We must never take our planet for granted

Last week, some of the COVID restrictions which have been in place for many months were lifted – most notably on physical distancing and limits to the size of social gatherings.

I hope people have been enjoying the opportunity to enjoy themselves a bit more, and meet up with more friends and family members than was possible before.

While we have all been waiting a long time for that, the COVID virus does still remain a threat unfortunately – and as we enter winter, it may pose challenges for us again.

However, we are in a better position than we might have believed possible at the start of the summer – so if we all continue to take sensible precautions, we can hopefully keep it under control.

Vaccines are our way out of this pandemic

It’s good news that 16 and 17 year olds can now get vaccinated, either by going to a drop-in clinic or by booking an appointment.

Our route out of this pandemic is getting as many people vaccinated as possible, which is why it’s vital that all eligible young people take up the offer of vaccination, if they can.

You can find out where your nearest drop-in clinics are by visiting NHS Inform which will direct you to the latest information from your local health board – or through your local board’s social media channels.

The last year has reminded us of the precious nature of things we might have taken for granted beforehand – but it’s also shown that, when it’s necessary, we can achieve extraordinary things. If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that when we come together we can rise to any emergency and make the changes we need to.  In Scotland – and right across our world – we have massive challenges to confront and to overcome – and climate change is right at the top of that list.

Leading by example in the climate emergency

Many of us will have watched the news reports of devastating wildfires in Greece, floods caused by torrential rainfall in Germany and Austria, and devastating storms which spread across China sadly killing more than 300 people. The last five years have been the hottest ever recorded, and these images show that the climate crisis – with its inter-related threats of climate change, nature loss and pollution – remains the single biggest challenge our planet faces.

I don’t think that the pandemic has made people any less concerned about climate change – despite the virus disrupting and dominating many aspects of our everyday lives – but a new report published last week by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has definitely acted as a wake-up call.

The report painted a stark picture of the unprecedented actions now needed to salvage global warming ambitions. It revealed that global warming will continue into at least the middle of this century, and failure to take urgent action to limit harmful emissions now would mean the target set by governments to avoid exceeding 1.5C of global warming will be missed. It was a pretty terrifying warning.

With the COP26 summit due to take place in Glasgow in November, Scotland has a unique opportunity to shape the narrative on climate change, and show the world the work we are undertaking to tackle the climate emergency. We have already set ambitious targets to reduce Scotland’s emissions of greenhouse gases to net-zero by 2045 – five years ahead of the UK – and we must continue to lead by example.

The conference in Glasgow could be the last chance for world leaders to come together and make the bold, ambitious decisions that are more vital now than ever. The decisions we make in November could affect the health, wellbeing and prosperity of our planet for decades to come. Put simply, it’s a make or break situation.

Urgent action for a just transition

Over the last year, I think we’ve learned a lot about the kind of country we want to be, and how we want to drive forward our plans to build a thriving, prosperous, fairer nation which meets our global responsibilities in a fair, just way.

When the Prime Minister visited Scotland last week, he made an insensitive and ill-informed joke about Margaret Thatcher’s closure of coal mines contributing to tackling climate change. I can remember the lives and communities in Scotland which were devastated by Thatcher’s policies and her destruction of the coal industry – which had nothing to with environmentalism or any concern for our planet.

Those memories of deindustrialisation in the 1970s and 80s have made me absolutely determined to ensure that the move towards a net-zero society is a fair one, with its benefits shared equally amongst citizens, and any harmful consequences identified and mitigated.

The task that we are facing in the coming years is an urgent one and a difficult one – but it’s not an impossible one. This simply doesn’t require bold targets for the next few years, it requires urgent action.

We are facing a challenge that will affect every one of us within our lifetimes. The need to act collectively and decisively has never been more urgent. Above all else, we owe it to this and future generations to rise to the challenge.