Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
22 October 2012
A moral imperative

A moral imperative

When Alex Salmond said at the start of the year that he wanted world leaders to make 2012 ‘The Year of Climate Justice’, he was acknowledging that developed nations, like Scotland, should make amends for the damage they had inflicted on the environment.

As a central player in the Industrial Revolution and then a major focus for the oil industry since the 1970s, it was felt that Scotland should be leading the way in taking responsibility for its emissions that were contributing to climate change.

While in Scotland, recent heavy rain and flooding in Fife and Aberdeenshire, for example, might be blamed on climate change, it is further afield that the harshest impacts are felt in communities that are less equipped to cope with the impact of major weather events, like floods or drought.

Aid agencies and charities say they have experienced the full impact of climate change in areas like Malawi and Bangladesh, including communities devastated by floods and poor harvests – and they suggest they are inextricably linked to the environment.

This month, the First Minister reiterated the “moral imperative” that nations like Scotland have vis-à-vis those which are suffering such effects when he delivered a speech on low carbon investment.

He said: “Climate change is not a distinct ungraspable threat – it’s not something that’s going to happen to our children and to their children. It is something that is already happening and its effects are already being felt.

“In the developed world, those effects are deep disruption, increased inconvenience and substantial economic cost. In the developing world – for example, a change in weather patterns in the Horn of Africa – the effect is catastrophic.” The Scottish Government is due to announce, before the end of October, the names of the six successful applicants to the Climate Justice Fund, which was launched in May this year by the First Minister, then environment minister Stewart Stevenson and former Irish President, Mary Robinson, who heads up a foundation devoted to climate justice.

From an initial pot of £3m, successful applicants will get up to £500,000 each, with projects focusing on Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia. The emphasis will be on climate adaptation and projects which support effective water management systems and help vulnerable communities to access clean water.

The Scottish Government already has an International Development Fund, supporting projects in nine countries across Africa, South Asia and the Middle East.

In times of financial austerity, aid budgets, particularly at a UK level, are often questioned because of the overriding focus on reducing the national debt – although by 2013 this will only be at 0.7 per cent of GDP.

But Judith Robertson, director of Oxfam Scotland, said projects that addressed the impact of climate change were essential to prevent the good work on other schemes being wasted.

She told Holyrood: “A lot of the world’s poorest people are living in rural areas on subsistence agriculture and those communities are some of the worst affected by climate change, because they are very reliant on predictable weather patterns to produce their food and to support their livestock and their general livelihoods.

“That’s being undermined all across the world by the negative effects of climate change.” She said projects like work supporting communities hit by HIV and AIDS in Malawi, where the concentration is on training up young people in skills such as those needed for farming, as well as reducing the stigma of the disease, are undermined if crops fail because of extreme weather patterns.

Oxfam is just one of the many groups and charities which have applied for some of the £3m from the fund. But she stressed that any projects the charity would be involved in would not be “a simple tick-box exercise”.

Their aim is to help areas which are more likely to be hit by extreme weather events, like drought or flooding, to be more resilient to them in the future. This can include providing communities with wind-up radios, forewarning them of approaching storms, but also involves long-term development work such as setting up committees to help the community plan for disasters.

Money available through the fund is not intended to be focused on providing infrastructure and any capital is only supposed to be up to 15 per cent of the total award. But Robertson says a lot of the important work done by aid organisations is something that “you can’t just turn up and take a photograph of”, like the staff time used to build better relationships within the community and improve links in the area.

And she adds there is a lot of work to do to ensure the money is directed to the right place.

“This is one of our demands of the fund. If you’re going to successfully build community resilience to climate change, you’re going to have to work at a very local level, with local people.

“It can’t happen by governments giving money to governments. That’s not going to make a difference.

“It’s not going to be a cheap option, building community resilience, because it has to be done on the ground with people in communities to see how best they can make a difference.” Another important aspect of the schemes, under the terms of the fund, is the role that women play in them. This is important to bodies like Oxfam, who have concerns that women are often underrepresented in their communities – often doing a lot of the farming, as well as being principle carers for children and the elderly.

Robertson said: “We will speak to community leaders – that’s respectful and you have to engage community leaders – but we will also ensure that you are talking to the women. If you don’t talk to the women, you only get a perspective of what men want and need.

“It’s a huge issue. Alex Salmond highlighted this in his speeches that he gave both at the launch of the Climate Justice Fund and speaking in China.

“That’s at the heart of our work. Without addressing the needs of women, you’re failing to address the fundamental issues of poverty.” The launch of the fund and the imminent announcement of who will take the first projects forward has been broadly welcomed by aid organisations but they have been insistent that it goes further.

Patrick Corrigan, head of nations and regions at Amnesty International, said: “Amnesty International wants to see the Scottish Government develop clear policies which put human rights at the centre of any international economic framework. That would mean that Scottish businesses, working both here and abroad, are responsible and accountable for the impact they have on human rights and the environment.

“Scottish companies have a duty to ensure that their activities do not have an adverse impact on people or [the] planet, wherever they operate across the world, and the Scottish Government should endeavour to hold our companies to account for any such violations.

“The First Minister has been positive about this issue and we are keen to work with the Scottish Government to get the framework right.” The amount of money being put into the fund will also be scrutinised. At the UN climate change conference in Cancun two years ago, a commitment was made, globally, for $100bn to be put into climate adaptation funding every year up to 2020.

The Stop Climate Change Chaos Coalition has said it wants Scotland’s fund to be £9m a year by the end of the current parliamentary session in 2016. When the fund was launched, the intention was that further monies would be government generated but that income would also come from elsewhere.

However, Robertson adds: “It’s significant in that it opens the door for that kind of work being done. There’s always more that the Government could do, but I have to say, I think they do a reasonable job.

They could probably try to hold the UK Government to account more forcefully.

“The fact that the First Minister champions this is a really positive thing, because it means that it is at the highest level of government. I think the fact that the rhetoric of government says that all ministers are climate change ministers is a really good thing. I think they need to deliver on that.” She added: “Climate change is a factor in increasing people’s vulnerability – but they are already vulnerable. Climate change, food price spikes, people being shoved off their land are both cause and effect of people being vulnerable.

“They haven’t got any escape mechanisms, they haven’t got any safety nets.

“Climate justice is about making one level of intervention, to provide some back up for people. It’s a form of safety net, although we’ve got a long way to go.”

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Read the most recent article written by - Humza Yousaf: Lindsay Hoyle position ‘looks untenable’.

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top