In 2019 the big issue was the Climate – the global emergency of cataclysmic change – now shoved off the political agenda due to a public health pandemic, Covid19.
At the start of the lockdown, roads fell silent, airports grew quiet and people exercised more with walking and cycling, exploring the areas around where they lived.
There were promises too by politicians as the cleaner air and quieter skies showed us that the bird song we could now hear was there all along and wildlife returned to places vacated by the human species. The politicians promised that there would no return to the old ‘normal’, that things would change when we emerged from lockdown.
In 2019 the Scottish Government embarked on a series of Climate Conversations throughout Scotland , led by the Environment Secretary, Roseanne Cunningham. They came to Orkney. The public took part and made their feelings known – the strongest of which was that things were not moving fast enough to address the climate emergency.
The exercise was to inform the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan but that’s all been put on hold while we deal with Covid 19.
Speaking in April 2020, Roseanna Cunningham said:
“In face of the unprecedented health and economic implications of the COVID-19 pandemic we have come to the view that publishing the Climate Change Plan update by the end of April is no longer feasible or appropriate. This does not mean that work on our ambitious plan will pause – indeed it will continue – but it is recognition that we are operating in a changed landscape.
“It is vitally important that our actions in the coming weeks and months, even those in response to other major global issues such as climate change, reflect the worldwide situation and support our national response.
“I have written to the Committee on Climate Change to request its independent expert advice on the best way forward in these unprecedented circumstances and how the Climate Change update can contribute, in due course, to a green recovery for Scotland.”
Download: ECCLR 2020.04.0 Letter to committee
The committee wrote back on 3rd of April
“The Committee recognises the unprecedented situation created by the COVID19 emergency and therefore the need to review the CCP approach as a result. The Committee thanks you for your timely update and welcomes the opportunity to liaise with you on both the substantive issue and the options for alternative timing arrangements when appropriate. I will also write to other parliamentary committees to keep them updated of this information and of the process as it evolves.”
In the General Election of 12th December 2019, Climate Change was also a big issue and in Orkney there was even a hustings devoted to that one subject.
The packed room heard from Coilla Drake (Scottish Labour Party), Robert Leslie (Scottish National Party) and standing in for Alistair Carmichael (Scottish Liberal Democrats) was Liam McArthur MSP.
All of these events, the climate strikes by young people, the legislation that was going through the Scottish Parliament – all of these were because the public understood that there was a climate emergency.
The clue is in the word ’emergency’. And it is understandable that Covid19 and the huge resources dedicated to managing a public health emergency has shifted the focus – but it should also have sharpened the focus.
On 30th of June 2020, residents from Orkney and Shetland, including members of Extinction Rebellion Orkney, Greenpeace and Shetland Climate Action held a virtual lobby meeting with local MP Alistair Carmichael, LibDem.
This was one of over 200 similar meetings between members of the public and their MPs held on that date, organised by the Climate Coalition, saying that the “Time is Now for a Healthy, Green and Fair Recovery”.
The Environment is one of those sectors which is devolved to the Scottish Parliament which has a Scottish Government Minister whose remit is the environment and a committee – the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee If you click on that link you can find all the business they are dealing with in the Scottish Parliament. It is the Scottish Parliament which passes laws on the environment in Scotland.
Alistair Carmichael is an MP and sits in the House of Commons and whilst the powers over the environment are devolved to Scotland there are many aspects of this which remain with Westminster – renewables, Broadband etc. There was an Environment Bill introduced to the HoC which has been delayed due to Covid 19. Some parts of it will apply in Scotland however,
“Certain parts of this Bill have been certified by the Speaker as relating exclusively to England and England and Wales, so the ‘English votes for English laws’ procedure will apply to it in the House of Commons. “
At the meeting with Orkney and Shetland residents a number of issues were raised with Mr Carmichael including the need to protect the natural world and ecosystems, tackling the energy crisis by continuing to build on the world leading work being undertaken in the islands on renewable energy, and using these fuels for greener transport, for example.
The potential for creating many new jobs through a green recovery was emphasised. A mass national programme to make homes fuel efficient would help consumers with reduced fuel bills, tackling fuel poverty, as well as creating jobs and reducing our carbon footprint, so would be beneficial on many fronts.
The adoption of a Net Zero Finance Plan was raised, which includes the rule that bailouts and financial support for businesses should be conditional on plans and action to align with targets for net zero carbon emission.
Welcoming the opportunity to speak on the climate issue Alistair Carmichael felt that the Environmental Bill that is going through the House of Commons was important (note above that this has been delayed due to Covid19) .He also highlighted the COP climate change conference that was due to be held in Glasgow in November but has now been postponed until 2021.
In addition Alistair Carmichael said that he would look into the idea of the Net Zero rule in financial support to businesses.
