Scotland is making a difference in the fight against climate change

For the last couple of weeks, Glasgow has pretty much been at the centre of the world – and for those of us who live here, it has certainly felt like it.

The COP26 conference on climate change was billed as the most important international gathering this century – and for good reason.

No longer can anyone pretend that the climate catastrophe is some abstract event, set to hit future generations in a distant decade.

You only have to see the increasing numbers of severe weather events around the world to know that the climate, and the planet, is changing rapidly.

Among the estimated 20,000 people to have descended on Glasgow were leaders from more than 100 countries.

And in case they were not already clear that they needed to go further and faster to avoid a climate catastrophe, the huge numbers taking part in demonstrations and making their voices heard certainly hammered home the message.

All governments need to do more – and I’m ready to admit that this includes Scotland.

We may have decarbonised faster than any G20 nation, but the fact is we have still fallen short of our ambitious targets in recent years, and need to step up our efforts.

And although we are not at the top table of these negotiations, the Scottish Government has used the opportunity of having the world on our doorstep to make a positive contribution and show leadership where we can.

I was personally very keen that the voice of youth was heard throughout COP26 and beyond. After all, the younger generation stands to lose the most from the damage we are doing now to our planet.

The Scottish Government funded the Youth COP summit, the Conference of Youth, which brought together more than 400 young people to draw up demands of world leaders.

It has traditionally been funded by the host nation, but the UK Government declined to do so – but I was glad to receive their suggestions and demands, and remain committed to doing all I can to realise them.

I was pleased to meet with inspiring young climate activists Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate as the conference got underway.

Both of these young women have helped generate a global youth protest movement that has put the climate emergency at the top of the agenda – and we saw that during the Fridays for Future march through Glasgow.

I’ve also been glad to catch up with Vanessa throughout the conference. The importance of women and girls’ leadership on climate change cannot be understated, and I hope that young activists like Vanessa and Greta continue to make their voices heard, as loudly and clearly as possible.

Another area where Scotland can – and is – making a difference is on Climate Justice.

Like many cities in developed nations, Glasgow has a rich industrial past. For a long time, we have enjoyed the benefits of climate emissions that are causing climate change.

We now have a moral obligation to help poorer nations, who contributed the least to climate change but are now suffering the worst from its effects.

Scotland’s Climate Justice fund supports the poorest nations adapt to the effects of climate change – such as tackling water scarcity, adapting farming practice, planting trees and much more.

This fund was the first of its kind in the world and we are now also committed to funding projects to help vulnerable countries repair the loss and damage they are already suffering.

The fund is, in a global sense, relatively small, but we have recently taken the decision to double it – and we are doing everything we can to push other nations to do more in this area.

And although Scotland is not directly involved in the negotiations, we will continue to act as a bridge for those who are often excluded from the ‘top table’ and those who lead the talks.

As COP26 draws to a close, I have mixed emotions.

On the one hand, I’ve been genuinely inspired by the many people I’ve met – particularly the young people – who are so determined to fix the mess that humanity has made. They give me huge hope for the future.

But on the other hand, I’m acutely aware that there is still so much more to do – and as I write this, it is unlikely that governments will reach an agreement which will guarantee now a limit to global temperature rises of 1.5 degrees.

But it is still highly possible that genuine progress will be made and this objective kept firmly alive.

There have also been significant new agreements on climate finance – the process of funding poorer nations to take steps to reduce their own emissions.

However, it is difficult to celebrate this too much when these nations are still waiting for the $100bn in climate funding they were promised back in 2009.

Let me finally say a big thank you to everyone living in Glasgow.

As well as the enormous logistical challenge of hosting an international conference during a global pandemic, there has been significant disruption to our city in the last couple of weeks.

And whatever is achieved inside the conference, it’s safe to say that the people of Glasgow have been gracious and welcoming hosts. Once again, Glasgow has demonstrated that it is a world-class city.

Climate change is the defining challenge of our age – fixing it may seem like an overwhelming task, but we have no choice. Failure is not an option.