Scotland is championing climate justice

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14 November 2014

Writing for The Climate Group, Humza Yousaf, Minister for External Affairs and International Development at the Scottish Government, explains why Scotland, a member of our States & Regions Alliance, is putting human rights at the core of its climate change policy.

The climate change debate is understandably dominated by scientific, environmental and economic arguments, and by the big players – USA, China and the EU among others. In Scotland we want to help influence the highest global ambition on tackling climate change ahead of the new global treaty in Paris in December 2015.

Scotland has been an enthusiastic member of The Climate Group for many years because it gives a valuable collective voice through its States & Regions Alliance, and is also a forum for us to demonstrate innovation in climate change policy.  While in Geneva this week, I posed the question to every UN agency and development expert I met: “How can a country of our size make the biggest impact in global poverty reduction?”  Every single one of them told me that Scotland must continue to show leadership, be ambitious and most importantly, be brave.  They all believed that leadership can be shown, regardless of the size of the nation. 

In Scotland, we have set high ambition on tackling our own emissions.  In addition to the headline arguments, we are also championing climate justice – with its moral, humanitarian and ethical messages - which strongly recognises the impacts of climate change on the world’s poor and on their human rights.

Last month, the Scottish Government announced the latest funding awards under our innovative £6 million Climate Justice Fund – possibly the only fund in the world that operates on climate justice principles.  The fund is now supporting 11 projects in Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda and Zambia, empowering the poorest and most climate vulnerable, often women and children, in accessing their rights to clean water and strengthening their climate resilience.

This week I took part in a discussion in Geneva on climate justice at an event co-hosted by the Scottish Government with UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research) and CIFAL Scotland, including a contribution from the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights.

I was impressed by the emphasis on human rights and on business that came out of our discussion.  There are voices who question how this is an issue of justice; when climate change threatens basic human rights: to water, food, a home, an education, to employment, to economic development, and, indeed to life itself, how can it not be a matter of justice? Human rights have always been a key component of the Scottish view of climate justice – we hosted a national conference on climate change and human rights in 2009.

The private sector and business community is a vital part of the debate and working with The Climate Group over the years has shown us the importance of business leadership on climate change.  So last year, when we hosted an international climate justice conference in Edinburgh, we had the particular aim of developing messages for businesses.  We believe that business can build a climate justice approach around their existing actions on human rights, climate change and sustainability.

Since the conference, discussions in Scotland on climate justice have been taking place among businesses, communities, academia, as well as among public sector leadership. Glasgow Caledonian University has responded to the requirements of the modern climate justice professional with the launch this week of a unique Masters programme in Climate Justice.

Scotland’s 2020 Group, which brings together leaders from business, public sector and civic society, has launched its own climate justice project: Scotland Lights Up Malawi. Backed by £200,000 of Scottish Government funding and qualifying for UK Aid Match funding, the project aims to support the roll-out of household solar lamps in Malawi.  I was delighted to help launch the education strand of this programme for Scottish schools at the Scottish Parliament last week.

In July, during the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, Scotland hosted the European launch of the UN Decade of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL).  At the launch, Dr Kandeh Yumkella, UN Special Representative and CEO of SE4ALL, praised Scotland’s championing of climate justice.

As well as our specific climate justice response, we are taking strong action at home on our own emissions.  In 2009, with cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament, we unilaterally set a world-leading target of a 42% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, from their 1990 levels. Our post 2020 goal is set at a 58% cut by 2027.  We are on course to meet our targets. We also now generate 46% of our equivalent electricity demand by renewable energy and aim for 100% by 2020. 

The Scottish Government strongly recognises that the poor and vulnerable, at home and abroad, are the first being affected by climate change, and will suffer the worst, yet they have done nothing to cause the problem. That is why in Scotland we believe it is so important to champion climate justice - which brings together action on climate change, development, human rights, gender, age and the global fight against poverty - to share the benefits of the transition to a low carbon economy equitably.

We aim to be a world leader and a progressive voice on the global stage – we hope our commitment to helping the world’s poorest will inspire many people, both home and abroad.

by Humza Yousaf, Minister for External Affairs and International Development at the Scottish Government.

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