By Dr Andrew Midgley and Gina Hanrahan

WHILE world attention has been fixed on Madrid for the past few days for the latest UN climate conference, COP 25, some oft-quoted words come readily to mind. If not us, who? If not now, when?

We are in a climate emergency. In recent weeks we’ve seen the World Meteorological Organisation announce that greenhouse gas concentrations reached their highest recorded level in 2018. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has also said that there is a huge gap between the plans that governments currently have on the table to reduce emissions and what is needed to keep global temperature increase below 1.5°C.

The UNEP report shows that even if all current promises are met, the world will warm by more than double that amount by 2100. So we have to ask: if not us, who? If not now, when?

We understand the issue and the challenge it presents to us and future generations. We know that there are a wide range of actions we can take to reduce emissions. We know that acting now will be cheaper than acting later. Yet we are not acting quickly enough and if we think about the gravity of the situation, it is clear that it has to be now and it has to be us.

We have just passed a Climate Act that sets new targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 and to reach net-zero by 2045. This is a good start, but the test of the Scottish Government’s climate credentials will really be in the forthcoming budget and the updated Climate Change Plan that will be published in the spring. That is the place where the Government will set out all the new measures it plans to take to reduce emissions. Will it meet the challenge?

At the same time, we face a nature crisis. The first global assessment from the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published earlier this year gave a stark warning. But this is not about distinct difficult issues requiring different responses. Increasingly we are recognising that biodiversity loss and the climate emergency are intimately bound together. Nature plays a fundamental role in regulating our climate and climate is key in shaping nature.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that the biodiversity crisis is as important as the climate crisis and one way that the Government can show that it is leading the way on both these agendas is by bringing forward nature-based solutions to climate change. Scotland’s peatlands, coastal habitats, native woodlands and forests all have an important role to play in helping tackle the climate crisis.

In order to protect and restore these areas the Scottish Government will have to re-design land-use policies and funding so that they lock up carbon but also bring some of our most important habitats to full health, giving wildlife a home.

The coming year is going to be pivotal in shaping our response to these interlinked issues. Edinburgh will host a UN meeting on biodiversity and Glasgow will be hosting the next UN climate conference. These represent an opportunity for the Scottish Government to help shape the global approach to tackling the nature and climate crises, but it must be able to point to its own credible policies and actions to galvanise global ambition.

Let’s hope they seize this opportunity, because if not us, who, and if not now, when?

Dr Andrew Midgley writes on behalf of RSPB Scotland; Gina Hanrahan on behalf of WWF Scotland.