Climate Justice Conference 2013: Scotland challenged to strengthen leadership

Creative Commons: Gates Foundation, 2009
Creative Commons: Gates Foundation, 2009

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Business leaders, governments and civil society came together this week in an attempt to progress the climate justice agenda ahead of the UN climate talks taking place this year – setting off a crucial two years for the global climate agenda.

The Climate Justice Conference, hosted by the Scottish Government, brought together speakers from the developed and developing world in a dialogue which focused on sharing the benefits of development and the burdens of climate change, and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change falling on the poor and vulnerable who have done least to contribute to the problem.

The conference tackled themes including human rights, intergenerational justice, equity and sustainable development.

The key messages of the conference were pretty clear – fossil fuels must remain in the ground, all nations must address climate change and that those who have done more to contribute to the problem must take the lead.

Scotland to take the lead

As the conference hosts, all eyes were on Scotland on Wednesday. Opening the conference, First Minister, Alex Salmond announced the country would be doubling its Climate Justice Fund to £6 million.

The money will go towards increasing resilience in developing countries already facing the impacts of climate change.

Salmond also said he was determined to push for a global climate agreement saying “the Scottish Government has been at the forefront of the fight against climate change, such as our ambitious emissions reduction and renewables targets.”

The news was welcomed by many, including the former President of Ireland and climate justice campaigner Mary Robinson. Robinson said the pledge represented a “good practical example of what developed nations could do.”

The £6 million pledge is the equivalent of £1 for every Scottish person, and if other developed nations were to make a similar pledge, it would represent a real positive step towards providing much needed climate finance.

However, the Scottish government also came under fire. While civil society welcomes Scotland’s ambitious climate legislation – committing the country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% by 2050 – many attending the conference offered the government a challenge to strengthen this show of leadership and legislate to leave oil in the ground.

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report further emphasised the warnings of the International Energy Agency and a host of others which shows that at least two-thirds of fossil fuels must be left in the ground to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.

Meanwhile, Scotland continues to champion the North Sea oil industry, ahead of next year’s independence referendum – promising investment and tax breaks, even while they promote renewable energy.

Leave fossil fuels in the ground

In her key note address to the conference, Robinson furthered the call for governments and institutions to move away from fossil fuels. She called on leaders to act with urgency on climate change saying that business-as-usual was no longer acceptable and that “transformational leadership” was now needed.

She also called for a “new investment model” and urged pension funds and other financial institutions to invest in low carbon rather than fossil fuels.

Robinson has made similar calls in the recent weeks. Following in the wake of the IPCC report she warned that governments would have to get used to leaving major fossil fuels reserves in the ground, while ahead of the conference this week she called on the UK and Scotland governments to quickly place strict limits on North Sea oil and gas exploration.

Other speakers at this week’s conference echoed her call.

Intergenerational Justice

At the heart of Robinson’s speech, and those of many other attendees was the idea of intergenerational justice. Robinson asked the audience “when future generations look back on 2013, 2014, 2015, how will they judge us?”

With 600 million children living in the 10 countries most vulnerable to our changing climate, speakers highlighted that climate change is fundamentally a children’s issue.

But with new research from the UK showing that children are also often very concerned about climate change issues, the speakers also highlighted the role that children should play in adapting and mitigating the effects and how they should not be excluded from the decision making process.


One of the things that makes Scotland’s Climate Justice Conference stand out from others is the involvement of the private sector in the discussions.

The conference aimed to build a dialogue between development organisations and the private sector and highlight the willingness of many businesses to be involved in the transformation to a cleaner, safer future.

Panel discussions at the conference placed members of Scottish Widows Investment Partnership alongside the Scottish Human Rights Commission and WWF, and Lloyds Banking Group alongside ActionAid and representatives from the Least Developed Countries Group to tackle the tough questions around how such groups can work together for change.

Delegates from the private sector acknowledged that they have much to learn about climate change but at the same time they accepted the responsibilities they have to tackling it, and highlighted the feeling amongst much of the private sector that business can be involved in the solution.

They also posed a challenge to governments to enable the right policy frameworks and drive investment in business model that can help business take on this role.


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