Climate targets to make a global difference

Mike Robinson, Chief Executive, RSGS

Scotland has undoubtedly set an example of leadership in tackling climate change on the world stage. It introduced the world’s first climate justice fund, however modest, which allocates around £3m of funding per year to projects in developing nations affected by climate change. In 2009, it also enacted the most stringent climate abatement targets in the world, which received unanimous cross-party support, and featured an interim target of reducing emissions by 42% (from 1990 levels) by 2020.

In 2010, I was asked to chair the Scottish Parliament’s Short-Life Working Group on Climate Change, in order to resolve the level of the early annual targets after there was disagreement within the chamber. There was a concern that achieving 42% reductions was beyond our reach. However, as announced in June, it does look certain that we will achieve the 42% target after all ”“ and early. This is in part due to changes in the production of energy away from coal, in part due to loss of heavy industry, in part due to wider policy efforts, and in part because the 1990 baseline figure has been more accurately calculated (because of better scientific data). Therefore it’s by circumstance as much as by design. It’s good, but it’s not great.

The Scottish Government has a manifesto commitment to bring forward a new Climate Act, which will revise these targets. The existing targets were, after all, agreed with a 2°C threshold in mind. With the 2015 Paris Climate Conference recognising the need to keep temperature rises below 1.5°C, perhaps there is an opportunity both to revise these targets to take account of the new baseline, and to revise the commitments upwards to reflect the need for greater urgency and effort.

A higher target of 55% or more by 2020 would realign the targets to better reflect this changing baseline. This is expected to be the level required (according to the UKCCC) to achieve the equivalent of the original 42% commitment. Beyond 2020 though, it is a strong 2030 target that would best underline the urgency with which we need to take action. And more stringent 2040 and 2050 targets could reflect the 1.5°C ideal threshold and give an incredible example to the rest of the world to accelerate their ambition. It will be interesting to see how proposed commitments match up to this.

Nonetheless, targets are only that, and it is essential that the right policies are put in place to ensure their achievement, if we are to play our part in solving this problem. And more than that, perhaps help lead, guide and advise this global change. This issue is not going to go away, and the bolder we are in confronting it, the sooner we can face up to the future with confidence and help others around the world to do the same. During 2016 the Scottish Government will be working to produce a plan of how to meet these emissions reductions (the Report on Policies and Proposals version 3, or RPP3) which will inform this transition. This should then become the blueprint by which all sectors of society can engage.

Of course each of us will also, to a degree, contribute to these targets, one way or the other. The real tests, both personally and nationally, are going to be the decisions we make about

how we travel, how we heat our homes, how we produce electricity, how we grow our food, the waste we create and what infrastructure we invest in. We all have a role to play.

I believe there is huge merit in Scotland showing leadership around climate change; after all, the whole world needs to become more sustainable, probably for the first time ever, so there is much to be done, and opportunity in being ahead of the curve. So how can we make the greatest difference globally to this issue?

RSGS has been working with the ECCI, Scottish Government, 2020 Business Group and others to ascertain exactly that ”“ how Scotland can best contribute to global emissions reductions. Through a project called Bitesize we have used the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report to help identify those chunks of effort which Scotland could demonstrate, pilot, inform or directly assist, which will help other nations reduce their emissions, exporting Scottish expertise and international example, and helping deliver on domestic targets. We will convene a meeting later in the year to bring all the various sectors of Scottish society together to discuss how we might begin to take action on these.

If we do see strong targets in any new Act, a robust RPP3, a continued commitment to climate justice funding and a series of international ”˜Bitesize’ examples, Scotland should be better placed than ever to claim leadership in one of the most defining issues of our generation.

Temperature change gif

This gif, produced by Dr Ed Hawkins, National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading, depicts average global monthly temperatures since 1850. The trend shows a clear outward spiral (warming trend) ending in the yellow line which indicates a leap in global averages in the six months to April 2016.