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19 February 2013

Climate Justice

Perspective in all matters is important, and a subtle change in perspective can change one’s understanding of a subject altogether.

A recent Scottish Parliament debate highlighted the work that the Scottish Human Rights Commission is undertaking across various policy areas and the contributions covered everything from community justice to human trafficking.

Climate change, an issue I take very seriously and have worked on in various capacities for a long time is often framed solely as an economic obstacle, or an abstract problem for science. Indeed, all too often, the real-life impact of climate change on human life is overlooked.

I used my speech in this human rights debate to highlight the on-going climate justice campaign; a geographically wide topic, but one that is relatively narrow in policy terms. It is an area in which the global rich impose an inescapable cost on the global poor. The idea of climate justice is, essentially, viewing climate change through a lens of human rights and equality.

In 2009, the United Nations Human Rights Council observed that

“Human rights obligations and commitments have the potential to inform and strengthen international and national policy making in the area of climate change.”

The Scottish Government has made great progress in engaging with the human rights and climate change agenda and developing solutions and policy on the world scale. The establishment of the pioneering Climate Justice Fund is just one example and is complimented by other far-reaching initiatives such as the memorandum of understanding with the Inter-American Development Bank; carbon capture work with the Republic of South Africa; commonwealth saltire professional fellowships and many more. Each of these sees Scotland’s expertise in a variety of fields being recognised, and put to good use in resolving one of the greatest challenges we face on our planet.

Climate justice itself encompasses a wide range of issues and policy areas, several of which have been by laid down by The Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice (MRFCJ), an organisation whose work I follow closely.

For example, the MRFCJ highlights gender equality and the disproportionate impact on the world’s women as being of critical importance.

As temperatures rise across the globe, aridity follows and crop failures are an inevitable consequence. In many of the poorest countries in the world, women are at the front line. They are the primary farmers, who now have less food and have to walk further for fuel and water. It is in this area that the impacts appear to be happening fastest and the effects have the most direct potential to kill adults and, especially, children.

Just as crucial to efforts to improve climate justice is the issue of migration, and the inevitable consequence of poverty, the mass movement of peoples into areas that are, often only a little, less poor. We cannot morally live with a policy and practice of spreading the poverty around more widely and solutions must be developed to support communities where they are.

In all of these respects we have to help countries around the world mitigate the effects of climate change, and we should all take great pride Scotland and the Scottish Government are working in partnership with organisations around the world to do just that. In so doing we are all supporting efforts towards international development and equality, and reinforcing Scotland’s reputation as a progressive, modern country, willing to cooperate with global efforts. However, we need to be just as committed as individuals and citizens to turning down the world’s thermostat, and can do so by acting and consuming responsibly in our own homes and communities, and continue setting the example for others.

5 February 2013

Winter Fuel Woes

As the icy chill of winter has begun to bite recently, a timely debate in the Scottish Parliament on the issue of fuel poverty gave me the opportunity to highlight the reality of heating costs which are hitting many homes extremely hard, especially in the rural North East.

For those who heat their homes by gas or electricity and have the energy conveniently delivered automatically by the national grid, the need to pre-plan and pre-pay for their energy use is largely absent. However, many of my constituents and, indeed, across Scotland are based in a rural location and are dependent on fuel that they have to order and have delivered— fuel that they have to pay for before use. Indeed, for many, domestic heating oil is their main energy source, and it is not one which can be conveniently bought in dribs and drabs.

The most recent fuel poverty figures for Scotland show that it remains a real problem and Energy Action Scotland say that, after taking into account the rises in fuel price since 2011, up to 900,000 Scottish households could be affected. Approximately four million households in the UK are not connected to the mains gas grid and these households are generally restricted in their choices when it comes to heating fuel. Indeed, households with oil-fired central heating, and those using solid fuel or liquid petroleum gas to heat their homes, are much more likely to be in fuel poverty than "on-grid" households.

Measures such as the winter fuel allowance, while welcome, are not in themselves a solution, and more can be done to improve the situation. For example, SNP MP Mike Weir recently sponsored the Winter Fuel Allowance Payments Bill in the Westminster Parliament, which was intended to provide for the early payment of the winter fuel allowance to people whose main source of fuel is home fuel oil, liquid petroleum gas or propane gas.

Currently, winter fuel allowance payments are made in November of December, when home heating oil is in highest demand, and prices are likely to peak. The small procedural shift proposed by Mr Weir’s bill would allow those households who are dependent on fuel oil to receive their payments in July, thereby allowing them to stock up on fuel earlier in the year, when prices are likely to be lower than in the middle of winter.

However, in typical fashion Mr Weir’s bill was shot down at Westminster, and talked out without much consideration being given to its substantive provisions.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government continues its determination to do all it can to remedy the cruelly ironic situation which sees so many in our energy rich country, suffering fuel poverty. Indeed, the benefits of Scotland’s blossoming energy industries are such that we could soon be able to eradicate fuel poverty, as well as boost employment and tackle climate change

Home insulation, to take one example, is a particularly effective adaptation which not only reduces energy consumption and keeps costs down, but creates insulation manufacture and installation jobs, which are often local, thus keeping money in our own economy and boosting employment. It is a win-win-win agenda.

However, despite Scotland’s best efforts to continue this progress with administrative measures, Westminster retains the legislative powers which would allow us to resolve these problems for good, and that can only be achieved with a Yes vote in 2014.

Stewart Stevenson
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