Q&A with Roseanna Cunningham
The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform on the climate change bill, Brexit and cutting plastic use
Roseanna Cunningham - image credit: David Anderson
Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform
- You’ve said previously that being environment minister was one of the best jobs you had in government, having now been kept in the environment sphere as Cab Sec for the second time in a row, what is it about the environment brief that is so attractive?
We’re in the midst of a period of unprecedented global change – tackling climate change has never been so important. Scotland is already experiencing the effects, and extreme weather could become more common, presenting a wide range of challenges and opportunities for the environment, infrastructure, economy and people in Scotland.
Equally, we’ve started to see significant shifts in people’s attitudes and responses to the issue in recent years – which genuinely inspires me to continue being involved. I’m fortunate enough to be overseeing a period when Scotland is leading the way globally in cutting climate emissions, and I find it very rewarding to support and promote Scotland’s continuing ambition and innovation in this area. The new Climate Change Bill – which I introduced to the Scottish Parliament in May – will immediately set a target of a 90 per cent reduction of all greenhouse gases by 2050. This means net zero emissions of CO2 – so Scotland will be carbon neutral by 2050 and playing our full role in limiting harmful emissions, consistent with the Paris Agreement.
At the same time as reducing Scotland’s emissions, our climate change adaptation programme is actively and progressively supporting responses across the nation to respond both to the risks we will face in the coming years and to the opportunities that will arise out of a changing climate.
2. Brexit and its consequences appear to fall heaviest on your brief thus far, do you remain worried?
Brexit continues to cast an enormous cloud over plans for Scotland’s environment. The main cause of angst for me continues to be the lack of clarity coming from Westminster, despite the Scottish Government continually asking questions. We are now in a situation where, as we approach the Brexit deadline day next spring, the situation is actually becoming more confused rather than less so. Our membership of the European Union has undoubtedly led to important environmental gains – particularly regarding water quality and air quality, so that’s a major cause for concern.
Of course, this government isn’t sitting by idly waiting for Brexit to happen, and we are doing what we can to identify potential issues and put the necessary measures in place to mitigate against them.
3. The Conservatives disagree on the issue of a Westminster power grab after Brexit, can you name the powers that will be sacrificed?
The potential breadth of the power in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is incredibly wide and could extend to any devolved area which is currently a matter of EU competence. The UK Government have indicated there are 24 policy areas where it considers that a new legislative framework may be required. This includes really crucial areas of devolved policy such as fisheries, agriculture, environmental policy, food labelling and procurement. While the Scottish Government has always been clear that we are not opposed to UK-wide frameworks, where these are in Scotland and the UK’s interests, they must not be imposed upon Scotland. Rather, any arrangements must respect devolution and the role of the Scottish Parliament.
4. The Blue Planet programmes seem to have woken up a large swathe of the population to the dangers of single-use plastic, this is something that has concerned you for some time but what progress are you making on tackling it?
The Scottish Government is working towards a complete ban on single-use, non-recyclable plastics in Scotland by 2030. Earlier this year, we became the first country in the UK to propose a ban on plastic-stemmed cotton buds, and action on other problem items will be considered by an expert panel including charges on single-use coffee cups.
We are also committed to introducing a deposit return scheme, and are working on improving recycling rates.
5. You have the benefit of longevity in this role, what do you see as the main priorities going forward and how do you intend to tackle them?
No surprises, really. Of course, I’m determined that we continue to build on the good work being done to tackle climate change; I want the Scottish Government to be the leading voice for championing animal welfare and preventing wildlife crime in the UK; and I want to build on the momentum that we’ve managed to generate over the past few years regarding land reform. In the past year alone, we’ve seen the first urban community buyout, the first island bought under new community right to buy legislation (Ulva), and the introduction of regulations that could potentially enable communities to acquire land that is abandoned or neglected. Communities are having more say in how natural and built assets are being utilised than ever before.
6. The world has seen record-breaking temperatures this summer, how do you square your own government’s approach to fossil fuels with your ambitions for climate change?
We need a balanced approach, where we reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels and increase low carbon and renewable energy. Expertise gained through 40 years’ experience of operating in the North Sea, such as vital subsea skills, can also help overcome the engineering and innovation challenges presented by moving to a low carbon future.
Alongside this, we have set an ambitious new target through our recent energy strategy to meet 50 per cent of all our energy, from heat through to transport and electricity, from renewable sources.
That underlines our belief in Scotland’s huge renewable potential, and our commitment to an approach which takes in the whole energy system. It’s ambitious but achievable,and will go a long way towards helping us achieve our wider ambitions for climate change.
7. How do you care for your own personal environment?
It’s pretty easy to make a difference, and getting easier all the time. I take public transport whenever possible. I’m conscientious when it comes to recycling, plastic use and being careful not to waste energy – including my own!
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