The New Parliament Debates the Climate and Nature Emergencies

22 Jun 2021


This month saw this parliamentary session’s first debate on the nature and climate emergency, centered on a motion put forward by Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport Michael Matheson. After an election campaign in which nature and climate featured prominently – through discourse around the climate and nature emergencies, but not least through the need for a green recovery from the pandemic – the debate was a key opportunity for the government and the opposition to lay out their plans on climate action and nature restoration for the next five years. The debate showed a very welcomed understanding from all parties of a need for urgent action. However, it unfortunately also continued a trend in which the nature crisis is put second to the climate emergency.

The Cabinet Secretary opened the debate by highlighting the way in which ‘Scotland has taken a world-leading, distinctive and ambitious approach to tackling the twin crisis of climate change and ecological decline by putting in place legislation, targets and governance for reducing emissions, building our climate resilience and protecting our environment.’ It was encouraging to see wide ranging support to bring a revised Climate Change Plan forward early in this session, support which hopeful reflects an understanding of the severity of the challenges ahead.

However, debating MSPs gave significantly less attention to the nature emergency.  The climate crisis is intrinsically linked to solving the nature emergency, meaning neither of the twin crisis can be solved by reducing greenhouse gas emissions alone. Just as ‘we are already seeing the impact of the global climate crisis’ in Scotland, as Mr.  Matheson drew attention to in his opening remarks, we are also seeing the impacts of the biodiversity crisis. The State of Nature Scotland 2019 report finds that one out of nine species in Scotland are at the risk of distinction.  The importance of restoring nature to our efforts to tackle climate change was drawn attention to by Alex Cole-Hamilton of the Liberal Democrats. In doing so, he supported the earlier statement on the importance of peatland by the Cabinet Secretary, SNP’s Emma Harper and Green’s Lorna Slater. These crucial contributions to the debate suggest there is no lack of knowledge in the parliament on the need to restore our nature. Now we need to see the equal importance of the nature crisis be reflected across the work of our MSPs in the next five years.  A crucial next step in the fight to restore nature is adopting Nature Targets. Nature Targets would ensure that efforts to tackle the nature crisis, just like the climate crisis, is steered by world leading legislation.

More promising was the overall focus of MSPs across the political spectrum on the need for action. Conservatives’ Liam Kerr stated that ‘it is way beyond time that we focus on delivery.’ Stressing that delivery must also relate to the nature recovery, Mr. Kerr drew attention to Scotland’s failure to reach the Aichi biodiversity targets. The 5th Global Biodiversity Outlook report revealed that these targets, which 194 countries signed up to in 2010, have been spectacularly missed across the world. As such, Mr. Kerr’s statement is a welcome reminder of the scale of the action needed in the years ahead. Additionally, Labour’s Monica Lennon stressed the need for urgent action to bring forward a Circular Economy Bill and Green’s Lorna Slater urged for action on the 166 cross-party recommendations on alterations to the Climate Change Plan agreed in the last session, showcasing the breath of action needed to tackle the twin crisis.  Together, the focus on action provided the hopeful prospect of a parliamentary session in which we see more action and less unmet promises.


Concluding the debate, the Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land reform Mairi McAllan provided a stark reminder of why urgent action is needed.  Saying that ‘it is not only for Scotland’s future generations that we need to act; we need also to demonstrate leadership throughout the world’, Ms. McAllan showed an understanding of how what we do in the next five years will not only affect those of us who were able to vote in this latest election, but also young people and people across the globe. Now, we need our newly elected MSPs to act on the promise of action. Future generations cannot wait. Neither can nature.


This blog is from LINK’s Advocacy Officer Anne Funnemark. 

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