What is the Scottish government proposing to do?
In 2009, the Scottish Parliament passed the world-leading Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, committing to reduce Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. In addition, the Scottish Government has committed to the equivalent of 100% of Scotland's electricity demand to be generated from renewable energy by 2020 [i].
The Scottish Climate Change Act sets an excellent example of national legislation following scientific advice on climate change. It is however vitally important that the Scottish Government delivers on the commitments set out in that Act.
How is Scotland helping people in poorer countries who are affected by climate change?
The Scottish Government's new Climate Justice Fund is aimed at helping people living in some of the world's poorest countries to adapt to the challenges of the changing climate, such as more frequent and severe droughts and floods, through such means as developing climate-resistant crops and more resilient flood defences [ii].
What are other countries doing?
An assessment by Globe International showed that 32 out of 33 surveyed major economies have progressed or are progressing significant climate and/or energy-related legislation [iii].
All EU countries except Germany currently emit lower carbon emissions than the UK[iv]. Sweden leads the EU in renewable energy use at present, producing over 44% of its energy from such sources. New Zealand has pledged to become a zero carbon country, Denmark has committed to a 40% cut in carbon emissions by 2020, and Ireland is in the process of putting a climate bill before its parliament[v].
In the United States, although the federal government has not signed up to the Kyoto agreement (see below), several individual states and cities have, and some have even set targets beyond Kyoto. China is encouraging renewable energy development and has set energy efficiency targets in its 12th Five Year Plan[vi].
What about the Kyoto agreement?
This international agreement on climate change became law in 2005. Under Kyoto, industrialised countries are required to cut their greenhouse gas emissions on average to 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2012. A second commitment period under the Protocol has been agreed, with countries committed to reduce GHG emissions by at least 18% below 1990 levels in the eight-year period from 2013 to 2020. However, not all countries are signed up to take part in the Protocol, e.g. USA, Canada, China.
A second international agreement is to be negotiated before 2020 to follow on from the Kyoto protocol. While it is important to have strong international agreement in place to tackle an issue of such pressing global concern, there is also a need for individual countries to put in place national laws to reduce emissions as was highlighted by Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) who has highlighted the need for domestic legislation in order to secure international agreement [vii].
What’s happening internationally now?
Climate change is high on the international agenda, as highlighted by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon who named it as a priority agenda for action in 2013 [viii].
However, there’s a need to act more urgently at a global level. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in 2011 committed signatories, now including the United States, to a new legally binding agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, but details won’t be agreed until 2015, and the agreement won’t come into force until 2020. Negotiations will continue in November 2013 in Poland.
Is there any point in the UK acting when America won’t and China and India are growing at such a rate?
The UK can use its influence in groups like the G8 to put pressure on other countries, but this will be much easier if we set a good example and show what can be done to reduce emissions and improve quality of life at the same time.
India is often labelled as a high emitter of greenhouse gases. However, while India holds 16.8% of the world’s population, it emits just 5.3% of the world’s CO2 – which equates to just 1.4 tonnes per person [ix]. It’s similar with China; it does produce a lot of greenhouse gases, but this is primarily because it has a large population.
Can’t we buy emissions savings from overseas through international ‘carbon credits’?
Scotland shouldn’t – and doesn’t need to - rely on buying carbon credits from overseas in order to meet the emissions targets set under the Scottish Climate Change Act. Buying credits for emissions reductions taking place elsewhere in the world, to balance Scotland’s carbon accounting sheet, would mean spending public funds overseas rather than investing them in emissions-reducing activities in Scotland which can also bring other social, environmental and economic benefits for people in Scotland.
Secondly, buying carbon credits would require other countries to reduce their emissions further in order to compensate for the extra greenhouse gases being produced here. There are also concerns regarding many international carbon credit schemes and whether they provide additional emissions reductions in a manner that does not negatively affect local communities. Nor can we always be certain that the credits are being used for their intended purpose; for instance, the Stockholm Environment Institute has raised concerns about funding raised through carbon credit purchase being directed towards coal-fired power plants in developing countries [x].
The Scottish Government has repeatedly said it does not intend to use carbon credits to meet emissions targets.
[i] Scottish Government, Scotland’s Action to tackle climate change webpage accessed 20/03/13, www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/climatechange/scotlands-action; Scottish Government Renewables policy webpage accessed 20/03/13, www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Business-Industry/Energy/Energy-sources/19185/17612
[ii] Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, 31/05/12, Scottish Climate Justice Fund shows the way forward, www.stopclimatechaos.org/sccs-cjf-launch and Scottish Government Climate Justice Fund: www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/climatechange/climatejusticefund
[iii] Globe International, January 2013, 3rd edition of the Climate Legislation Study, www.globeinternational.org/index.php/news/item/study-reveals-legislators-hold-the-key-to-tackling-climate-change
[iv] European Environment Agency, Greenhouse gas emission trends and projections in Europe 2012 www.eea.europa.eu/publications/ghg-trends-and-projections-2012
[v] The Independent, 14/07/10, www.independent.co.uk/environment/sweden-leads-the-european-union-on-renewable-energy-2026290.html; New Zealand’s zero carbon commitment, www.newzealand.com/travel/media/features/naturesustainable-tourism/07_nov_25_sustainabletourism_carbonzero_feature.cfm; World Resources Institute Insights, October 2011, insights.wri.org/open-climate-network/2011/10/denmark-committed-40-emissions-reduction-2020; Irish Times, www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2011/1217/1224309215700.html
[vi] CAN Europe, December 2011, Climate change Performance Index Released at UN Climate Summit, www.climnet.org/media-center/335-climate-change-performance-index-released-at-un-climate-summit
[vii] Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), January 2013: "domestic legislation is critical because it is the linchpin between action on the ground and the international agreement”: www.globeinternational.org/index.php/news/item/study-reveals-legislators-hold-the-key-to-tackling-climate-change
[viii] The Guardian, January 2013, Ban Ki-moon: Climate agreement tops 2013 wish list, www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jan/22/ban-ki-moon-climate-agreement
[ix] The Guardian, Which nations are most responsible for climate change?, www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/may/05/ultimate-climate-faq-topics/print
[x] Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, November 2011, Briefing on the use of carbon credits to meet Scotland’s emissions reduction targets www.stopclimatechaos.org/sites/default/files/sccs-carbon-credits-brief-2011.pdf