In Scotland the Scottish Government is setting up a National Investment Bank.
“The Bank’s primary mission will be to support Scotland’s transition to net zero carbon emissions through a range of debt and equity products. ” Growing the Economy Scottish National Investment Bank
On Wednesday 8th of July 2020, The UK Chancellor, Rushi Sunak, presented his measures to get the UK economy going again. You can watch that here: Parliament TV Starting at 12.37.
Commenting on the statement Caroline Rance, Friends of the Earth Scotland Climate and Energy Campaigner, said:
“While there are some welcome announcements from the Chancellor today, when I was watching the statement I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d left a few pages of the speech at home. The vision and funding put forward pales in comparison with what’s needed to transform the economy, create jobs and cut climate emissions.”
So not much to hang your hopes on there.
Back at the Scottish Parliament the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee has a survey running just now.
It wants to examine “the principles that should underpin a green recovery, to identify key actions for change, immediate priorities, potential barriers to implementation and the governance arrangements needed to deliver this.”
The closing date for sending in written submissions to the committee is 7th of August 2020.
The Committee would particularly welcome views on the following questions–
• Do the principles of sustainable development (as set out in the annexe see below), and those for a resilient recovery, as proposed by the UK Committee on Climate Change, provide a comprehensive framework for guiding an effective green recovery in Scotland?
• What are the key barriers to delivering a green recovery (within your sector and / or community)?
• What key policies, actions and immediate priorities are needed to deliver a green recovery (within your sector and / or community)?
• How should the 2021/22 Budget support a green and sustainable recovery and avoid locking in carbon; and what funding is needed in the ECCLR portfolio to deliver a green and sustainable recovery?
You can find out more about that here: Green Recovery Call for Evidence
The promises from lockdown about the need to address climate change through a new ‘normal’ have very quickly evaporated as governments, Scottish and UK, urge people to embrace consumerism again and take to the roads to drive around the countryside.
There is some hope. The Scottish Government’s Advisory Committee on Economic Recovery headed by Benny Higgins has made recommendations “to ensure transition towards a greener, net-zero and wellbeing economy.”
Benny Higgins, Chair of the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, said:
“Scotland faces an economic challenge of monumental scale. If we do not intervene radically to transform our economy, inequalities will drastically widen with long-term scarring for communities across the country, and for our young people in particular. This cannot be allowed to happen.
“The Advisory Group on Economic Recovery has worked at great speed over the past two months, engaging extensively with businesses and with wider civic society to understand the challenges that we face, but crucially to curate a set of recommendations that emphasise the immediate need to protect and create jobs, reduce inequalities by building a green and technology-led recovery, and make Scotland an attractive place to do business.
“To create a robust, resilient wellbeing economy, the public and private sector must now build a new partnership to prioritise and deliver bold action. And they must do so with purpose and urgency.”
There were 25 recommendations. Link: Towards a Robust, Resilient Wellbeing Economy for Scotland: Report of the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery
“Those who wish to sing, always find a song.” Old Scandinavian Proverb.
The report also calls upon all sectors of society, not just government, to aid the economic recovery:
” this report calls for both the private sector and Scottish Government to embrace an opportunity to reset their engagement.“
And it states:
“We must restore employment, by prioritising a green investment and education-led recovery, with a prominent role for digital technologies.”
Amongst its recommendations is that:
The green economic recovery is central to recovery overall. The Scottish Government now needs to establish a priority on delivering transformational change with clear sector plans, where the coincidence of emissions reductions, the development of natural capital and job creation are the strongest
1. Use climate investments to support the economic recovery and jobs
2. Lead a shift towards positive long-term behaviours
3. Tackle the wider ‘resilience deficit’ on climate change
4. Embed fairness as a core principle
5. Ensure the recovery does not ‘lock-in’ greenhouse gas emissions or increased climate risk
6. Strengthen incentives to reduce emissions when considering fiscal changes.
Welcoming the report, Fiona Hyslop, Economy Secretary in the Scottish Government said:
“The report identifies the importance of employment, the environment, education and equality.
“I agree that each one of these will be vital as we seek to create a society that is resilient, fair, and one in which everyone has the opportunity to be successful.
“We will now develop a detailed response to the report which will be published before the end of July.
“This report represents a clear call to action that goes beyond the Scottish Government and the public sector.
“We will only be able to build the kind of post-COVID-19 recovery we want with the active involvement of the private, cultural and third sectors and, importantly, the public.
“It is therefore vital that everyone continues to work together in the crucial weeks and months to come to deliver the action Scotland needs to recover from the impact of COVID-19.”
This is the opportunity for Scotland to carve out a new economic and social direction with the environment central to its journey to a greener future. The Orkney News will keep readers updated with the Scottish Government’s response before the end of July.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame