We must all rise to the challenge of the climate emergency

This summer we’ve seen fires destroying large swathes of the Amazon rainforest and extreme weather events across Europe. We’ve seen lives being lost and entire communities destroyed, often in the poorest and most vulnerable countries. The science leaves no room for doubt: these events represent the realities of climate change – the single most urgent challenge the world faces.

And it is a challenge to which we all must rise – but the clock is ticking. We can no longer prevaricate and postpone. We are already beyond the point at which action is needed. 

Yesterday thousands of young Scots took to the streets across Scotland in global protest – I was proud to join the march in Glasgow.

Our young people are rightly frustrated at the lack of progress politicians are making to implement policies that will ensure we meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement.

Today in the EU there is an ever-widening gap between the stated ambition of climate change action and the realities of public policy. That gap has to be closed, and it has to be closed quickly. 

On Monday world leaders will gather in New York for the UN Climate Action Summit called as a first step towards closing this gap. I’ll be attending that summit as part of the delegation from the European Parliament.

The UN has asked leaders to come with a “concrete and realistic” plan to achieve two critical objectives. First, proposals for new actions aimed at dramatically reducing emissions over the next decade. Second, a strategy to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 as set out in the Paris Agreement. This is the central aim of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The summit in New York is also an important platform to build momentum towards the COP25 conference taking place in Santiago, Chile, in December this year.

While we should not expect next week’s conference to be as big a milestone as the Paris Summit, it remains highly significant to ensure leaders publicly re-commit to implementing progressive policies.

It is now four years since the Paris Agreement and the hard reality is that the progress made to date in meeting its objectives has been disappointing. 

I have a packed programme of meetings with UN officials, governments, international organisations and NGOs to scrutinise the actions and pledges of the Summit and ensure that the EU and the global community step up to the plate and raise their ambition. As one of Scotland’s MEPs I will be taking a very strong message to the summit that the EU must take bolder actions if we are to get on track to meet the 1.5 degrees goal. That is what is expected of us and that is what we must deliver. 

And I will be taking to New York, as I have taken to Brussels, lessons from Scotland – ensuring Scotland’s voice on climate change is heard. 

The Scottish Government is leading by example and Scotland is rightly recognised as a world leader in tackling climate change. 

In April, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared a climate emergency and launched Scotland on the path to bold and meaningful action that will completely end our contribution to climate change within a generation.

Scotland is now redefining what world leadership means. Our response to the global climate emergency and a Green New Deal for Scotland was at the heart of the new Programme for Government announced earlier this month. 

Our ambitious target to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 – one of the toughest statutory targets in the world – is set out in the Scottish Government’s new Climate Change Bill, which will be debated next week in Holyrood. But Scotland’s transition to a net zero society requires collaboration with everyone working together to ensure we can seize the opportunities and that no one is left behind. 

Next year Glasgow will host the international climate change conference, COP26, and Scotland will become the centre of the conversation on climate change. 

If we are to meet the challenges of the global climate crisis we need more international cooperation, not less. EU membership offers Scotland an international framework within which to pursue our ambitions, but Brexit puts all of this in jeopardy. 

Serving yet another example of why it is essential that Scotland takes its place on the global stage as an independent European nation.