Conference – it’s a pleasure to join you today and to have the chance to discuss the important matter of climate change with you.
However, before I do, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the abhorrent terror that unfolded in Israel a week ago.
And the attacks on and humanitarian plight of innocent families in Gaza which has spiralled since.
And very close to home, I’d like to mark the position of our own First Minister – and the leadership he has shown including to Scotland’s Jewish and Palestinian communities – and that as he faces his own person turmoil.
Humza’s family and the families of all those who are mourning or who are suffering are in my heart and I’m sure the hearts of all of us in this room.
Conference, the twin crises of climate change and nature loss are challenges of existential proportion.
Unprecedented in scale, tackling them must be the collective mission of these times.
Once a seemingly distant threat, the real and devastating impact of climactic breakdown is now clear to see with wildfires, flooding and draught wreaking havoc across the world.
In July UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres observed that “the evidence is everywhere: humanity has unleashed destruction.”
Just last week, Scotland suffered an exceptional rainfall event. Argyle and Bute saw a month’s worth of rain in just 36 hours damaging homes, closing roads and ruining crops
Similarly, if you can believe it, managing water scarcity in summer is now a reality for Scotland. Scotland – where we’re famous for rain!
And as we begin to feel the effects of Climate Change, be in no doubt, communities around the world are on the front line with people losing everything up to and including their lives.
Often, these same people have done little or nothing to cause the problem. Unlike us, they have not benefited from the industrial processes which are driving climate change but they are facing the first and worst impacts.
This is the great injustice as the heart of climate change and it’s why it is an urgent human rights issue to which Scotland must respond.
And we are responding.
Scotland was among the first nations to declare a climate emergency and are now half-way to ending our contribution to climate change.
I am so proud of what our party has delivered in Government in this regard:
We launched ScotWind – the world’s largest floating offshore wind leasing round – which will deliver many billions of pounds in option fees, rental income and supply chain investment as well as an additional capacity of up to 27 gigawatts.
Meanwhile our £500m Just Transition is empowering workers, communities and business in the North East to drive the fair, managed and prosperous transition we need to see.
We are also investing £100 million in renewable hydrogen projects, including in a hydrogen hub, right here in Aberdeen.
In transport, we are providing free bus travel for over 2 million people, including all children and young people under 22, disabled people and everyone aged 60 and over. Our peak fares removal pilot, launched this month by my colleague Fiona Hsylop, is a first in the UK.
Reducing emissions, while saving people money – a clear example of our SNP Government delivering for our people and our planet.
Our targeted investment has seen more than 500 zero emission buses on the roads and, for EVs, we have the most comprehensive public charging network in the UK outside of London.
Meanwhile, we are investing at record levels in our natural world, creating more woodland and restoring more precious peat land than any other nation in the UK.
And unlike the Tories who are removing direct support for farmers, and Labour who often seem to forget where our food actually comes from, we in the SNP see a bright future for farming and other land based sectors in Scotland. Farmers care passionately about our land. I know this – and not just because I recently married one of them!
Friends, as net zero secretary, my vision for a net zero Scotland is more – not fewer – people living and working on our land and seas. And that’s why while I support rewilding, I far prefer the term re-peopling and why I am very excited by the Land Reform Bill my colleague Mairi Gougeon is currently developing.
Friends this is just some of what we have already achieved together. There is a great deal yet to do.
What I hope is clear, is that Scotland is so well placed to lead the way in our outward looking, internationalist tradition.
Because if climate change and nature loss are the great global challenges of our times, then Scotland has so much to offer the world by way of solution.
But we have a choice.
We can choose to be the renewables powerhouse of Europe.
We can choose to deliver a just transition for our oil and gas sector.
We can choose to embrace the future of an economy that is fair, green and growing.
Or we can choose – like the UK Government has chosen – to bury our heads in the sand, pretending that climate change isn’t real and that we can carry on regardless.The choice isn’t between a strong economy and a liveable climate – one depends on the other.
Because the truth is tackling climate change is an environmental and moral imperative but it may also be one of Scotland’s greatest socioeconomic opportunities.
As first movers in a just transition, we can grow our economy, we can protect our environment and we can avail the people of Scotland of the multiple benefits of a greener future – not least of good green jobs; warm, energy efficient homes and clean air. That is the prize of a just transition.
But friends, we cannot do this while tied to the failed Westminster system.
In recent weeks, Rishi Sunak has rolled back on key net zero pledges. And, regrettably, it appears Labour have been at pains to follow suit, with more flip-flopping from Keir Starmer.
Conference, what we are seeing from the Tories and Labour is not climate ambition, it is climate complacency.
And that complacency is not only hampering global progress on this vital mission, but it is also depriving Scotland of the economic opportunities of net zero.
Just as successive UK Governments – both Labour and Tory – have squandered Scotland’s oil wealth and the hundreds of billions of pounds that have flowed from Scotland – and this city – to the Treasury, they now seem intent on squandering our economic opportunities to lead the way on net zero.
We cannot let that happen.
Right now Scotland has the energy, but Westminster has the power.
We cannot let that continue [and having debated our route to independence, we must now get on and deliver it].
Friends, there can be fewer more important tasks than leaving a planet able to be safely and comfortably inhabited by generations to come.
This is our collection mission, in which we cannot fail.