Cop26 climate change summit: Why Scotland needs to listen to the world, not lecture it like Nicola Sturgeon – Daniel Johnson MSP

We recently had the chance to listen to Nicola Sturgeon give a Ted talk ahead of the Cop26 climate change talks in Glasgow.

By Daniel Johnson
Monday, 18th October 2021, 4:55 am
Nicola Sturgeon speaks at the Ted Countdown Summit ahead of the Cop26 climate change summit in Glasgow (Picture: Bret Hartman/TED)
Nicola Sturgeon speaks at the Ted Countdown Summit ahead of the Cop26 climate change summit in Glasgow (Picture: Bret Hartman/TED)

On the one hand, I have to admit I was slightly jealous: holding court on stage with fancy graphics and lighting is much more glamorous than the parliamentary back and forth I get involved in at Holyrood.

But actually, I think this gets the opportunity of Cop the wrong way round. With the world descending on Glasgow and attention from all corners of the globe focused on these important discussions, we should be listening, not talking.

The first reason we need to be in listening mode is that we do not have all the answers. Indeed we are only just beginning to understand the problem. This country is uniquely dependent on gas, that's why the spike in prices is causing such a big problem across the UK.

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Over three-quarters of our homes are heated by gas, compared to half in Germany and less than one per cent in Norway.

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But the alternatives look some way off and expensive. Installing a heat pump costs ten times that of installing a gas boiler and doesn't heat water hot enough to work with our current radiators. Heat pumps typically only heat water to 50 degrees, which is nowhere near enough for our draughty homes.

It's not just heating: electric vehicles may be getting better but they can't replace HGVs. Our food creates a massive amount of CO2. Wind turbines are great, but when it goes calm we have to fire up our gas-fired power stations. We have no clear plan to replace the baseload currently provided by our two nuclear power stations when they are decommissioned. We need to be listening to the world, looking at solutions and working together.

But more importantly, our actions, while imperative, are insignificant compared to the global challenge. Scotland produces a small fraction of global CO2. If we are going to tackle climate change, we need the big countries to do more and we need to help developing countries leapfrog dirty industrial stages of development to sustainable net-zero economies.

These countries will bear the brunt of climate change. Our wet climate may get more unpredictable but it is countries on the equator whose climate will dry up and where agriculture will fail. It’s low-lying countries like Bangladesh, Mauritius and South Sea Islands that will be submerged with rising sea levels. We must listen to them.

But perhaps most importantly we have an opportunity to change our thinking this November when the world comes to us. I am often struck when I have visited Asian countries, or hosted delegations from other parts of the world, how their outlook is so much more global than ours.

We have a habit here in Scotland of just thinking about what happens in this country. Many other countries think about how their actions on important issues impact the world. Cop26 is Scotland’s opportunity to listen to the world and think global.

Daniel Johnson is the Labour & Co-op MSP for Edinburgh Southern

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