Scientists and world governments have spoken: climate change is unequivocal, its risks are real and our impact is clearer than ever.
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report launched last Friday is quite simply the most authoritative and comprehensive review of climate science available. It’s been prepared by over 800 scientists, cites over 9,000 papers and has been painstakingly approved, line-by-line, by 195 governments. The book of evidence they have put together is utterly compelling.
Scientists are now 95% certain that humans have caused the majority of climate change since the 1950s (up from 90% in 2007), a level often considered the gold standard for scientific certainty.
They’ve also got a far clearer picture of the toll that climate change is already taking on our environment: sea level rise is accelerating; our oceans are acidifying; the rate of Arctic sea ice retreat has doubled; and glaciers and ice sheets are melting faster. But as the eminent economist Lord Stern reminded us last week, this stark analysis may even underestimate the risks because some messy, unpredictable factors have been left out of the climate models.
The risks posed by climate change are huge. And governments need to manage them urgently.
Scotland has been among the first nations to recognise and respond to the risks of climate change with its world-leading Climate Change Act, agreed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament in 2009. It has also been at the vanguard of the renewable energy revolution and is already meeting almost 40% of its electricity needs from renewables.
We’re not alone in our approach, however. We’re part of a transition away from fossil fuels to a cleaner energy future that’s gaining and sustaining momentum. It’s not just the usual suspects like Denmark and Germany who are seizing the opportunity. Whilst China is the world’s largest source of emissions, it’s also a renewable energy powerhouse – the world’s biggest investor – almost singlehandedly driving down the costs of solar energy technology. It’s expected to accelerate its efforts to cut emissions over the coming years.
Scotland should be proud to be amongst the global leaders on this most vital and urgent of issues. Next week, the Scottish Government is hosting a conference on climate justice in Edinburgh, highlighting the unequal effects of climate change and our responsibility, as a developed nation with a massive climate debt, to protect those most vulnerable to its impacts. We must ensure that Scotland delivers on its climate obligations – both legal and moral – before the window of opportunity closes.
Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, has described national climate laws as “the absolutely critical, essential, linchpin between action at the national level and international agreements.” Credible efforts at home are central to securing the global deal the world so badly needs. Scotland has already missed its first two annual targets under the Climate Change Act, so we clearly need to go further, faster. In June, the Government set out an Action Plan to meet its climate goals. It must be fully implemented and fully funded if we’re to live up to our promises.
Whether we’ll get a climate-proof budget is still unclear, however. The draft budget announced by the Cabinet Secretary in September provided encouraging signs on cycling support, but even this modest additional funding is still only a tiny fraction of the transport budget. Crucially, the support for energy efficiency in the draft budget falls far short of what’s needed to meet the Government’s own climate and fuel poverty targets.
We’re calling on the Government to plug this shortfall and give the Scottish public the warm homes and affordable energy they need.
We’ve recognised the risks of a warming world and we’re poised to reap the rewards of the transition to a greener economy. But our efforts need to be more urgent and more far reaching to match the scale of the challenge ahead.