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Voices of Scotland We must raise our game in the run-up to COP26

With the UN climate negotiations coming to Glasgow this year, the labour movement needs to put climate justice at the centre of its agenda, says CLAUDIA BEAMISH MSP

IN DECEMBER 2015, I stood in Paris to witness global leaders make a historic agreement at COP21 – the 21st United Nations climate negotiations.

These huge international climate conferences are known as “Conference of Parties” or “COP” under the United Nations Framework for the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The anxious anticipation among the crowds of activists was palpable. We crossed our fingers and hoped for consensus and bravery from the 196 parties in the delegates’ hall.

And of course, the Paris Agreement that was announced was triumphant. It felt like a turning point in the global response to climate emergency. 

It included precious reference to pursuing efforts to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. 

This target was a victory then, a recognition of the fears of the small island nations. However, we now know, thanks to updated science, that the 1.5°C target is vital for the preservation of our planet itself and all it encompasses, including humanity.

It is a great responsibility to think that five years on, expectation and excitement will fill Glasgow, as it plays host to COP26 in December 2020, an event already lauded as the most important COP since Paris.

So much has moved forward since 2015 in terms of climate change consciousness. 

The inspirational Greta Thunberg, youngest ever Time Person of the Year, lit a fire in millions around the world, launching the school strikes giving the young a voice and empowering them. 

Where once at odds, trade unionists and environmentalists now stand together for ambition, equity and transformation. Issues that were once the pipedreams of frustrated activists are now at the forefront of some party policy plans.

The Labour Party alone can be trusted to deliver climate justice for all.

The 2019 general election result was a huge disappointment and reflections are ongoing. 

But I have some certainty. We were not wrong to commit to swift and far-reaching ambition on climate change, we were not wrong to set out a strategy to capitalise on the jobs and economic opportunities that transformation will entail, and we were not wrong to use the climate crisis as a catalyst for the creation of a fairer, more equitable society. 

Labour movement plans for a robust industrial strategy and a green jobs revolution must be fought for robustly.

In the Scottish parliament, we have been making the same arguments, up against the SNP’s reluctance to make enough change, and the Scottish Conservatives’ obstacles at every turn.

It is decidedly clear that without Scottish Labour’s influence, the SNP’s Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2019 would have been a pitiful shell of what we delivered in the end.

The SNP’s initial proposals for targets were meagre. They refused to set a net zero target and barely increased ambition over the next crucial decade to 2030 and consequently were ridiculed for a draft Bill that failed to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement.

Without Labour amendments and pressure, the SNP’s legislation would have failed to adopt a more robust interim target for the necessary rapid and transformational change needed to have any hope of keeping global temperatures below 1.5°C. 

There would also have been no policy for our heaviest emitting sectors, and it would make no mention of the just transition, of the global South, sustainable development goals or of climate justice at all.

These are the fundamentals. Without them, even achieved targets are no victory. No justice, no peace.

The labour movement is already fighting to make sure these fundamentals are represented at COP26.

The Scottish government has said it wants COP26 to be a “Just Transition COP.” I share this ambition. 

However, after the SNP blocked Scottish Labour’s amendments to create a statutory, independent and long-term just transition commission in the Climate Change Act, there is every reason to be suspicious. 

There will be SNP grandstanding, but it will take a concerted effort from the labour and environmental movements if we are to truly embed climate justice into the conference.

Lessons must be learnt from the recently completed 2019 negotiations, which saw a failure to progress in a number of key areas, shunted down the road to reconsider in 2020. 

It is disappointing to see yet again some of the richest countries in the world sidestepping their responsibilities, failing to reach agreement on finance for loss and damage, while the poorest countries in the world, who have done least to cause the crisis, face its cruellest effects already.

We must be mindful that this is the fourth COP to be held in Europe, and we must go the extra mile to bring in voices from the global South and the front line of climate change.

As climate change spokesperson for Scottish Labour, I have already pushed the Scottish government to commit to advocate for the global South in the chamber, and will not relent.

That inclusivity must also envelop activists, unionists, civil society and the voices of the many. 

The latest COP in Madrid saw Spanish security forcibly removing protesters from conference and removing the right of some to return.

It begs the question – are these global climate negotiations there to serve those profiting from polluting our Earth, or are they to protect the future generations and those suffering from climate injustice here in Scotland as we move to net zero emissions and across the world?

Let us be sure to start working together across the labour and environment movements to make sure the transition is a just one.

Claudia Beamish is MSP for South Scotland region and shadow cabinet secretary for climate change, environment and land reform.

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