COP26: SNP must rip up Heathrow Airport deal if Scotland is to be taken seriously at UN climate summit – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

It’s only a matter of days before the attention of the world turns to Glasgow and the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26).

By Alex Cole-Hamilton
Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 4:45 pm
The Scottish government cannot be planning for a major expansion of flights between Scotland and London's Heathrow Airport if it takes climate change seriously (Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
The Scottish government cannot be planning for a major expansion of flights between Scotland and London's Heathrow Airport if it takes climate change seriously (Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

It carries with it the hopes of every nation. Global leaders will converge on Scotland’s largest city under the banner of “Keeping 1.5 alive” – 1.5 degrees Celsius being the average rise in global temperatures above preindustrial levels that experts say we should not go above to avoid a climate catastrophe.

At current rates, we’re surging past that target and face the prospect of more extreme weather and sea-level rise.

I will be honest with you, I’m genuinely scared by what’s happening. I know I’m not alone in feeling a sense of duty for the people we will never meet, future generations and those who live on the other side of the world.

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But more than anything, I feel compelled to do something for those experiencing the worst of the climate emergency, having contributed the least to it.

Like the country of Kiribati, where 100,000 people are battling to stay above the rising Pacific. They might be the first to lose their country entirely to the climate emergency.

The nature of the threat facing Kiribati is perhaps the starkest example of how a country can be punished despite doing so little to contribute to the problem. People from the Pacific to Greenland have every right to ask so much more of developed, industrialised countries like ours.

Last month, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, called the “triple planetary threats” of climate change, pollution and nature loss “the single greatest challenge to human rights of our era”. He’s not exaggerating.

The World Bank recently estimated that 216 million people could be displaced from their homes by 2050 because of climate change if we don’t act now.

The Scottish government has just admitted its climate targets are in jeopardy. That’s more than embarrassing for the host nation. It has finally admitted that aviation alone will need to fall by a third if we’re to come close. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a bold statement. But it’s just that, a statement. Because the very same Scottish government holds a contract with the single biggest polluter in the entire UK – Heathrow Airport.

The SNP talk the language of environmentalism but their economic policy is predicated on maximum extraction of fossil fuels from the North Sea and 75,000 extra flights between Scotland and London by 2040.

So I’m calling on the First Minister to rip up that contract in support of a third Heathrow runway and do it before COP26. Because unless she does, I can’t take her commitment to the climate emergency seriously, and neither should the watching world.

It’s vital that we don’t lose sight of why the world is descending on Glasgow. It’s rare for Scotland to find itself in the spotlight like this. History could regard this as the turning point. The moment the world got real about the crisis literally drowning nations like Kiribati.

That revolution could start in Scotland, right here, right now. So we need to make sure our house is in order and that we set an example of global proportions.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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