In this blog, our Policy volunteer Siri reflects on her experience of giving evidence in Scottish Parliament on the topic of climate change emissions targets – what it was like, how she felt, and the importance of having young people’s voices represented in decision making.
This week, the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee published their report of recommendations for the Climate Change Bill for Scotland. This Bill will update Scotland’s legally binding emissions targets, previously set out in the 2009 Climate Change Act. It’s been a busy year – since the ECCLR Committee started processing the Bill a year ago in May 2018, the Scottish Government announced they would set a new target of net-zero emissions by 2045 , following the UK Climate Change Committee’s report in May (more on that in a previous blog post here. We are now presented with the results of ECCLR’s scrutiny, which, together with amendments to the draft bill, will be debated in the Scottish Parliament. Votes on amendments are scheduled for 18th and 25th June – keep an eye on those as this is how the new net-zero target will become a part of the Bill.
Before we go any further, I figure it’s probably good to check in about acronyms. The Climate Change Committee, or CCC, is an independent adviser to the UK and Scottish Parliaments and their advice can (and, in some cases, must) be sought when setting targets. ECCLR is the Scottish Parliament’s (cross-party) Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, which is the key team of MSPs who will scrutinise the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill, prior to it being brought in front of the entire Scottish Parliament.
The parliamentary scrutiny process takes place in three stages; the first stage which has just been finished involves consultations with stakeholders through written and verbal evidence, and the analysis of these discussions written up into a report. This is a fascinating process and allows for direct, recorded conversations between experts and representatives and the politicians making decisions on items which are often not their area of expertise. You can watch videos of the Committee’s meetings here.
As a part of this process, 2050 Climate Group sent the ECCLR Committee written evidence and we were then invited to discuss this in person with MSPs, alongside organisations such as WWF, Friends of the Earth, Young Friends of the Earth, and Centre for Climate Justice.
I was honoured to get to represent 2050 Climate Group in front of the committee in November 2018. I was also terrified. Having a conversation and answering on-the-spot questions from MSPs, alongside highly esteemed policy experts, is quite different from giving presentations or speeches. There is only so much preparation you can do.
Luckily, it turns out, the Parliament has recently started a service where you can go visit the building and the parliamentary clerks responsible for the consultations, and discuss how the hearing will go in practice. I was told I was the first person to choose to do this, which is a shame – I’d recommend it to anyone who ends up being invited – because it was very useful to understand the day. We walked through where things would happen; whether there would be space for notes; how to get a turn to speak. What kind of questions would come our way; who the other organisations might be; who would sit where.
I understood that, while we were present to provide a young people’s voice, there would not be specific questions on the impact on young people; instead, we’d need to make sure our voice is heard across a variety of questions on the entire Bill. We had decided that while we wanted our voice heard, we wouldn’t want to speak for the sake of hearing our own voice; only when we had something to contribute. There were many organisations present with specific expertise on targets and policies; we were there both to remind everyone that if we don’t set ambitious targets now, our generation will be sitting on those seats 10 or 20 years from now with much less choice, and to provide creative and positive ideas from young people.
Representing an organisation with a wide-ranging membership and no single policy position was not straightforward. We’d set out a few things we agreed on, based on our consultation with the Young Leaders. We wanted a net-zero target set in the Bill, so companies, organisations, people planning their house renovations and young people planning their careers had a clearer idea of what future would look like. We wanted pragmatic policies across all sectors. We wanted young people at all the tables. And we wanted climate change to be seen as an opportunity to create a better society, not just as a crisis. There were questions about specific percentages and targets that we didn’t have answers to; but we were heard, and it genuinely felt like we were listened to. I had a sense that the politicians really wanted to understand what we thought the Bill should say, and why.
There were a few moments I was especially proud of. In particular, after a comment from an MSP stating “The Scotch Whisky Association said that, if the 2020 target were revised, meeting the new target would not be easily achievable—“not realistic” are the words that it used.”, I felt I needed to clarify what all of us at the table were saying, as this comment was making it sound like we all expect this to be easy and comfortable. But we’re at a point now where no option is easy; some are just more difficult than others, and some provide better outcomes in the future. So I reminded the panel of this: “There will be difficult choices to be made, but they will be easier to make now than at later stages. None of us thinks that the changes will be easy, but they are necessary.”
Since our evidence session in November, the Committee has continued to take evidence from more experts during May. This week, they published their final report on the Bill. It backs the net-zero by 2045 target for Scotland and urges a higher interim target to be set for 2030 to encourage early action over the next decade. It touches on the evidence the MSPs have heard about forestry, agriculture, industry and homes and recommends areas where the Scottish Government could be bolder.
The Bill has now entered Stage 2 of the scrutiny process. This will be a busy few weeks where MSPs bring forward their amendments to the draft Bill. The Government is also expected to make a few tweaks to reflect some of the Committee’s recommendations. What follows will be a series of Committee meetings in June where the ECCLR Committee will vote on the amendments – and this is where party politics comes into play. Parliament wraps up for the summer at the end of June, but the Bill will be back in the spotlight in early Autumn for its third and final stage. Here the Bill will be debated and voted upon by all MSPs (not just ECCLR members) and there will be a chance for last-minute amendments.
The Climate Change Bill has the opportunity to provide a clear and predictable legal framework for urgent and inspired action against the climate crisis. If MSPs take heed of the calls for urgency – which is more likely the more we keep reminding them of this – then a legally binding net-zero target can create space for a managed, just transition to a sustainable society, whilst we still have time (albeit, not much time!). It can also give the people of Scotland opportunities to make long-term choices that support a rapid transition, whether these are in the personal, professional or political spheres – providing space for creativity and use of individual strengths. The 2050 Climate Group will continue to push for opportunities to show today’s politicians young people’s enthusiasm and commitment to action on climate change. Watch this space as we update you on how it all plays out.