International report

Climate crisis takes centre stage in Scotland’s election campaign

Audio 09:33
A heavy carbon footprint: an oil drilling platform in the North Sea off the Scottish city of Aberdeen.
A heavy carbon footprint: an oil drilling platform in the North Sea off the Scottish city of Aberdeen. AFP - ANDY BUCHANAN

With the country gearing up to welcome the world in Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit later this year, Scotland wants to be a global leader in the fight against climate change. A couple of years ago, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared a climate emergency, followed by a vote in the Scottish Parliament ratifying ambitious targets to gradually put an end to Scotland’s contribution to global carbon emissions. As Scots prepare to go to the polls to elect their parliamentarians, the climate crisis, and how far the country still needs to go, features heavily in the campaign.

Advertising

The Scottish Greens have been putting the protection of the environment in their manifestos for years. But they think now, as the country is debating about how to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, is the best time to put this issue front and centre of the discussion, according to Alison Johnstone, the Scottish Green Party candidate for the Lothian Region and the Edinburgh Central constituency. “We’re prioritising a fair and green recovery from Covid”, the Green candidate, campaigning in Edinburgh, said. “In Scotland we have a lot of people who live in poor quality housing, have insecure work. We want to change that.”

Alison Johnstone says voters have been very receptive of the Scottish Greens campaign because climate change is becoming real for them. “We’re seeing incidences of flooding, dry spells that are affecting our ability to produce crops. It’s having a real impact now”, she says.

But the Scottish Conservatives say they are the only ones with credible measures because their plan aims to take businesses on board. Party leader Douglas Ross is a member of Parliament for Moray, in the north-east of Scotland, a region where oil and gas jobs provide a livelihood for much of the population. Launching his party’s climate manifesto in Queensferry, a few miles east of Edinburgh, he insists on working with the UK government to make sure those jobs don’t disappear.

“The UK government has been working with the oil and gas industry to together come up with the first in the G7 transition deal for the UK oil and gas, particularly protecting jobs in the north-east of Scotland”, he explains. “We want to keep the skills that so many people have in this industry as we transition to greener forms of energy”.

The north of Scotland is also home to a lot of renewable energy production, with windfarms onshore in the Highlands, and offshore in the North Sea. Molly Nolan, the Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross in the Highlands, says the issue of climate change and renewable energy has another dimension up north.

“We host a lot of windfarms ad we see the process of energy being created more than people in larger cities in the central belt (the most densely populated area of Scotland between Edinburgh and Glasgow). In some cases, the transition to clean energy creates jobs, but in other ways it doesn’t really resonate with people. Part of that is because here in the Highlands, we have some of the highest rates of fuel poverty in Scotland, but we live in sight of windfarms. We pay more here for electricity than in the central belt”, she says.

The Scottish Labour Party has put forward a manifesto focusing on a climate recovery, to create sustainable jobs in the Green economy. Claudia Beamish, the Scottish Labour and Coop Candidate for Clydesdale in the south of Scotland, and the COP26 Spokesperson, says there needs to be an economic plan to succeed.

However, with only 9 years to significantly reduce Scotland’s carbon emissions, Claudia Beamish says there is no time to spare. “The really significant target is not the 2045 one, although I’m proud of it, but the 2030 target of 75% (less carbon emissions). What we need is a robust route map of all the sectors that are heavy emitters if we are to reach 2030. If we don’t, then we are really going to be in trouble”, she fears.

The COP26 summit could provide Scotland and the UK with a stage to showcase the country’s excellence as far as research and development of renewable energy production is concerned. But more crucially, it needs to be a forum where the world comes together to solve the biggest threat to humankind yet.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning