Portfolio Questions – 9 January 2020

January 15, 2020

David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what support
is available to businesses that are committed to lowering carbon emissions and improving
air quality. (S5O-03967) The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate
Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham): Our green new deal will deliver billions of
pounds of investment in our net zero future and will position Scotland to take advantage
of a green economy. We are taking action to optimise existing
support, so that Scotland’s energy-intensive industrial sites are better positioned to
access funding opportunities that will help them to deliver emissions savings while remaining
internationally competitive. We are also providing practical and financial support to local authorities
to tackle local air pollution hotspots. That includes a total of £4.5 million in annual
funding. David Torrance: I have met representatives of several local
businesses that are keen to convert their fleets to electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles.
A common concern is the challenge of balancing investment in new technology and effective
and sustainable operational performances with a desire to commit to a clean-energy future.
What role can the Scottish Government play in assisting that transition? Roseanna Cunningham: The Scottish Government offers interest-free
loan funding to enable businesses and consumers to purchase ultra-low-emission vehicles through
the electric vehicle loan scheme, which is delivered by the Energy Saving Trust. We have
also invested around £30 million to increase publicly available charging to more than 1,200
charging points on the ChargePlace Scotland network. Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con): To ask the Scottish Government whether it
is on track to meet net zero emissions by 2045. (S5O-03968) The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate
Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham): Scotland is almost halfway to achieving net
zero emissions, with a 47 per cent reduction in emissions having been achieved between
1990 and 2017. That strong progress is recognised in the recent report from the Committee on
Climate Change. In line with that report, we also recognise that more needs to be done
to reach net zero emissions by 2045. That is why we are currently updating our climate
change plan to reflect the new targets. The committee’s advice for the United Kingdom
Government is also clear: it must “step up and match Scottish policy ambition
in areas where key powers are reserved”. Liam Kerr: The report by the Committee on Climate Change,
which was published in December, criticised the Scottish National Party Government for
lagging behind both England and Wales in designing a future farm funding system that encourages
environmentally friendly farming. It identifies that as an area in which the policy levers
exist here, at Holyrood. Urgent action is required to meet the 2045 target. Will the
cabinet secretary explain what is taking so long? Roseanna Cunningham: The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy
has now left the chamber, but I can tell the member that I have had a number of conversations
with Fergus Ewing, including this week, about the extent to which agriculture must contribute
to achieving net zero emissions by 2045. As the member may have heard the First Minister
say, there was a Cabinet discussion on Tuesday about the overall issue of Scotland achieving
net zero emissions by 2045. Work towards that includes a range of actions across everything
that is addressed in the climate change plan, which includes agriculture. Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP): What assurances has the Scottish Government
received from the UK Government that, in the key areas that it has responsibility for—such
as carbon capture and storage, decarbonisation of the grid and an increase in the pace of
vehicle transition—it will take action in the coming year to ensure that Scotland meets
the 2045 target? Roseanna Cunningham: It is a pity that, in spite of our having
written on multiple occasions, calling for action in the many specific reserved areas
that were flagged up by the Committee on Climate Change, we have received no substantive assurances
whatsoever from the UK. Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab): Given the Scottish Government’s very slow
progress to date on decarbonising heat and Citizens Advice Scotland’s recent call for
greater investment and action on tackling heat emissions, what new action will the Scottish
Government take to tackle emissions from heat, to help Scotland to reach net zero emissions? Roseanna Cunningham: I am sure that the member listened to my earlier
responses. We are currently carrying out a very quick revision—an update—of the existing
climate change plan, and the question of heat decarbonisation is key: it will need to be
addressed, and we are looking at the potential for action. However, it is also one of the
key areas in which action from the UK Government will be required if we are to achieve what
we need to achieve to get to net zero emissions by 2045. People really need to look in detail at what
the UK Committee on Climate Change flagged up as the division between devolved and reserved
requirements, because it is a real issue for us in achieving our net zero targets. Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green): Last night’s challenging Channel 4 documentary
by George Monbiot emphasised the scale of the changes that may be needed globally in
our food production in order to meet net zero targets. Although some people will feel threatened
by that message, in the week that the Greggs vegan steak bakes arrived on the shelves in
Scotland, what is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that we are capturing the
economic and environmental opportunities that are being driven by consumer demand for reduced-meat
diets? Roseanna Cunningham: I thank the member for inadvertently having
given me advance notice of the supplementary question that he was going to ask. I did not
see the programme that he referred to, but I am aware of the debate that is taking place. There are a couple of things that I should
say in addition to my comments on agriculture, which I will not repeat. There is a global
challenge, but we will encounter difficulties if we try to attach global solutions to local
conditions. The situation in Scotland, particularly in relation to livestock production, is very
different from the situation elsewhere. I know that the member understands that, because
we have already had some conversation on that point. My colleague Fergus Ewing is considering the
issue carefully. We are very conscious of the need to deal with agricultural emissions,
but we need to do that in a fair way that recognises the continued future of that industry.
