Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party

Clare Saxon Ghauri
Reading time: 4 minutes
26 September 2012

This interview with Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, is part of our Clean Revolution case study series. Read the Scotland case study.

  • What has driven and enabled the Scottish Government to implement such ambitious climate targets?

Climate change and what it will mean for food production, water resources and human welfare, is the biggest threat to the planet. The Scottish Government is a good global citizen, and we have a duty to respond. By harnessing our natural assets of land, water and wind we can provide a quarter of Europe’s offshore wind and tidal energy resource and a tenth of its wave energy potential. This puts us in the vanguard of the ‘green economy’.

  • What are the main challenges to meeting those targets, particularly those set for 2020?

We aim to produce the equivalent of 100% of our electricity demand from renewables by 2020 and we are on track to do so. We are also already half way to meeting our world-leading target of a 42% cut in emissions by 2020. All this takes enormous investment but I see that as an opportunity. I started my career as an energy economist and saw then howScotland, with partners from across the world, mobilized to grasp the opportunity offered by North Sea Oil and Gas. We can do that again: the Renewable Revolution has the capacity to reindustrialize Scotland. By 2015-16, low carbon should be more than tenth of our economy, and we have the prospect of up to 60,000 new green jobs by 2020.

  • What actions has the Scottish Government taken to ensure business and public support for its ambitious climate agenda?

For business, we have set the right legislative framework with the targets in our climate change legislation, the right financial framework with our uniquely favorable regime of offering five Renewable Obligations Certificates for every megawatt hour from wave power, and three for tidal power, against two elsewhere in the UK, and the right planning framework with 42 renewable projects consented over 2007–11, more than double for the previous four years.

And we are engaging with the public from the youngest to the oldest, whether including education on climate change in the school curriculum or helping the aged to cut fuel bills and carbon emissions alike, through better insulation.

  • What would you say are the three most critical things for a political leader in achieving a clean revolution?

First, to recognize that this is an urgent issue but also one that needs sustained action over time: so you need to get action happening quickly but also plan for the long term. Second, take people with you: not just business but other parties and, indeed, the people as a whole – show them the opportunities. Third, combine that long term planning and buy-in from other parties and the people into clear targets mandated by legislation, as we have done in our climate change legislation, setting the toughest – but achievable – targets in the world, and passed unanimously by our Parliament.

  • What lessons have you and the government learned so far in implementing Scotland’s low carbon future?

Setting ambitious targets is vital but it’s also the easy part of the equation! That needs to be followed-up by hard, meticulous work to ensure those targets are met. Above all, that’s ultimately for the private sector developers who are already making such an effort but government has a clear role in setting the right environment for them to do their work. Put your money where your mouth is – we have moved rapidly to provide the right kind of support when it is needed, building confidence in the sector.

  • Outside of expanding renewable energy, what are the other critical low carbon areas for Scotland over the next decade?

There are two. First, carbon capture and storage. Scotland is in an exceptional position, with the largest capacity to store carbon emissions offshore in Europe, greater than for the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark combined. Secondly, energy efficiency, both domestic and industrial, is a key area that we are targeting. We are committed to reducing final-consumption energy demand by 12% by 2020, compared to 2007.

  • What specific experience or knowledge would you share with other state and regional government leaders who want to implement ambitious climate targets?

Let me stress that we are looking to work with partners across the world in tackling climate change. Few countries have our natural endowment of renewable energy sources, but we need international investment so that we maximize our contribution and investors get a steady return, backed by targets set in legislation. And we are working with the European Union and others to develop a North Sea connector so that Scotland’s green energy can power the North European economy. We are always glad to share our knowledge and experience with foreign leaders: as we have already with, for example, the Vice Premier of China, Li Keqiang, who visited us earlier in the year; and with the Government of the Maldives, the country most threatened by climate change, where we have just published a study, funded by the Scottish Government, on Marine Energy – and this may help them achieve their goal of carbon neutrality.

Facebook icon
Twitter icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon
Google icon