SCOTLAND is setting a good example to other countries in its approach to the impact of climate change.
Last October I visited Scotland to deliver the Magnusson Lecture on the theme Climate Justice – Challenges and Opportunities. I explained that the focus of my work in the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice – is to take a human rights and developmental approach to climate change, to safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable and share the burdens and benefits of climate change and its resolution equitably.
I was glad to deliver my message in Scotland because it has an enviable record in tackling climate change, and is clearly benefiting economically. The Scottish Parliament passed a Climate Change Act in 2009 which gives legal character to the national commitment to combat climate change. That means that Scotland is numbered amongst the few countries in the world to adopt climate change legislation – the most meaningful signal of a nation's commitment to act. Enshrining mitigation commitments in law demonstrates not just a desire to act but also a willingness to be held accountable both at home and internationally.
Last week's historic debate on climate justice in the Scottish Parliament and the unanimous cross-party parliamentary support for the motion was evidence of Scotland's commitment to championing climate justice. It is taking a human-rights-based approach to combating climate change which seeks equitable outcomes to both protect the vulnerable and provide them with access to benefits arising from our transition to low-carbon development.
Scotland is investing in the transition from oil to renewable forms of energy and is taking impressive steps to embrace low-carbon, climate-resilient development. Scotland's climate change legislation lays the groundwork and this is complemented by initiatives from government including a low carbon economic strategy, an energy-efficient action plan and a public engagement strategy.
It is also impressive that these efforts are supported by the country's economic development agency Scottish Enterprise through its Low Carbon Implementation Plan which works with business to exploit low-carbon opportunities. These experiences are helping investment in Scotland and will make it a valuable partner to developing countries as they strive to put in place similar policies and strategies.
The Scottish Human Rights Commission is a champion of climate justice. Its chairman, Professor Alan Miller, stated that "climate change has adverse implications for the full enjoyment of human rights, and international human rights obligations, standards and principles have the potential to inform and strengthen policymaking at every level".
In short, Scotland has a forward-looking climate change strategy with the necessary legislation in place and an inclusive reach which ensures that all of the country's main players are on board. First Minister Alex Salmond has said: "We face a moral obligation to act against growing climate chaos and a clear economic imperative to avoid much greater future costs." It is not surprising that Al Gore praised Scotland for the leadership it is giving in rallying business and civic and political leaders to the cause of renewable energy.
Leading by example takes on an added urgency as we shape the debate on how to progress the decisions made at the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban. The Durban Platform set out a roadmap towards the goal sought by all who are concerned about climate change – a legally binding instrument – by 2015. There is a lot of work to do. Scotland's commitment to climate justice, and the practical actions it is taking to reach that goal, show the way for all countries.
Former President of Ireland, former UN Commisioner for Human Rights and President, Mary Robinson Foundation,
6 South Leinster Street, Dublin.