Dietary changes are always to be welcomed, particularly when it comes to increasing fruit
and vegetable intake, which is a health issue as well as a climate change issue, but we
need to approach the matter in the context of the current Scottish agricultural system.
We must not presume that the mistakes that are being made globally are being repeated
in Scotland, because they are not. Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con): To ask the Scottish Government what action
it will take to maximise the Crown Estate’s coastal assets, including enhancing the opportunities
for marine sport and tourism activities. (S5O-03969) The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate
Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham): Crown Estate Scotland’s draft corporate
plan for 2020 to 2023 includes a proposal for a coastal assets strategy. The strategy
will seek to maximise the potential of Crown Estate Scotland’s coastal assets through
their efficient management and development. The draft corporate plan also sets out options
for Crown Estate Scotland investment, including in support for the growth of Scotland’s
blue economy. Activity over the coming years will include
a focus on marine tourism—including, potentially, marine sport activities—and on helping coastal
communities to manage their local marine resources. Maurice Corry: A report on sailing tourism in Scotland states
that Scotland’s £130 million sailing tourism economy is set to grow by as much as 28 per
cent in the next seven years and identifies further opportunities for private and public
investment in critical infrastructural developments to meet growing demand. Can the cabinet secretary outline what the
Government is doing to encourage further growth and development of specific assets, such as
Rhu marina on the Firth of Clyde? Roseanna Cunningham: I am aware of the member’s interest in Rhu
marina at Helensburgh; he has already been active in that regard. Since Crown Estate
Scotland took over, it has worked with Rhu marina on several improvement works. Rhu marina
was recently awarded four gold anchors by the Yacht Harbour Association, so some considerable
progress has taken place. More generally on Scotland’s coast and waters,
we and colleagues across the chamber are very keen to continue to push for the potential
development of our marine environment, but there are some issues that need to be addressed
in relation to how we balance things. This gives me the opportunity to advertise
that 2020 is Scotland’s year of coastal waters, which I expect to be another signifier
of increasing marine tourism in Scotland. Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde)
(SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what flood
prevention action will take place following the completion of the Inverclyde integrated
catchment study. (S5O-03970) The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate
Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham): The integrated catchment study will provide
detailed information on flooding mechanisms from overland flow, sewers and watercourses.
Once the study is complete, responsible authorities will be in a position to consider what actions
should be taken to manage flood risk in Inverclyde. Stuart McMillan: The cabinet secretary, who visited Inverclyde
several years ago, will be very aware of my interest in flooding in Inverclyde. The study will be hugely beneficial for infrastructure
planning in Inverclyde for many years to come. For that reason, it is important that the
study is maintained going forward. Can the cabinet secretary provide an update on the
funding for flood prevention infrastructure that has been provided to Inverclyde Council
since 2007 and what Inverclyde Council has requested for the remainder of the parliamentary
session? Roseanna Cunningham: I need to remind the chamber of how we do
flood funding in Scotland. In 2016, we agreed a 10-year flood funding strategy with the
Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. The strategy is funded through the local authority
capital settlement and amounts to a minimum of £42 million per year. Eighty per cent
of that annual funding supports delivery of the flood protection schemes that were identified
in the flood risk strategies that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency published in
2015. Four of those schemes are in Inverclyde, and Inverclyde Council has received all the
required funding from the Scottish Government to take them forward. The remaining 20 per
cent of funding is distributed annually among all Scottish local authorities, based on their
share of properties at risk of flooding. Since 2007, the Scottish Government has provided
Inverclyde Council with £2.9 million from the local authority capital settlement to
support delivery of flood protection schemes in Inverclyde—that has been for the four
schemes that I referred to. Future funding will depend on what schemes
are taken forward and what priority they are given. Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries)
(Con): The cabinet secretary will be aware that in
November I raised the worrying issue that, four years on from the flooding that devastated
Newton Stewart, we are still awaiting a much-needed flood protection scheme. Will the cabinet secretary give us an update
on any discussion that she has had with Dumfries and Galloway Council, and outline what role
she can play to ensure that a scheme can be delivered as a matter of urgency? I understand
that a flood order has been waiting to be published since the summer. Roseanna Cunningham: It would be helpful if the member were to
speak with me directly about the specifics of that matter. In general, it is for local
authorities to bring forward the schemes. I do not micromanage that. If there is a particular
issue with what seems to be a bureaucratic blockage, I am happy to engage with the member
on the specifics of that. Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley)
(SNP): To ask the Scottish Government how it plans
to uphold environmental standards in Scotland when the United Kingdom leaves the European
Union. (S5O-03971) The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate
Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham): We are committed to maintaining or exceeding
EU environmental standards, whatever the outcome of Brexit. Despite three years of uncertainty, we have
been working to ensure that the four key EU environmental principles continue to sit at
the heart of policy making and law in Scotland, and we intend to legislate for domestic governance
arrangements. An announcement will be made before the new continuity bill is introduced. Willie Coffey: The original withdrawal agreement contained
a commitment to maintain environmental protections, but I understand that that has been removed.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that that is appalling, given the current climate crisis?
The UK Government wants to move away from the standards and protections for our environment
that are offered by European Union regulations. Roseanna Cunningham: It is clear that, in the face of the twin
global crises of climate and biodiversity, we should be increasing our efforts and working
more closely with other countries, not loosening our ties and turning back the clock on environmental
protections. It seems inexplicable to me that the UK Government appears to be moving in
that direction. I hope that that apparent movement turns out not to be the case. It
is a worrying development—there is no doubt about that. We will, of course, resist any moves that
would lessen our freedom to maintain and strengthen our environmental protections in Scotland. Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab): I will continue on that theme. Reflecting
what was a Scottish National Party policy commitment to Greenpeace during the UK general
election, will the Scottish Government set “legally binding targets (long term and
interim) to clean up our air, soils, seas and rivers” and enshrine a commitment to develop policies
that will reduce Scotland’s global environmental footprint and restore nature in Scotland?
That is particularly important in the present circumstances. Roseanna Cunningham: We are working very hard indeed to take that
work forward. As the member knows, and as I indicated, we are in the business of ensuring
that the environmental principles are statutorily based. We are looking at environmental governance
for this year. We have only just been given sight of the UK Government’s environment
bill and we are having to look very carefully at some of its implications for devolved matters. I think that the member knows that, as I indicated,
it is my full intention that what we do not only reflects the EU’s current environmental
protections but will continue to reflect them as the EU makes improvements. We will also
look for where we can go further and do even better than that. Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab): I refer members to my entry in the register
of members’ interests, as I am a member of the League Against Cruel Sports. To ask
the Scottish Government whether the timetable for its proposed legislation on fox hunting
allows sufficient time for it to be passed within the current parliamentary session.
(S5O-03972) The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural
Environment (Mairi Gougeon): Yes. Colin Smyth: I thank the minister very much for that answer.
It is exactly a year since the minister said that she would bring forward a bill during
the current parliamentary session, and I welcome the fact that she has reinforced that commitment
today. Given the length of time that it takes to
pass legislation, and the fact that we have only 18 months left in the session, will the
minister tell us when exactly she will publish the pre-legislation consultation, and when
exactly she will publish the bill and bring it forward to Parliament? Will she give a
clear commitment to the people of Scotland that boxing day 2019 was the last tally-ho
for fox hunting, and that that cruel practice will be consigned to the history books, where
it belongs? Mairi Gougeon: I thank Colin Smyth for that question, which
I completely understand. I have met him and other members to discuss the proposals that
I announced in January last year. I hope that he and other members across the chamber understand
that we set out our planned legislative timetable in the programme for government. That is subject
to the content of the year 5 legislative programme being agreed to, and to parliamentary timetabling
and the extensive and wide-reaching impact of Brexit—we need to see how that pans out.
Nonetheless, it is still very much our plan to bring forward a bill, and we have sufficient
time in hand, outwith all those other issues, to progress that. We will bring forward and
consult on our proposals in due course. Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP): If passed, what impact will the Animals and
Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill have on the penalties for
those who commit animal welfare offences, including fox hunting? Mairi Gougeon: If passed, our Animals and Wildlife (Penalties,
Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill will increase the maximum penalties for existing
serious domestic animal and wildlife offences, which include offences against foxes. It will
increase those penalties to a potentially unlimited fine and five years’ imprisonment.
