As June broke all-time temperature records, action on climate and the environment was stalling with both the UK and Scottish Governments.
Last week the UK Government’s official advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, issued their annual progress report on UK climate targets. They said the UK has lost its international leadership position on climate change, citing support for new oil and gas developments and airport expansions, and slow progress on transforming home heating.
Then UK minister for climate change and the environment Zac Goldsmith resigned, saying that Rishi Sunak was ‘simply uninterested’ in climate change and the environment, and accusing the government of ‘apathy.’
Days later it emerged that the UK Government’s review of planning for onshore wind is not likely to lead to the expected raft of wind farms in England, as back bench, constituency interests trump progress on one of our cheapest and greenest energy options.
I wrote previously in this column about how Rishi Sunak initially decided he was too busy to attend last year’s UN climate talks in Egypt.
Meanwhile, north of the border, we have had the collapse of the Deposit Return Scheme. This is deeply disappointing for the environment but it also rings alarm bells for the politics of the environment in Scotland.
The DRS scheme was enabled by the 2009 climate act, promised in 2017 and then specific legislation was passed by Holyrood in 2020. It was very clearly an SNP creation. Yet it became identified with the Greens in government, so much so that during the SNP leadership contest none of the candidates could be bothered to defend it, and more recently Green minister Lorna Slater was mostly left to take the flak when the UK Government blocked the inclusion of glass bottles.
The latest roll back on the environment has been the scrapping of plans for Highly Protected Marine Areas. Promised when this government was elected, these were to cover about 10% of Scotland’s seas and would be areas where fishing, oil extraction and other destructive activities were to be restricted or banned to protect both marine nature and the carbon that is locked up in marine sediments.
The first three English HPMAs come into effect tomorrow but the Scottish Government was not brave enough to stick to its plans so there is no date for additional protection for Scottish marine areas.
Both the DRS and the HPMAs were promised in the Bute House Agreement between the Scottish Greens and the SNP. This is the policy agenda that allows the SNP-Green government to have a majority at Holyrood, and put two Green Ministers in the government.
With two of its key promises failed, what else is at risk ? The Agreement promises massive investment in home energy efficiency, vital in this time of a cost of living crisis, transport policies which reduces car-km driven by 20% by 2030, more investment in cycling and walking, big targets for new onshore and offshore wind power, and the phasing out of gas heating boilers. Are all of these things also at risk ?
Humza Yousaf needs to do more to make sure his government actually delivers on its environmental promises if he is not to face the same kind of accusations as Rishi Sunak.
A version of this article appeared in the Scotsman newspaper on 5th July 2023.