Scotland can lead the transition to the decarbonised age

For anyone who still doubts that the climate crisis is real, recent analysis should convince them otherwise. It has just been confirmed that 2019 was the second hottest year on record.

And that this is a genuine emergency should really not come as a surprise. We need only look at the bushfires in Australia in recent weeks or the increasing incidence of flooding here to know how serious this is.

In fact, the need for immediate action to tackle the climate emergency has never been greater.

I’m proud to say that Scotland has already led the way in acknowledging and responding to the global climate crisis.

We are a global centre for low and zero carbon innovation. We continue to lead the rest of the UK in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and we have very recently set the most ambitious statutory targets for decarbonisation, anywhere in the world.

Our aim is that by 2045, Scotland will be a net zero emitter of all greenhouse gases – effectively ending our contribution to climate change. We also want to achieve a 75% reduction by 2030 – that interim goal will force us to take early action and encourage others to do likewise.

It is our world leading ambition, and our proven track record, that makes us best placed to host this year’s global climate change summit – COP26 – here in Glasgow.

COP26 is set to be the most significant climate summit since Paris in 2015.

The need for countries to step up in their efforts cannot be overstated.

In Scotland we are serious about the net zero challenge and our ambitions are backed by strong investment.

In our budget, published two weeks ago, we confirmed additional funding in transport, agriculture, heat and energy – with £1.8 billion of capital investment in the coming year for specific projects to reduce emissions.

We are also promoting a greater shift to sustainable travel, increasing our investment in active travel to over £85 million, and raising our overall funding for rail and bus services to a total of £1.55 billion in 2020-21.

For those who need to drive, we’re supporting a transition to low carbon vehicles with a £35 million loan fund.

And given the importance of decarbonising the way we heat our homes, we’re also delivering more investment in energy efficiency programmes and district heating schemes.

It’s no secret that tackling climate change is a momentous challenge.

For Scotland to become a net-zero emitter of greenhouse gases by 2045 – as we are bound in law to do – it will require us all to take difficult decisions and change our lifestyles.

That means changes to how we travel and heat our homes and, for the country as a whole, to how we use our land.

But tackling climate change will also bring many benefits, particularly for our health and wellbeing as we improve air quality and encourage more active travel. It will also offer new opportunities for jobs and our economy.

Indeed, just as Scotland helped lead the world into the industrial age, we can now lead the transition to the decarbonised age.

However, unlike the impact deindustrialisation had on many communities across Scotland, the Scottish Government is determined that, in this era of change, nobody is left behind.

That was the reason for the formation of our Just Transition Commission, which will publish its first report later this month on how we can address climate change in a way which puts people first.

That principle of putting people first is one we want to see embedded at the heart of COP26.

The inclusivity of the summit is paramount – each and every one of us has a stake in its outcome so it stands to reason that the discussions should involve as many people as possible.

The Scottish Government will hold a broad range of events and activities in and around the summit, designed to ensure communities, individuals and organisations can participate in the conversation.

Together we can be a strong, progressive and positive voice for change. And I am determined that momentum for change will be achieved in Glasgow in November.

To that aim, I have written to Boris Johnson – the UK government is the official host of COP – to underline the Scottish Government’s commitment to it, proposing our Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change, Roseanna Cunningham, attends the UK Cabinet meeting and subcommittee meetings on Climate Change.

It would not only help with coordination but would also demonstrate the UK and Scotland’s commitment to and responsibility for delivering an event that is safe, secure, and lives up to the expectations of the world.

Over the past year the Scottish Government has been working with partners across the country, including Police Scotland and Transport Scotland, and with UK Government officials to establish the requirements of hosting such a major event.

This issue goes beyond political boundaries.

I hope Boris Johnson and his new Cabinet can acknowledge the leadership Scotland has shown in tackling the climate emergency, and commit to working closely and constructively with us and all those with an interest in climate change to make COP26 the success it needs to be.