Action on Global Climate Change Starts Here at Home – but our Governments are Letting us Down

Sarah Boyack | Twitter

Sarah Boyack is a Scottish Labour & Coop MSP for the Lothian Region. She is Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture.


The pandemic has dominated the lead-up to COP26 and, much like the climate emergency, has highlighted the vast difference in the ability of the most and least developed countries to tackle it head on. 

We need all the leaders gathering in Glasgow to make the necessary changes in their own countries to keep the target of 1.5 degrees alive and work harder to ensure it is achieved. It’s also critical that they deliver on the funding commitments made in Paris to support countries in the Global South in tackling climate change and its impacts. 

I’m proud of the radical targets set in the 2009 and 2019 Climate Acts when Scottish Labour pushed for stronger targets and worked to build cross party support, but the SNP in power has not done enough. Scottish annual emissions targets have not been met 3 years in a row. 

Scottish Labour has called on the coalition SNP-Green Government to use the powers it has now, such as planning powers, to realise Scotland’s full potential in the renewable energy sector, create local green jobs in communities across Scotland, implement a bold industrial strategy to invest in and grow domestic supply chains, and take all necessary steps to secure a just transition for Scotland, ensuring that no individual, family or community is left behind as we transition to net-zero. There is so much we can do with the powers of the Scottish Parliament, and the SNP have barely tried.

We need political leadership and bold action to revolutionise the energy efficiency of our homes – how they’re insulated, how they’re heated and use this drive to eradicate fuel poverty. Before this year’s rising costs, one in four of our households were experiencing fuel poverty. We are very soon going to have to grapple with the impact of that, particularly on health and wellbeing. We need affordable heat and power, community and cooperatively owned networks, that we know work. To do this, however, our councils need the support and finance from the Scottish Government to deliver them. 

We have a huge opportunity to create good quality jobs and to spread the benefits this brings across society, to deliver a just transition. But this requires our governments to work together – something we do not see happening. The SNP cannot even work with its own colleagues in Local Government in Glasgow to find a solution for the workers who are so vital to maintaining a healthy environment in the city; the Conservatives in the UK parliament haven’t convened a Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) meeting, bringing national and devolved governments around the table, since 2018. 

Why has there not been a JMC Environment and Climate Emergency meeting set up, like there was for Brexit? Where is the joint work on cross border High Speed Rail? Where is the capacity to ensure an increase in long distance rail freight? 

Scottish Labour has repeatedly called for more bus and rail services, better interconnected and affordable public transport that is run in the interest of passengers. We all know that this is essential to achieving the modal shift from cars that will be necessary to meet Scotland’s climate ambitions and deliver on air quality. And, as the public transport passes for COP26 have shown, it is possible to link-up and integrate transport in our cities. Under the SNP this is clearly only for international delegates, not the people of Scotland.

We need to encourage people to use buses and trains especially after the pandemic where those with cars are using them more. Train use is 50% lower than pre-pandemic levels and passengers could also be facing potential fare hikes of up to £200 extra for a season ticket on key commuter routes. 

But I want to go back to my opening comment about the importance of fairness and delivering practical support for the Global South next week alongside a just transition in Scotland, accelerating our emission reductions and creating new skilled jobs.   

Delegates and campaigners have arrived in Glasgow and we need to ensure that the issue of fairness in the distribution of vaccines is part of our discussion.  Oxfam, Christian Aid and the Global Vaccine Alliance have been doing fantastic work raising the issue of the vaccine apartheid that sees our least developed nations unable to access the COVID-19 vaccine because wealthier nations are hoarding doses and protecting patents. This is not in the spirit of what COP stands for, and, like tackling the climate emergency, getting the virus under control means working together.

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