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I ATTENDED COP21 in Paris back in 2015. Amazingly, that particular UN-brokered gathering led to a new international climate agreement, aimed at keeping global warming to roughly 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. COP21 surprised me in other ways. It was a joyous gathering of young folk from around the globe bent on forcing their elders to take climate change seriously. I spent time with a bunch of effervescent Chinese students who seemed to have escaped their minders and were telling anyone who would listen how they had forced their university to turn its lights off at night, to conserve power.
COP26 is the latest UN-sanctioned gathering of the global political elite, to discuss what to do about the climate incineration of the planet. For anyone still harbouring illusions, while the pandemic drove down CO2 discharges last year by 5.8%, total emissions were circa 31.5 giga tonnes. That’s much where we were a decade ago, and a whopping 50% higher than in 1990. At this rate we are still going to fry. This leaves First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with a big diplomatic role when COP26 opens in Glasgow on the last day of this month.
Of course, the FM has little formal role in the COP26 proceedings, thanks to Tory government’s attitude towards Scotland. However, she is giving TED Talks ahead of the event that will attract a global audience. Also, Nicola Sturgeon wields a huge moral power thanks to Holyrood’s pioneering serious carbon reduction targets. And even if you think it a cynical ploy, the formal inclusion of the Scottish Greens in the Holyrood coalition administration completely wrongfoots Boris and co.
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As a result, the world’s leaders will be shaking Nicola’s hand however the Tories manoeuvre behind the FM’s back. The question is this: what should the First Minister be telling global leaders? At the same time, how should she use this global media attention to promote Scottish independence?
One obvious answer – counter intuitive as it might seem – is that the FM has to focus on what small nations, acting in concert, can do to promote more effective action on climate change. It would be politically fatal to ignore the CO2 elephant in the room by talking abstractly about Scottish independence. But by showing practical global leadership, the world could see what a positive addition to the international family Scotland would be.
Here we come to a wee problem. Showing practical leadership requires more than just rhetoric. The SNP government once promised 100,000 jobs from offshore renewables only to see those jobs disappear abroad. Global capitalism is coming to Glasgow to steal the green agenda in the holy name of profit. Scotland could – should – point the way to an eco-socialist alternative. But only if the FM is bold.
Boldness begins at home. Take the ExxonMobil-Shell complex at Mossmorran, one of Scotland’s (and the UK’s) biggest CO2 polluters. To date, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has done little to actually protect the environment at Mossmorran. I think the FM might begin by using COP26 to announce that action is being taken against ExxonMobil. Last year, a leaked report revealed that Exxon planned to increase its global carbon emissions by 17%, or about as much as the annual output of Greece.
Next, there is the thorny issue of what ScotGov does about the new Cambo oil field, 78 miles west of Shetland. Shell has an initial drilling licence from the UK authorities but there is little doubt that ScotGov could prove obstructive if it wished. However, the leaders of both the SNP and the Scottish Greens seem reluctant to intervene, claiming the matter is reserved to Westminster. Funnily enough, they don’t use that excuse over other areas where London claims imperial jurisdiction. The festering Cambo issue is likely to cut across the FM’s attempts to pose as a champion of climate justice at COP26.
But what global climate initiatives might the FM pursue to indicate the sort of muscular leadership indy Scottish could exhibit – thereby using soft power to win international support for self-determination? The devious European Commission is using COP26 to promote a form of external carbon tariff, to price out exports from developing nations such as India, which rely on coal-fired electricity. This is just a backdoor way of penalising the poor global south.
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The FM should use Scotland’s soft power to denounce such insidious measures. Instead, she should argue for an international carbon tax that falls on those western companies who have transferred polluting production to the global south, while keeping all the profits. The proceeds from such a global carbon tax could be recycled to developing nations, to aid their transition to green energy forms.
Of course, western elites and the big energy corporations will oppose such a move. Yet by putting herself at the forefront of a global movement to make the real polluters pay, Nicola Sturgeon could win an unprecedented number of new friends for Scottish freedom, all around the planet. Sometimes, the way to win is through political boldness. We have independence to achieve and a planet to save.