Climate Change: call for action across the board

Falkirk East MSP Cathy Peattie has called for Climate Change action to be an across the board priority for public bodies.

“We all have a duty towards future generations,” said Cathy. “MSPs have a duty to ensure that Climate Change legislation is strong, and I believe that means ensuring that public bodies have a duty to consider, across the board, the impact of their activities and what they can do to contribute to action on Climate Change.”

Speaking in the Stage 1 Debate on the Climate Change Bill, Cathy, who is Deputy Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Transport Infrastructure & Climate Change Committee, said:

“Climate change is everyone’s responsibility, and people who accept the responsibility will want strong climate change legislation. Building on the UK Climate Change Act 2008, the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill will be world leading and we must get it right. Those who want to make a contribution to the future of our planet have nothing to fear from the bill, as it sets targets that we must meet to avert disaster, facilitates and encourages public participation and engagement in climate change policy and action, and ensures that all public authorities are on board and do what they can to work with central Government and the public to achieve the targets. What we are asking will not always be easy to achieve, but we would not ask it if we did not think that it was essential. If we act slowly, it will be harder to meet the challenges.

“Those who constantly seek to innovate and reduce their impact on the climate should not find complying with the legislation any harder than complying with targets that they would set for themselves. Indeed, quite the reverse is true, as the bill should make that easier. On the other hand, those who are in denial—those who think that the bill does not affect them and that climate change is simply not a problem and nothing to do with them—might have a bit more difficulty. For those who want to be part of the solution, the bill is not part of a problem.

“All of us have something to contribute—not only those who work on renewable energy, the more efficient use of resources, insulation programmes and carbon capture or in other jobs that immediately spring to mind as green jobs—and we must do all that we can to green our jobs. Central and local government and other public authorities have an important role in taking measures to limit climate change and adapt to the changing climate.

“The issue is not only about flood defences and greener energy, reducing congestion and improving public transport, and reducing the number of flights that we take and being more thoughtful about using local produce, important though those actions are; it is about becoming more conscious of the impact of everything that we do. We need to take a joined-up approach and must always consider whether there is a better way in which to do things so that we reduce our carbon footprint. We must combine renewable energy and heat schemes with power schemes, and we should combine climate change adaptations with improvements to schools and hospitals. We can get jobs done more effectively while allowing people more flexibility in order to reduce commuting. The issue is about developments in a sustainable and low-carbon economy.

“A general duty on public bodies to ask about such issues must be written into the bill. We have to see that action is making a difference. I am talking about not just local authorities but all public authorities—organisations such as Scottish Enterprise, the health service, further and higher education bodies, Scottish Water, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage and SportScotland. All public authorities have a role to play. Each public authority will consider what it needs to do, and has a role to play through training, procurement, planning, environmental management, land use, public engagement, employment policies and the use of new technology and research—to name but a few issues. We need to know that bodies are doing everything that they can with regard to both their own activities and the impact of their planning and procurement policies. This is not about being prescriptive. Each organisation or public authority will have to define what it must do in order to meet the public duty. I believe that the duty must be embodied in this legislation.

“The public duty relating to equal opportunities is a good example to consider. For years, it was expected that public bodies would have policies on equal opportunities, but many public authorities adhered to such policies only in relation to recruitment. Local authorities were much better but, even then, the reality was that only one person or a small team of people was responsible for equalities throughout the local authority. The existence of a public duty on equalities now means that equal opportunities are mainstreamed throughout organisations—and that can now be audited. It took more than 20 years for that to happen, but we cannot allow that length of time for a duty on climate change. We do not have the time.

“We need transparency and effective monitoring and reporting. Target setting should clearly be the role of the UK Committee on Climate Change, but I believe that complementary activity is also required at Scottish level. Scotland has devolved government, Scottish law, and Scottish bodies. There are distinctly Scottish dimensions, and we therefore need to address the issues at Scottish level—through either existing Scottish bodies such as SEPA or a newly set-up organisation. I ask the minister to look again at the issues that I have raised this afternoon. We in the Scottish Parliament have a duty to ensure that this legislation is strong. I urge all members to consider their duty towards future generations.”

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