Scotland has become an unlikely renewable energy powerhouse. Unlikely, perhaps because it lacks the abundant sunshine that springs immediately to most people’s minds when we think of renewables.
But what it lacks in sunshine, it makes up for in another important natural resource for producing loads of renewable power – wind. Scotland’s famously blustery climate is propelling it toward a brighter, more sustainable future: In October of last year, 98 percent of Scotland's electricity was produced by wind turbines, and its government is on track to meet its goal of producing all of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
As part of our global broadcast event exploring the climate-health crisis, 24 Hours of Reality: Protect Our Planet, Protect Ourselves, we invited Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), to join former Vice President AL Gore to discuss how Scotland is thriving on wind energy, why the nation is well ahead on meeting its emissions targets, and its work in developing countries to promote climate justice.
The interview has been condensed and edited for brevity below.
Al Gore: Thank you so much for joining us, first minister. I have been a fan of your leadership for a long time. I congratulate you on the initiatives you're taking, and as you know, we are focused on the climate crisis and its solutions with a particular impact on health consequences. But in more general terms, my first question to you – and first of all, welcome and thank you for joining us – tell us about the current climate impacts you're seeing in rural and urban areas of Scotland.
Nicola Sturgeon: Firstly, thank you very much for inviting me to join you. It's a pleasure to talk to you about such an important issue for my country and for countries all across the globe.
Like other countries, I've just watched your presentation on the UK. We're already seeing extreme weather the likes of which we've not been used to – greater rainfall, unusually for Scotland, some heat waves in the most recent summer. We are seeing that impact already and we know that that impact is going to continue. Estimates are that even if we minimize emissions, sea levels by the end of the century will rise by around half a meter, and Scotland accounts for more than 10 percent of Europe's coastline. We have 100 inhabited islands. Many of our iconic industries, fishing and whiskey, rely heavily on climate sensitive natural resources.
So the impacts for us, as they will be for countries across the globe, are going to be significant, and that makes it more important that we show real leadership both in mitigating climate change but also leading in terms of adaptation as well.
AG: I want to ask a second question: Why do you think it's especially important for governmental leaders to consider the health impacts of the climate crisis when making policy decisions?
NS: Well, we have to consider the health of our populations and we can't have a healthy population without a healthy planet. The changes in climate and the changes in weather have implications for the spread of disease and [other] health conditions. The air that we breathe is hugely important. So for any government that has the health of its population at heart – and there can be fewer and more important responsibilities – then tackling climate change has to be a top priority.
I'm proud of the action Scotland's taken already. We've halved emissions already, but if we're to live up to our responsibilities under the Paris treaty, we have to go further. We aim to be carbon neutral by 2050, and we want to reach net zero of all greenhouse gas emissions as soon as we possibly can. And it's important that we show moral leadership in the world in order to encourage others to go faster as well.
AG: Music to my ears, as you might expect. But truly, I have followed your record and your leadership and as first minister you have vowed publicly to take – and I quote – “world-leading action on climate change.” How are you working to keep Scotland on track to meet these ambitious mission goals by 2020 and then go beyond? And how is it that Scotland's progress has been faster than most other places in Europe?
NS: Well, partly its political will – and we've got great consensus across the political spectrum in Scotland. Sure, we disagree on some of the details, but there is a great deal of consensus about the direction of travel.
We also have massive renewable energy potential and that has allowed us already to reach a position where around 70 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources. We're now working towards a target by 2030 of at least half of all of our energy needs coming from renewable sources.
So we're blessed with the natural resources, and coupling that with the political will means that we're able to go faster than many others and that helps us to encourage others across the UK, across Europe, and further afield to follow on.
But it's important that we continue to raise our ambition as well. The Paris treaty makes it necessary. We saw the IPCC report just a few weeks ago as a call to action for all of us. None of us, even those of us who are in a leadership position here, none of us can afford to be complacent or rest on our laurels.
AG: Well, I love to hear that – and this is not a question, I just want to interject a comment about your emphasis on the importance of sufficient political will in Scotland. Many historians have written about the age of the Enlightenment, the age of reason, and perhaps it's my bias in favor of Scotland again, but I've always thought that the Scottish Enlightenment played a very special role. And I kind of think that the legacy of that Scottish Enlightenment is still very much alive and is evident in the political will that you referred to.
But tell us about the specific goals and intention of Scotland's climate justice fund. I'm so impressed by this. It just blows me away, as we say in America. How is this climate justice fund being used to develop climate change mitigation projects in select developing countries in Africa? That's a lot of political will, to convince your people to support that. It's the right thing to do and it's so inspiring. But tell us about this climate justice fund.
Watch the full interview:
NS: I think Scotland was the first country anywhere in the world to establish a climate justice fund, and it's based on a very simple principle that I think more and more people adhere to. Those that are suffering the biggest and worst impacts of climate change have done the least to cause climate change. So it's right and incumbent on developed countries that we put climate justice at the heart of everything we do.
So the fund that we established works mainly in Malawi, Zambia, and Rwanda, principally Malawi. Through the funding that we've made available, we are taking a range of different actions, helping people in communities in Malawi to develop their own solutions to deal with the impact of climate change at projects around water resource management. One that I'm particularly passionate about is using the skills of our young people in Scotland to develop young climate leaders in Malawi, where almost half of the population is under 18 years of age. So across a whole range of different initiatives, we are helping those countries adapt and deal with the impacts. And I think it's our duty to do so.
AG: Well, God bless the people of Scotland. As I understand what you're saying, you and the people of Scotland have picked a select number of developing countries, low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are highly vulnerable to the climate crisis and you are helping them become more resilient to the climate impacts in that region. And it's true that you've figured out that these projects will not only help these people who are vulnerable, but they will have global benefits as well. Do you have any success stories you could share?
NS: Some of the things I've been speaking about [with] these programs and initiatives in a country like Malawi are already developing learning and providing case studies.
So particularly some of the work we're doing around water management and developing ways of skills around water, the worker, and capacity building of young people. These are all projects that are already delivering real benefits in Malawi and allowing others to learn from them. And in the process, I'm a great believer that the developed countries like ours, although we've got expertise to share and funding to bring to bear, we should still also be able and willing to learn from others. I see this very much as a two-way process for Scotland; that there's real benefits to us in this as well.
At home, we put a big emphasis on the just transition to a carbon-neutral economy to make sure that we don't leave the vulnerable at home behind in that transition, and we're doing our best to make sure that the most vulnerable elsewhere in the world will get to come along with us too.
AG: In that same spirit of an openness to learning from others, I know that last year you signed a joint agreement with the [then] governor of California, Jerry Brown, committing to work with California jointly to reduce carbon emissions. What does this partnership entail and could it set an example for other regional sub-national government leaders? Of course, Scotland is in a special category, but could it set an example for other leaders who also want to take urgent steps toward reducing carbon emissions?
NS: Yes, I hope it does set that example. The memorandum of understanding, the arrangement that Jerry Brown and I signed, is part of the Under2 Coalition, which is made up of around 200 sub-state actors looking to come together to work out what more we can do [at the] regional, city, sub-state level.
It's a partnership that involves principally an exchange of knowledge and understanding and expertise. And since we signed that agreement, we've seen an exchange of policy, officials, academics, experts, ministers. One of my ministers, I think, joined you earlier this year at the Global Climate Action Conference in San Francisco. So it's a real way of developing and deepening our understanding of what we're doing. You know, California has been keen to learn from Scotland's experience in wind power, offshore wind power included, and there's lots that California is doing that we can learn from as well. So it's a huge benefit to us and I think it does set an example to others.
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