Tackling climate change should be at the top of John Swinney’s in-tray as he starts his new role as First Minister. 

The recent Scottish Government announcement to scrap their legally binding climate targets was deeply regrettable and wrong. So much so, it was probably Humza Yousaf’s downfall.

In 2019, thousands of SCIAF supporters had campaigned to secure these targets, and we loudly welcomed the brave commitment made by the Scottish Parliament to put them into law. Crucially, it’s vital to remember, all parties in the Scottish Parliament in 2019 backed these climate targets, except the Greens who called for even more ambition.  

In 2019, it felt like the world had woken up to the devastation being wrought already in our world by climate change. Led by the youth climate strikers, thousands of us took to the streets calling for our leaders to do all that they could to protect people, the planet and the unborn future generations who have a right to inherit a liveable planet. 

Five years on, I fear that 2019 passion for action on climate has dissolved. For all of our sakes, I hope this moment can be a wake-up call for everyone. This is a moment for a U-turn, and for the new First Minister to clearly commit to reversing the announcement that ended the premiership of his predecessor.

Why does SCIAF work on Climate Change? 

In 2023, I travelled to southern Malawi with SCIAF and the BBC, who were featuring our work with communities who’ve been affected by recent extreme weather events. There I met with Sofia. Sofia was part of a community that was re-homed in 2016, following devasting floods. The effect was deeply traumatic and disruptive.  

When we met her, she was living in temporary accommodation, with 20 other women and their children, after her home was destroyed by cyclones in 2022. This had torn her family apart, literally, as this accommodation was, for good reason, female only, leaving her husband to find shelter elsewhere. Not only were cyclones devasting this new land that she had been moved to, but increased flood waters were splitting the village in two.  

Soon after we left Sofia, Cyclone Freddy hit – the third extreme cyclone in four years. This again devastated Sofia’s community, and we learned they’ve been rehomed for a third time onto higher ground.

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This is why SCIAF works on climate change. This is why Scotland meeting its climate targets matters. The finest scientists in the world have concluded that historical and current emissions from countries like ours are having a massive impact on countries like Malawi, and communities like Sofia’s. Unless we act now, Sofia and millions of people like her will have nowhere else to turn.  

The Herald: SCIAF director Ben Wilson on why climate change mattersSCIAF director Ben Wilson on why climate change matters (Image: SCIAF)

SCIAF is concerned about climate change because it's our job to stand-up for people like Sofia. This is deeply rooted in our mission as an agency of the Catholic Church. In 2015, Pope Francis published Laudato Si, which spelt out with great moral clarity why concern for the planet is deeply connected to concern for people, and why church teachings require us to champion a greener world.  

In 2023, Pope Francis published Laudate Deum, which was even more explicit in its calls on governments in the industrialised world to up their game on climate change.

I had the privilege of attending COP28 in Dubai as a member of the Holy See delegation. Pope Francis’ was unable to attend due to health reasons, but myself and the rest of the Vatican negotiators did our best to inject Pope Francis' moral clarity on this issue. Here in Scotland now, SCIAF is seeking to bring this message to Scottish politics and call upon our new First Minister to heed his cries; heed the cries of the earth, and the cries of the poor. 

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Our message to the new First Minister is clear - climate change must be back near the top of his government's agenda. Acting on climate change is a moral imperative. It's a duty we have to Sofia and others like her, who are already suffering its effects but have done little or nothing to contribute to it. It's a duty we have to future generations from whom we are only borrowing this planet, who deserve an Earth that can help them survive and thrive. 

Ben Wilson is Director of Public Engagement for SCIAF, Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund