How the EU can save the planet

Gone are the days that a discussion on climate change would conjure up images of vegetables patches, hemp bags and tofu; the stereotype of “being green” is just that- a stereotype. You can care about the planet if you are wealthy or poor, liberal or conservative, a small family or a multi-national corporation.

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Published in The Caledonian Mercury 2 December 2011

Caring about the future of the only known habitat in which we and many other species can survive is not about being pigeon-holed. It’s about making more considerate, eco-conscious decisions for everyone’s benefit whatever your circumstances; whether that is choosing to cycle to work rather than taking the car, or helping to reduce your company’s carbon footprint.

Climate change is a great concern for many Scots – I know because it is an issue that has created a continuous stream of correspondence from my constituents. Over the years I have been privileged to represent Scotland as a Member of the European Parliament, I have received letters from primary school children who are worried about the world they are growing up in, and spoken to farmers who are concerned about their crops. They know that climate change is not inevitable. They know we have the knowledge, skills and technologies that are needed. They just want action.

Thankfully progress is being made, because governments have realised they can also ‘be green’. This month, the United Nations Climate Change Conference will take place in Durban, South Africa. Durban COP17 sees representatives of the world’s governments, international organisations and concerned citizens gather to discuss one of the biggest challenges of our generation. They’ll seek to advance legislation and implement the decisions reached at previous summits in Copenhagen and Cancun.

The EU will play a prominent role, and is well placed to do so. When we hear so many negative stories about the EU, it is easy to forget that sovereign nations working together can achieve a lot more – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. From the creation of integrated pan-European energy markets and grids to providing a strong voice on climate change on the world stage, the EU has a lot to contribute.

This week in Strasbourg, the European Parliament adopted a resolution setting out its position on the forthcoming conference and its demands for the EU position. I welcomed the clear message calling for the EU to commit to continuing the Kyoto Protocol. Moreover, I was pleased to see the European Parliament recognise that resolving the current flaws and loopholes of the protocol is essential if it is to be as effective as it can be- namely, how emission from forestry and land use is calculated, as well as the issue of hot air or surplus emissions permits needing to be addressed. The parliament also acknowledged that the current greenhouse gas target of a 20% reduction by 2020 is clearly at odds with the EU’s pledge to limit the increase in global temperatures to below 2 degrees. Clearly, the EU needs to step up its target. I just hope the commission and member state governments are as keen to step up their game.

We do, however, have much to be proud of: Scotland is already a world leader following the introduction of the most progressive and ambitious climate change legislation. Scotland’s five million people have been blessed with the world’s best energy resources, from old but still vital technologies in coal, oil and gas to current and developing technologies in wind, hydro, biofuels, and the glittering future industries of tidal and wave and photovoltaic technologies. I was proud to represent my constituents and share Scotland’s ambition for a binding, transparent, ambitious and properly funded climate change deal at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. Two years later, I believe it is key that that we work together in partnership with other countries and utilise our vast renewable energy potential to ensure that Scotland remains at the forefront of the green energy revolution.

Our energy resources are not only reducing carbon emissions but creating jobs – real jobs in the real economy. This financial year alone renewable energy developers announced plans in Scotland for £161.7m of investment which has the potential to create more than 400 jobs. The nation is only beginning to realise its huge economic potential with the production of clean, home-grown energy –indeed a potential that will allow us to produce enough renewable energy to match the domestic use of all of Scotland with the intention that we will still be exporting energy as well. This is the target set by the Scottish Government. Renewable energy gives us what we need without destroying the planet; it’s a viable and vibrant industry and it has got lots more to contribute.

Tackling climate change is an economic opportunity rather than a problem, and reluctant nations should be encouraged to view it as such. A low carbon economy represents jobs, investment, trade and economic growth opportunities that would please any government. European Commissioner for Energy Connie Hedegaard recently said, “Green and growth go together”; a reality I hope many nations will recognise in Durban.