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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Climate change

I was speaking at the STUC Climate Change Conference in Edinburgh today. My theme was Climate change: from law to action.

For the benefit of the climate change deniers I started with a brief recap of the climate change science evidence. The Guardian does a great interactive guide. For Scotland it means our temperatures have risen in every season over the past 40 years, we are 20% wetter with a shorter snow season and fewer frosts. So Scotland gets a bit warmer - not many complaints likely over that! However, it also means an increase in extreme weather events like heat, drought and rainfall, plus a sea level rise of between 10-18cm by 2050. This all has serious consequences for public services, markets, business and health.

For these reasons Scotland has adopted the strongest climate change legislation in the world. Targets to cut emissions by 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050, together with annual targets of at least 3% per year. These targets are backed up by mitigation and adaptation strategies and a commitment to sustainable development. All public bodies have a duty to tackle climate change by assessing their impact and influence, taking action and measuring progress. Sadly the guidance is a bit weak with no statutory reporting and a very top down approach.

This is why we need to keep campaigning. Scotland is fortunate in having a powerful campaigning coalition on this issue in Stop Climate Chaos Scotland with a collective membership of 2 million. Targets are fine but they are beyond normal political cycles. So we need further steps on issues like green procurement, energy efficiency, transport and just transition strategies. The recent Spending Review prioritised roads over public transport and housing. So we need to keep Government on its toes. Targets are being met, but that is more due to the economic downturn than practical action to tackle climate change.

Next year's local government elections is a good opportunity to put some focus on local actions to tackle climate change. Too many  councils put the Climate Challenge plaque on the wall and do little else. They should all build emission cuts into their Single Outcome Agreements and the work of their Community Planning Partnerships. They should have local targets and adaption strategies that they report on annually. Sustainable development education should be undertaken in all schools together with Food for Good policies in all catering facilities. Waste management and energy conservation should be part of these strategies together with support for public transport, cycling, pedestrian facilities and access to land.

All public bodies and employers should recognise that more than half of all emissions are work related. Workplaces produce ten times as much waste as we do in our homes. That's why engaging workers in climate change is essential. Heroic leadership is not enough. Unions like UNISON have Green Workplace strategies that can help raise awareness and take important practical steps. Workers engaged in these strategies are also more likely to take them into our communities and the home. It can also cut waste at a time when the public pound is being stretched beyond breaking point.

So strong legislation with ambitious targets is great. But let's not get complacent. We need practical actions to deliver these commitments and really tackle the most serious threat to the planet.

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