As our party and new leadership teams meet in Perth for conference, we can expect a weekend of debate and conversation about the direction of our party, not just for the elections in May, but for our country’s future.
One of our party’s proudest achievement since we were in government was the role we played in the ground breaking 2009 Scottish Climate Change Act. We supported radical legislation because we believe in climate justice for every community, rural and urban, at home and abroad.
All life on earth depends on the ability of our environment to provide us with clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, food to eat and energy for our homes; if we want social justice and economic prosperity, environmental justice is key to Scottish Labour’s ambition. Where you live should never impact negatively on your wellbeing and quality of life. And if we want to live up to our international solidarity values we must play our full part in addressing the climate challenge.
Scotland’s Climate Act was the culmination of years of campaigning to put in place legislation that would set us on a transition to a low carbon society.
Because we had a minority SNP Government and a strong broad-based Stop Climate Chaos Campaign, Scottish Labour had the chance to play a key part in in strengthening the initial legislation.
As our Shadow Cabinet Member for Climate Change, where I could achieve agreement with other opposition parties we had a majority both in Committee and in the Scottish Parliament – and we got results. We focused on our vision of Scotland’s place in the world, our image overseas, and our wellbeing and economic future at home being linked to the quality of our environment.
And look at the results of Labour pressure: a 42% carbon reduction target for 2020; annual targets; a requirement for public duty reporting; the requirement to involve and consult employers and trades unions on adaptation policies and a public engagement strategy; and we provided our support for the requirement for an annual Report on Policies and Proposals to be presented to the Parliament; a Land Use strategy; an Energy Efficiency Plan; and Council Tax and Business Rates reductions where energy efficiency measures had been installed.
Building standards were improved to reduce energy consumption, while use of renewables in new buildings increased, and permitted development rights for existing domestic and business buildings became a reality.
It’s now the fifth year of a majority SNP Government. There’s nothing to hold them back on implementation. But in the years since the Act none of the annual targets have been met, to the great embarrassment of the Scottish Government.
Although the SNP talk a good game on climate change and are very keen to set an example to the rest of the world, there’s a clear failure to make the changes we need to transition to a low carbon society.
What’s missing is carbon reduction in the crucial areas of housing, business, and the public sector. Where there have been reductions in 2013 in transport and agriculture and forestry, the numbers were low. Of course there has been progress in the energy sector, but we’re simply not getting big gains in the residential sector or in transport.
Cross-party support for renewables has seen big growth. As Environment Minister in 2000 I set a radical target of 18% of our electricity to be delivered by renewables by 2010. In 2011 the SNP set a target set of 100% by 2020. With 5 years to go we’re at 45%. Renewables growth has largely been delivered by onshore wind with little offshore and marine renewables to date, and just this week Aquamarine announced it had called in administrators.
The lack of Scottish Government ambition on renewable heat is striking. The 2016 target to eradicate the fuel poverty that scars the lives of 1/3 of Scotland’s households is unlikely to be met. Energy efficiency initiatives have been too modest and have not delivered on hard-to-heat homes; and then there’s the abject failure of leadership from the SNP government to encourage householders to benefit from discounts on their council tax if they installed energy efficiency measures. In 2012 the government admitted take-up by 579 homes wasn’t good enough, but fast forward to 2014 and it was two. Two houses in the whole of Scotland.
And when you look at the lack of progress on renewable heat, when Scottish technology is deployed in Norway but not at home, surely we must ask why there is such a staggering lack of ambition.
The railway expansion projects kicked off by the Scottish Labour-led government have now opened, but we’re not seeing nearly enough action to tempt car users onto rail both for short and longer commuting journeys and Scotland’s predominantly private bus network fails to be sufficiently attractive or reliable. On active travel, the most significant progress is being made by Scottish Labour councils, with Edinburgh leading the way with its 8% cycling budget.
While farmers have taken the opportunity to develop renewables, the chaos of the Single Farm Payment system, price volatility for farm produce, the lack of control in supply chains and the poor design of agricultural support has meant that the greening agenda has made little headway in Scotland. Organic production is a long way from becoming mainstream.
As we move nearer to the Paris climate talks the lesson from Scotland has been that strong targets need to be matched by decisive action. And we need sustained investment: the UK Tory government is making the transition to a low carbon economy harder through its lack of support for renewables.
Scottish Labour’s Environmental Justice team is focused on the action we need to make real progress on climate change, at home in Scotland and abroad.
Why? Because we’re democratic socialists. Our job is to stand up for fairness and to fight against injustice; to stand with those communities who need us to protect their environment. It’s our job to secure the equitable distribution of the benefits that flow from the environment, making sure that companies and businesses at home and abroad play fair with local people and protect our environment for generations to come. We need a just transition.