There is no doubt that the world faces a climate emergency.
The earth’s temperature is increasing, ice is melting, sea levels are rising and, as last week’s UN report has shown, our natural habitat is at risk.
We all know that weather is becoming more erratic and severe, with droughts, wildfires, floods and increased rainfall becoming more widespread. All of this is resulting in the destruction of forests, ecosystems and crops.
The fact is that human behaviour is causing it and if we don’t change our ways, the effects will be even more catastrophic. That is why young people are right to be demanding more urgent action.
Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions have nearly halved since 1990 and we continue to outperform the UK, and most western European nations, in delivering reductions.
We are also the first country in the world to include a fair share of emissions from international aviation and shipping in climate targets.
So we are already a world leader in tackling climate change.
In 2018 nearly seventy five per cent of our electricity came from renewable sources and we have doubled our exports of renewable electricity to the rest of the UK.
We are also introducing Low Emission Zones in our four largest cities and hve set a target to phase out new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032 – eight years ahead of the target set by the UK government.
While we can be proud of our actions so far, we have always sought to do more and go further. That is why, with guidance from the recently published report by the Committee for Climate Change, we have now proposed a new target of achieving net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045.
If backed by Parliament these pioneering targets will ensure that Scotland’s contribution to climate change will cease within a generation. We were already world-leading but now we are redefining what world-leadership means.
Be in no doubt, achieving net-zero by 2045 is ambitious and for Scotland to succeed it will require the UK Government to also adopt more stringent targets and for parties across the spectrum to work together.
It will also mean difficult decisions are required across all of government.
It is in this context that last week we decided that previous proposals to reduce Air Departure Tax were no longer compatible with such ambitious targets.
That decision was not taken lightly but it is a demonstration of the seriousness of our commitment. Business as usual will not do.
There is no one action, no easy fix to get us to net-zero, so we will be looking across all of our responsibilities and we will take action where necessary.
Of course, everyone has a part in to play. We are already working to make it easier for people to reduce their own carbon footprint through positive changes to lifestyles, for example by doubling our active travel budget to provide more cycling infrastructure, and encouraging the use of greener forms of transport.
We have also committed £60 million to support the delivery of innovative low carbon energy infrastructure projects, such as electric vehicle charging or sustainable heating systems.
Last week we went one step further and set out our plans for the introduction of an ambitious Deposit Return Scheme (DRS).
Deposit return schemes are already operational across many countries – Sweden, Norway, Netherlands to name a few – but Scotland is the first country in the UK to put forward proposals to implement one.
Under our proposals a deposit of twenty pence would be added to the price of single use drinks containers and then refunded when the container is returned to the retailer for recycling.
The scheme will cover metal cans, PET (the most common form of plastic drinks containers), and glass and when it is established the ambition is for 90 per cent or more of our drinks containers to be recycled.
We have engaged with a wide range of stakeholders to design a system which properly reflects the needs of Scotland and that conversation will continue as we move forward, particularly to help address any concerns raised by smaller retailers and the glass and hospitality industries.
We hope our approach will provide a blueprint for the rest of the UK to follow.
The UK Committee on Climate Change said that achieving net zero by 2045 will require “extensive changes across the economy” and they are right.
There are many benefits to making these changes, not least for our health as we increase the quality of our air and engage more in active travel – but our economy can benefit significantly too.
Scotland is renowned for its resources – geographical and skills-based – in services relating to renewable industries. Whether it’s in engineering, carbon capture and storage and hydrogen technologies, there is huge potential for growth in exports, productivity and jobs as we move forward.
Climate change is the greatest challenge facing the world – there is no ‘planet B’.
Our obligations to the next generation are the most important we carry – let’s make sure Scotland lives up to fulfilling them.