Why we must continue to prioritise action on climate change

A report from Kenneth Gibson, MSP for Cunninghame North

As we face the coronavirus pandemic and the consequences of Brexit show themselves – I have already been contacted by some constituents who have had deliveries cancelled due to major logistical issues – it is tempting to write off climate change as something to worry about later.

However, the sad reality is, climate change has been upon us for a long time and I want to highlight a particularly disturbing illustration that came to light in late January.

Scientific climate change journal The Cryosphere published an article describing how recent research shows that the melting of ice across the planet is accelerating; with Greenland and Antarctica being severely impacted. The greatest quantities of ice were lost from floes in the polar regions, with mountain losing more than 6 trillion tonnes.

These trends could be devastating. White ice reflects solar radiation back into space, instead of absorbing it. However, as the ice decreases, this so-called ‘albedo effect’ does too, which leads to an increase in the absorption of solar energy, causing further global warming and ice loss.

The shrinking of glaciers can cause flooding and contribute to water shortages as drinking water for local communities declines once the ice has melted.

The loss of ice is now so dramatic, that it’s now in line with the worst-case scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading climate authority.

Thomas Slater, Research Fellow at the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds, warned in the article that the consequences would be felt around the world.

According to the paper, between 1990 and 2017 the rate of ice loss accelerated by 57% with around half of it lost from land, which contributes directly to global sea level rises. The ice loss over the study period, from 1994 to 2017, is estimated to have been around 28 trillion tonnes, equivalent to the loss of an ice sheet 100 metres thick covering the entire UK. This raised sea levels by 3.5 centimetres. Continuation of this trend could cause havoc in the decades to come, severely impacting coastal communities around the world, creating even more unpredictable weather and causing trillions in environmental and economic damage.

I tried to raise this disconcerting report in the Scottish Parliament at First Minister’s Questions, given its huge significance; however, on that occasion the Presiding Officer did not choose my question.

Fortunately, the First Minister and the Scottish Government appreciate the magnitude and importance of the challenges we face, and over the past years Scotland has become a global leader in the fight against climate change.

Of course, this is a worldwide problem and must be tackled by international cooperation. Scotland will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow from 01 to 12 November this year.

Despite COVID-19 and Brexit, the Scottish Government remains committed to ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change by 2045 in a just and fair way and it has published plans for a ‘green recovery’ from the pandemic.

To learn more about what the Scottish Government is doing to tackle climate change, through everything from investments to helping people change habits, please look at:

Securing a green recovery on a path to net zero: Climate change plan 2018 – 2032 – update

It was published in December 2020.