Nicola Sturgeon’s letter underlines commitment to nature. Now let’s see a Scottish Environment Act!

26 Aug 2019

A blog by Deborah Long, LINK chief officer

In June, LINK brought together 97 organisations to write to the First Minister to ask her to take action to protect, enhance and restore our environment – as the best insurance against climate change and to provide subsequent generations with a sustainable future. You can read our letter here. This was in the context of her declaration of a climate emergency and the need to act.

You can read the First Minister’s reply here.

Today’s climate and ecological emergencies are inextricably linked, and working to tackle one contributes to tackling the other. And it is clear that time to act is running out: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gives us 10 years to cut carbon emissions, while a major UN report on biodiversity estimates that 1 million species are at risk of extinction.

Species and habitat diversity, within fully functioning ecosystems, are essential for our future resilience, offering us protection against dramatic climate events such as flooding, and against major epidemics amongst humans and the crops we rely on.

We all know what’s at stake: younger generations are pointing the finger at politicians and other adults in positions to do something about these emergencies. It is time for the talking to lead to effective action.

Scotland trades on its image as a country with a clean and vibrant natural environment. But that environment, although green on the outside, is not as healthy as it could be: species are declining at sea and on land, habitats are fragmenting, soils are degrading. We need to reverse all of this if we are to face and survive climate change.

Scotland could lead the world, but we need political leadership and the will to make some tough choices in favour of the natural environment now. That means within the next 10 years.

This is actually possible in Scotland. The First Minister’s reply to our letter underlines her government’s commitment to introduce new legislation for Scotland’s environment.  It reiterates her, and the Scottish Government’s, recognition of the importance of the natural environment and their responsibility to it. The recognition that the challenges facing biodiversity are as important as the challenge of climate change is also very welcome, as is the ambition for Scotland to lead the way.

Scotland has made a positive start with the target to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. We look forward to the government’s own analysis of Scotland’s action towards the Global Biodiversity Targets, and to the State of Nature partnership’s analysis of trends leading up to 2020. These reports will inform us on how much progress we have made, and what we must do before the targets are revised in 2020 as part of the next meeting on the Convention of Biodiversity in China in 2020.

And Scotland has made progress in relation to proposed legislation to ban plastic cotton buds and introduce a deposit return scheme, along with woodland planting and peatland restoration. However, within the time scale we have and against the challenges that remain, we are still not doing enough, nor are we doing it quickly enough.

Brexit and whatever follows cannot derail our ambition and focus on the emergency of climate change and the ecological crisis.

LINK believes that the most efficient way of enabling and supporting this non-negotiably vital work is through a Scottish Environment Act. Such an act needs to include a truly independent, well-resourced and empowered watchdog, and must require the delivery of a strategy and the setting of targets against which progress can be judged.

While the environment strategy being developed by the Scottish Government is welcome, unless it is underpinned by effective legislation it will be unable on its own to bring about the changes we need to see. We already have strategies that if enacted effectively could have been reversing some of the negative trends. The Biodiversity Strategy launched in 2004 and the Land Use Strategy launched in 2011 are both forward-looking in their approach, but neither are being implemented or enforced in a way that makes any significant change happen.

We cannot afford to wait any longer. Now is the time to act, with a strong and comprehensive Environment Bill developed this autumn and winter for introduction to Parliament by Easter 2020. That would enable Scotland to be world leading, at the time when Scotland’s people need it and when the world focuses on biodiversity conservation as the 2020 targets are renewed, and when significant progress towards net zero needs to be underway.

We look forward to working with Ministers and the Scottish Government to achieve our shared ambitions for the environment. We’ll be looking at the Government’s plans for the next 12 months to see how far we can get together in the fight against climate change and for nature.

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