland's ambition, we would urge ministers and parliament to set a date for delivering net-zero emissions and to remain a world leader in the fight against climate change."

Friends of the Earth Scotland, who have also expressed their disappointment in the Climate Change Bill’s current form, are urging supporters to email their MSPs to advocate a more ambitious rewrite of the bill.

Picture courtesy of Takver