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Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, September 21, 2023


Urgent Question

Net Zero Targets (United Kingdom Government Announcement)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact the Prime Minister’s announcement on delaying a range of net zero targets will have on Scotland’s target to become net zero by 2045.

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition (Màiri McAllan)

The Prime Minister’s statement yesterday was an unforgivable betrayal of current and future generations and it has again put the United Kingdom Government on the wrong side of history. His reckless plans have been branded “shocking and really disappointing” by Al Gore and “hugely damaging” and “a colossal error” by business and consumer groups. However, I would like to be crystal clear that, despite the UK Government reneging on its key net zero commitments, the Scottish Government will remain firmly committed to tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.

We have always been clear that the delivery of Scotland’s climate ambition is contingent on action by the UK Government in reserved and shared areas, and yesterday’s announcements will undoubtedly have serious implications for the delivery of climate ambition here, in Scotland.

Despite the far-reaching implications, we were given no notice by the UK Government yesterday, so we are currently urgently assessing the impact on Scotland. It is right that we take the time to do that. Right now, however, Parliament will recognise that the sheer scale of the Prime Minister’s astonishing policy reversals will have a potentially significant impact on developments here, in Scotland, not least on the preparation of our draft climate change plan.

Sarah Boyack

I agree with the cabinet secretary that yesterday’s announcement by the Prime Minister is a complete abdication of leadership and it sends the wrong message to world leaders, businesses and our constituents.

However, even before this retrograde step by the Tories, the Scottish Government was failing to meet its climate targets for homes and buildings, transport and land, and the output from the green finance task force has now been delayed from this autumn to next year. Will the Scottish Government give certainty to business? Will it accelerate its green industrial strategy and not leave businesses waiting for months so that we get the certainty in crucial supply chains and investment that will deliver a just transition for workers and businesses across Scotland?

Màiri McAllan

I remind Sarah Boyack of two things. First, Scotland’s climate change emissions reduction framework is one of the most stretching in the world. Although we have met some targets and missed others, at our last count, we missed the target by only 1.2 per cent. That told me two things: that the actions of this Government are helping us to track very closely where we need to be against the backdrop of some of the most stretching targets in the world, and, equally, that we have a great deal left to do.

My officials, my colleagues in Government and I have been, and we continue to be, hard at work developing Scotland’s next climate change plan, which will demonstrate how we will meet our targets across our society and our economy. However, there can be no hiding from the fact that the 11th-hour upheaval of some of the most important climate objectives across the UK, which the Prime Minister announced last night, creates a great deal of uncertainty. It is right that I now take the time, with my officials, to assess the impact on Scotland, and I will be glad to update Sarah Boyack and others after the conclusion of that.

Sarah Boyack

I welcome the fact that the cabinet secretary is prepared to provide an update, but we must make sure that we get the change that we need. We in Labour have the ambition, with a deliverable plan, to establish GB energy, which will be headquartered in Scotland and backed up by £28 billion a year by the mid-term of a UK Labour Government. That will reduce people’s bills and create the green jobs that we so urgently need.

I agree with the cabinet secretary that there is an urgent need to act now. Does she accept that the Scottish Government will need to redouble its efforts to tackle the cost of living crisis and the climate crisis by investing to support small businesses across Scotland, and give people in our communities the opportunity to get the low-carbon jobs and training that we need? Does she accept that the Scottish Government needs to ramp up the retrofitting of people’s homes across the country, given that 38 per cent of our households now live in fuel poverty, and that it should not let people down and fail to deliver by underspending by £133 million, as happened last year?

Màiri McAllan

I think that I said this at the top of my original answer, but I repeat that this Government remains absolutely committed to tackling the twin crises of climate change and nature loss, and we remain committed to doing that via a just transition.

I want to make two points in response to Sarah Boyack. First, Labour’s position here is not credible, given the major commitments that its leader, Keir Starmer, has been so keen to shed as he seeks to ready himself to enter number 10. It seems that the closer that Keir Starmer gets to number 10, the more he abandons Labour principles. That includes the scrapping of Labour’s £28 billion green investment fund, which the shadow chancellor was keen to do over the summer, and the party’s flip-flopping on low-emission zones. Let us not forget that low-emission zones are one of the key ways of improving air quality in our city centres, and that it is the most vulnerable people in our society who are affected by poor air quality.

My second point to Sarah Boyack is that we will keep working to realise our ambitions, but she does not appear to understand that we are having to make up for Westminster failure. The sooner Labour wakes up to that fact and joins us in realising that Scotland can tackle climate change only when we are a normal independent country, the better.

Kevin Stewart (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)

It is really galling that, while the First Minister shows leadership on the climate change agenda in New York, the Prime Minister has ripped up what little policies the United Kingdom Government had on climate change. That is extremely serious for Scotland and for our entire planet. Today, the Trades Union Congress said that 800,000 jobs are at risk across the UK because of Mr Sunak’s changed plan.

What analysis will the Scottish Government undertake on the impact of those changes on Scotland, how we can alleviate them and what can the Scottish Government do to boost business confidence to ensure that we have investment from companies both here and abroad?

