Our climate emergency cannot be hidden behind targets

The climate change bill in Scotland was passed but real actions and outcomes are needed today across the UK, not 10 years hence.

The Scottish Parliament rubber-stamped climate legislation on 25 September which the Scottish Government called “world-leading”, and it has certainly drawn some attention.

In essence, it is a list of targets. The headline is net-zero by 2045, five years ahead of the UK as a whole, as suggested by the Committee on Climate Change.

But we shouldn’t pretend that this bill was radical. The Scottish Greens won some important concessions including a Citizens Assembly on climate and commitments to improve efficiency on housing, but Scotland’s legislation is not an emergency response to our global crisis.

As laid out in the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the science tells us we have only a decade to turn our economies around before global warming becomes irreversible.

Against this context, long-term targets are mostly meaningless.

The Scottish Greens had hoped other parties would back a proposal of a 10-year target of slashing emissions by 80% no later than 2030 — but they did not.

Even Scottish Labour, who less than 24 hours before had committed to net zero by 2030 at its UK conference, abstained on this point. This is why ultimately we could not back this weak bill.

Other parties need to wake up to the climate emergency. Legislation with eye-catching distant targets does nothing to deliver transformative action now. The Scottish and UK Governments cannot hide behind targets. Targets are meaningless without action to meet them.

If you look at Nicola Sturgeon’s Programme for Government, it’s clear that the SNP are pinning their hopes on technology that isn’t invented or developed yet to do the heavy lifting on reducing emissions. Carbon capture and storage and electric planes will enable capitalism to carry on as normal; suddenly, everyone will be able to afford an electric car.

It is political denial of the urgency and scale of our climate emergency and the impact it will have on equality too. Such newer technology will all come too late to meet the 2030 target that science demands. It will just be too late to tackle the problem.

The Scottish Greens have already started work on our Green New Deal. That’s because we have the technology to turn around our economy already – the train, the bus, the bicycle. Trees. Homes that are so efficient they require little heating.

We need to rebuild the public sector — decimated by the economics of successive Tory and Labour governments, making sure all departments and agencies are aligned behind the challenge.

We need to create new jobs to mobilise the workforce behind these efforts.

Scotland has seen far too often what happens when a government doesn’t plan for the future of workers. We can’t allow those who work in high carbon industries like oil and gas to be left on the scrapheap when those dwindling resources that are killing our planet dry up. We need to start the just transition now, not when it is too late.

The next 10 years is the time we need to act. This means phasing out our reliance on fossil fuels, creating an integrated public transport system to cut car use, meeting warm homes commitments with mass retrofitting and reforesting Scotland to at least the EU average.

In its Climate Bill, the Scottish Government has not committed to any of these things, but we will continue to press them to do so. They can start by placing statutory duties about climate on the new Scottish National Investment Bank

To achieve real system change and build a future for all we need the ambition laid out in our Scottish Green New Deal.

Mark Ruskell MSP is environment and climate spokesperson for the Scottish Greens.

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