“People want economy and they will pay any price to get it.” So said Lee Iacocca (automobile executive, Ford and Chrysler). Given the recent statistics that global temperatures have risen 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius) since the industrial age began and the statement by the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres that if we do not dramatically change the way we fuel factories, vehicles and homes it “would mean a catastrophic situation for the whole world”, it appears the price we are prepared to pay is our own planet. To facilitate our energy demands, travel requirements and fast food appetite at a price we find acceptable we are destroying our climate in all sorts of inventive ways. There is a global climate emergency and people across Scotland have been calling, rightly, for more ambition to tackle it and safeguard our planet for future generations. The Scottish Government amendments to the Climate Change Bill will set a legally binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest, with Scotland becoming carbon neutral by 2040. The existing targets proposed in the Bill were already world-leading. I am delighted that in response to calls from young people, scientists and businesses across the country, Scottish Ministers have adopted the advice of independent experts, the UK Climate Change Committee. This means that in addition to the net-zero target for 2045, Scotland will reduce emissions by 70% by 2030 and 90% by 2040 – the most ambitious statutory targets in the world for these years.
Scotland is in a fortunate situation, it has the opportunity to harvest natural clean renewable energy from land, sea and air but it will take massive financial investment. The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) says it is confident Scotland could end its climate emissions by 2045. It cites our “abundant renewable energy resource” and our “large land area suitable for carbon sinks” complemented by “our history of innovation and skilled workforce”.
Three years ago I wrote an article titled ‘The Island of Inverclyde’. It was designed to stimulate the idea that Inverclyde could be self sufficient in clean renewable energy by utilising wind, tide, forest and hydro amongst other renewable options. The idea came and went and three years later there is still little appetite to improve the situation locally. There are worthy exceptions but we are nowhere near utilising our local resources to anything like the levels we should be. But I still believe that as Scotland moves towards its ambitious net-zero target, Inverclyde could lead the way.
One source of low carbon heat is rivers. The River Clyde runs the entire length of Inverclyde. A district heating system, sourcing its power from the Clyde should be utilised in the fight to decarbonise Scotland. The technology already exists. An innovative project in Drammen, Norway uses a water source heat pump to take low-grade heat from the adjacent fjord and turn it into high-grade heat to supply heating for the 60,000-strong community. And the company behind it is based in Scotland. In the North of England the H21 project is a detailed engineering solution for converting 3.7 million homes and businesses from natural gas to hydrogen. This blueprint sets out to lead the way in reducing CO2 emissions. Converting the UK gas grid to hydrogen has the ability to provide “deep decarbonisation” of heat, as well as transport and power generation, with minimal disruption to customers. H21 North of England report proposes conversion will begin in 2028, with expansion across 3.7 million properties in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, York, Huddersfield, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Teeside and Newcastle over the following seven years. In Italy they are building blocks of flats that absorb C02. Australia is completely changed their carbon footprint to use more solar and wind. Elon Musk has created the world’s largest lithium iron battery storage in the world. These few examples highlight that we require a mix of clean renewable solutions. One size does not fit all. And of course projects such as these, create jobs and support communities. The natural geography of Inverclyde affords us opportunities other people can only dream of. We need to realise their potential and protect the future of the planet.
During these critical times we need strong leadership at both national and local government. We need people capable of making brave decisions. If not, the price we have to pay will be far greater than the cost of investing in new energy, transport and land utilisation projects. Let me finish as I started with a quote from Lee Iacocca “We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems”.
Business continues to be slow at Westminster so I took the opportunity to work in my constituency office in the morning and catch a later flight to London. Incredibly, at this point in time, when we are at the cusp of the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union business in the House lasted from 14:30 to 17:45. There are duties and responsibilities that drag me to London but in all honesty, there are days when my time would be better spent in my constituency.
Today started with the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee taking evidence about eating disorders and the Public health Ombudsman. The oral evidence was interesting, but the written evidence was harrowing. The lack of intervention and knowledge within the medical profession as a result of the lack of training is staggering. During a ten year training period the average GP in England will receive 2 hours training in eating disorders. It was a joy to then meet up with Ian Russell, Chair of the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland and hear about the long-term strategy for infrastructure that he is working on. Too often politicians are pulled into 5 year plans. So, to hear that he is developing a 30 year strategy at the request of the Scottish Government was encouraging. I dropped into the alcohol alliance Parliamentary reception and did an interview for Panorama. The minimum unit price, as part of broader strategy has been effective but there is a long way to go to improve Scotland’s relationship with alcohol.
I started at the end child poverty drop in where I was given the statistics on Inverclyde’s child poverty. 25% of children in Inverclyde are living in poverty and although that is far from the worst it is still a stark reminder of how far we have to go. I attended the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bees. We are trying to encourage the development of pollinator strips. Fortunately, Inverclyde is already switched on to the need and we have excellent projects at Broomhill, Hector McNeil Baths and Belville Gardens leading the way. Prime Ministers Questions was a sorry affair of posturing with very little real engagement. I hosted a meeting with Ladbrokes Coral and was interested to hear their commitment to reducing gambling related harm. I remain unconvinced.
Up early to catch the tube then train to Heathrow as I am on the 8:55 to Stockholm along with cross party colleagues from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on prostitution. We are on a fact-finding mission to Sweden to investigate the Nordic Model. It is a hectic two days. Today we had briefings from the ambassador at large for combating trafficking and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
An early start with an 08:00 meeting with the Swedish Police Authority. This takes up most of the day. One of the joys about these sort of events is the opportunity to meet experts in their field and mix with Parliamentary colleagues from other parties to seek out and find common ground on which we can work. Mia de Faoite is a survivor of prostitution and her knowledge, lived experience and intellect are hugely influential and a privilege to experience. She also has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Eurovision but nobody is perfect. I make my way home via the 18:05 Stockholm to Heathrow London and the 21:30 to Glasgow. I arrive home at 23:30.
I’m delighted to learn the Scottish Government has allocated more funding to support Active Travel of walking and cycling.
As the First Minister recently called for a climate emergency it’s important we utilise cleaner and greener methods of transport, such as cycling. E-bikes can provide a more sustainable alternative to single-occupancy car journeys.
I would encourage community groups and organisations in Inverclyde to consider bidding for funding to access the many benefits of e-bikes in a more affordable way.