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Making a difference? Or just more ‘blah, blah, blah?’

Cathie Lloyd assesses whether there is any scope for optimism from the recent COP28 negotiations


COP 28, the United Nations climate meeting which took place last month in Dubai, resulted in mixed messages – but the overall outcome must make us pause for sober reflection before looking forward to renewed action on environmental issues:


·         There is great concern that Paris goals have been abandoned, given the unprecedented levels of heat in 2023 – another record-breaking year for global temperatures


·         ‘Loss and damage’ was finally operationalised with an initial sum of £549m. Though early optimism about the idea of payments to those countries and communities which are most directly impacted today by climate change was dampened by the lack of support - but it remains on the agenda


·         Controversy about continued use of oil and gas is now out in the open


·         Phasing out fossil fuels is (just) on agenda. ‘The future is renewable’ is an important signal to investors.


·         One hundred and fifty countries signed a non-binding agreement on sustainable agriculture


·         COP29 will be in Azerbaijan, another oil producer. Initially, and shamefully, there were no women on the organising committee - though that has now been corrected. 


The response of the Scottish government was to urge that commitments entered into are honoured. First Minister Humza Yousaf posted online: ‘While we welcome agreement at #COP28UAE we would have liked to have seen language around phasing out fossil fuels as part of a just transition to Net Zero in the agreement. We welcome the commitments made around Loss & Damage funding, but promises made must be fulfilled’.




History has involved many earlier transitions such as that from feudalism to capitalism – but the transition that we need to make now is surely different? Tom Nairn wrote about the length and unevenness of the transition to capitalism. Today the need to move to a more sustainable way of life is urgent and the interdependent global economy presents particular challenges so the response will have to be multifaceted.


Governments are faced with the problems of how to deal with largely unpredictable and unprecedented conditions. This will involve creating infrastructure and restructuring the economy.


The most dramatic set of issues is connected to rising sea levels – as island communities are becoming unviable as in the Pacific Islands and homes and livelihoods are threatened.


On a much more modest scale (though terrible enough for the people directly affected) the recent storms in Scotland have highlighted the need to upgrade infrastructure to cope with flooding. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is responsible for this, but our country’s funding has been impacted by the factors such as the neglect of UK flood defences and by the UK government’s failure to appoint a successor to oversee the Climate Change Committee.


In terms of infrastructure what is our government doing and what plans are in the pipeline?


When the Just Transition Commission reported in 2021, it set out a preliminary framework for action in the following areas:

·         Citizens, communities, places

·         Jobs, skills, education

·         Fair distribution of costs and benefits

·         Support for Business and Economy

·         Adaptation and resilience

·         Environmental protection and restoration

·         Decarbonisation and efficiencies


The Just Transition Commission website provides details of its composition and work plan – which will include the report for 2024. It is responsible to the Minister for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work (Mairi McAllan MSP). Its report for 2023 stressed the need to address:


·         Fuel poverty

·         Integration of net zero work across government

·         Use public procurement for strategic investment

·         Better communication of difficult issues to counter misinformation.


An important focus will be on maintaining sustainable energy supplies, to avoid the devastation of mass unemployment which was caused by the closure of coalmining in the 1980s. We have the basis for adequate capacity: during Storm Pia, wind turbines generated more than half of UK’s electricity. There are innovations aimed at reducing the environmental impact of windfarms, as with the development of repurposable wooden turbine towers. This is being developed in Norway and Sweden but could be done with Scottish timber.


Infrastructural matters include the Scottish charging network for electric vehicles. Charge Place Scotland is owned and developed by the Scottish government. Its website contains information for drivers about functioning and new charge points. They have funded the installation of 2,700 charging points since 2011 and are working on developing standards for chargers to ensure future projects meet accessibility criteria for people with disabilities such as reachable, manoeuvrable charging points.


To close, a few positive developments:


·         In the Faroes they have constructed futuristic underground/water transport infrastructure which has interested those living in our own archipelagos.


·         While high winds associated with violent storms pose problems there are optimistic signs. There is growing support for the use of wind power, which has risen to 98% in the oil importing country Uruguay: this has proved the foundation for employment generating just transition policies.


·         As we prepare for the low emission zone to come fully into operation in Edinburgh it is encouraging to see that the London scheme has seen a significant impact on air pollution which supports the evidence of the Harvard based Six Cities study on its impact on mortality. A recent survey found the ULZ averted more pollution than was produced by all other transport systems including air travel. We may need to use this evidence to support our capital’s scheme.


This article is based on Cathie Lloyd’s environment report to the January meeting of her SNP branch in Edinburgh.


Published 23 January 2024



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