Màiri McAllan

Kevin Stewart is absolutely right. When we had the spectacle of the impacts of climate change ripping across the globe over the summer, as well as being an abandonment of environmental principles and ambition, what we have had from the UK Government is economic illiteracy—and not for the first time. We cannot deliver a just transition if we are the last to do it. Once again, Scotland is being held back on not only our environmental ambitions but our economic ambitions.

We need only look at some of the comments from industry yesterday. Lisa Brankin, the chair of Ford UK, said:

“Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three.”

That is exactly what has transpired.

I assure Kevin Stewart and members across the chamber that my officials and I are urgently undertaking work to assess all the matters that he rightly raised, as they pertain to our climate goals and the opportunities for jobs and skills in Scotland.

Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

The Scottish National Party provides a perfect example of why net zero targets need to be realistic, which is what our Prime Minister recognises. The SNP Government missed its own climate change targets in eight of the past 12 years, it is failing to roll out enough electric vehicle charging points and it has failed to say where the £33 billion that will be needed to decarbonise our buildings in Scotland will come from. When will this Government start being honest with people, explain to them how much the journey to net zero will cost them and accept that not everyone can afford a swift transition?

Màiri McAllan

It is just incredible to hear the Scottish Tories try to lecture me and the Scottish Government on this subject. On one of the areas that he mentioned, EV charging, I remind him that, thanks to the action of this Government, Scotland now has the most comprehensive EV charging network anywhere in the UK outside London. That is just one demonstration of the success that we have had to date.

A cynical line is being taken—that ordinary people cannot afford to worry about climate change—so let me be clear that it will always be the most vulnerable in our society who will suffer from inaction on climate change.

Equally, through the interventions that we make in some of the areas that the UK Prime Minister abandoned yesterday, such as transport and heat in buildings, we have the opportunity to improve the lives of ordinary people with, for example, warmer and more energy-efficient homes.

I acutely understand the balance between those two issues, but I say to the Tories that, when things are challenging, we do not turn back—we work harder. That is exactly what this Government is doing—rising to net zero via a just transition.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

Rishi Sunak’s decision to row back on his environmental commitments has caused widespread confusion and anger, including among many in the business community, as the cabinet secretary has acknowledged. Facing defeat at the next election, the Prime Minister has embarked on a reckless scorched-earth policy. This Government was already regularly failing to meet its climate targets, but Mr Sunak’s decision has certainly made that task more difficult.

In the light of yesterday’s decision, as well as the repeated calls from the UK Climate Change Committee, can the cabinet secretary advise the chamber when she expects to bring forward a revised and detailed action plan for getting Scotland on track to meet our targets?

Màiri McAllan

My officials and I had been working on a draft of Scotland’s climate change plan, which I intended to lay before the Parliament this year. Because of this 11th-hour significant policy revisal—of which we had absolutely no warning and which no UK Government minister has thus far reached out to discuss with me—there is no doubt that we will require time to consider the implications. As I already said in response to Sarah Boyack, that will have an effect on when I can lay the draft plan.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

We have all paid the price of Liz Truss’s extremist economic agenda and now we will all pay the price of Sunak’s extremist anti-climate agenda. Businesses have invested and households have begun to prepare, but we have all been let down. The Prime Minister has, incredibly, managed to unite the Ford motor company and Greenpeace in condemnation of his climate climbdown. Will the cabinet secretary now request urgent advice from the UK Climate Change Committee, ahead of the drafting of Scotland’s next climate change plan, so that we can deliver the policies with, in the words of Ford, the “ambition, commitment and consistency” that we all need?

Màiri McAllan

I echo Mark Ruskell’s sentiments. The Climate Change Committee, which is a statutory adviser to both Governments, has already commented on yesterday’s announcements and made it clear that it considers that the policy revisal will make it more difficult for the UK to meet its targets. I await what I am sure will be further analysis from that committee.

Equally, as we do the work to assess the impact on Scotland, I will, as ever, reach out to the Climate Change Committee, as I will to Scotland’s just transition commission, which is the first in the world to focus its work on the delivery of net zero in a fair way that leaves no one behind.

Jackie Dunbar (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

The Tories’ lukewarm commitment to dealing with the existential threat to our planet is now beyond question. With Labour flip-flopping on climate, the alternative to Tory intransigence is red Tory U-turns. How will the Scottish Government make it clear that Scotland’s dedication to the future of our planet must not be undermined by Westminster’s indifferent attitude to climate change?

Màiri McAllan

Again, I absolutely echo Jackie Dunbar’s sentiments. The difficult truth of the matter is that Scotland, much to the chagrin of this Government, has two Governments, one of which retains a great deal of economic and fiscal power over Scotland. It also has power over energy and a great number of the principal levers that we would wish to use to decarbonise our economy and society.

I have significant concerns about the implications for Scotland of what was announced yesterday. The UK Prime Minister might be content to do late-night press briefings and back-of-an-envelope policy developments that leave business and industry reeling, but we are a serious Government that is dealing seriously with serious matters, so I will take the time that is required to look into those matters and come back to Parliament with an update.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. The Labour commitment is for £28 billion by the mid-term of a Labour Government, should we get elected.

I gently remind Ms Boyack that points of order are not for such matters.