Importantly, it will also increase the statutory time limit on wildlife crime offences, which
in essence allows Police Scotland more time to investigate, gather evidence and undertake
forensic tests. Increasing the statutory time limit was one of the recommendations that
Lord Bonomy made in his review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, and it
is a key aspect of the proposals that we have put forward. Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government when it last
met representatives of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, and what issues were discussed.
(S5O-03973) The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate
Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham): I met the SEPA board on 26 November 2019 to
discuss priorities for the future, including tackling the global climate emergency. My
officials regularly meet SEPA on a variety of issues. Sandra White: I draw the cabinet secretary’s attention
to the current state of the River Clyde. Does she agree that the river requires a clean-up,
as Glasgow will host many events this year, most notably the 26th conference of the parties,
or COP26? Will the cabinet secretary seek assurances from SEPA that the River Clyde
will be assessed and that those responsible will be obliged to act on that assessment?
The Clyde needs a long-term strategy to ensure the maintenance of the river and the surrounding
areas. Roseanna Cunningham: The Government is, of course, looking forward
to playing a central role in leading and driving ambition at COP26. We are leading the United
Kingdom on tackling the climate emergency, which should be celebrated. On the specifics of the question, monitoring
and long-term investment in improving the Clyde is on-going. River Clyde water quality
has improved significantly since 2017, thanks to the co-operation of multiple stakeholders,
including Scottish Water, SEPA and local authorities, such that the Clyde is now classified as “good”
in a number of aspects. Between 2010 and 2021, Scottish Water will have invested £610 million
in its waste-water assets to ensure that sewage is treated properly before it is discharged
into the Clyde. Scottish Water is also investing £15 million to improve the River Kelvin,
which is a tributary of the Clyde. Keep Scotland Beautiful has established the
Upstream Battle project, which aims to educate communities, support clean-ups in the Clyde
valley and increase awareness of the harmful impact of litter. The ultimate goal of that
project is to stop litter from getting into the Clyde. The Scottish Government is one
of a number of funders and has provided £30,000 to the project. More widely, the Scottish
Government’s water environment fund, which is administered by SEPA, has helped restore
natural habits by removing fish barriers and concrete channels to allow fish to reach the
upper reaches of the Clyde catchment. That fund has invested £3 million in river restoration
projects near Hamilton and Shotts. If specific issues are of concern to Sandra White, I am
sure that SEPA would be happy to discuss them with her directly. Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Government what action
it is taking to protect open ground habitats, such as peatlands and grasslands, which are
critical to the conservation of curlew. (S5O-03974) The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate
Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham): We are using a range of measures to protect
the habitats of open ground bird species, such as the curlew. Those measures include
the protection of suitable habitats in Scotland’s statutory protected areas, as well as the
management of habitats under the agri-environment climate scheme, with £31 million committed
for wader management under the scheme to date. I am also pleased to note the very recent
award of more than £156,000 by Scottish Natural Heritage to curlews in crisis Scotland under
the Scottish Government’s biodiversity challenge fund. The funding has been given to help increase
suitable breeding areas and reduce predation at sites in Caithness and Ayrshire. That will
play a crucial role in our efforts to improve nature and will help Scotland meet its international
biodiversity commitments. I believe that Lewis Macdonald is species
champion for the curlew. Lewis Macdonald: I am, so I welcome that award. As the cabinet
secretary will recall, I pressed her for support on a previous occasion. The cabinet secretary will also recognise
that there is a need to balance new forest planting to sequester carbon with the need
to protect habitats and species such as the curlew to support biodiversity. Will she authorise
a spatial mapping assessment to guide future forestry planting decisions and to protect
safe breeding habitats in the future? Roseanna Cunningham: The member is probably aware that it would
not be for me to make that decision; it would be a decision for the Cabinet Secretary for
the Rural Economy. I will raise the matter with him directly. The member has raised a very legitimate point,
which is that we need to understand the balances and the consequences that might arise over
a range of different issues. More trees need to be grown and there is a need for increased
carbon capture through green infrastructure, such as tree planting. Of course, we also
have to think about the consequences for biodiversity. Some of the work that we do has an immensely
positive impact on biodiversity, through peatland restoration, for example. A slightly different issue has to be addressed
when it comes to forest planting, and I will ensure that my colleague Fergus Ewing has
the member’s concern in front of him. Survey work and environmental information are already
required under the forestry grant scheme, but the member seems to be asking for something
more strategic and widespread, and I will ensure that that is brought to my colleague’s

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