For Cop26, you hoped to welcome the Queen of England, Vladimir Poutine, Xi Jinping… They will not be present. Will these absences have an impact on the summit?
We’re all disappointed that the Queen isn’t coming, but everyone understands that she needs to rest for now. As for the leaders who don’t come, well let’s not forget that there will still be over 100 leaders at the top and it will be important to focus on those, like US President Joe Biden. And if President Xi Jinping doesn’t come, China recently released its own NDC [Nationally Determined Contribution, Contribution déterminée par l’Etat chinois lui-même, ndlr]. Obviously, we would like as many leaders as possible, but what is more important is what all of these countries, the biggest emitters in particular, have committed to and the results of that.
Many environmental activists are planning to demonstrate to demand more action from the leaders. Do you share their demands?
I absolutely share their sense of urgency. This Cop takes place when the world is still very far from having put in place the necessary actions to reduce emissions and stay below 1.5 degrees. There is also a significant gap when it comes to financing the fight against climate change. Clearly, for now, world leaders are not doing enough. And we don’t have any commitments yet on how to get there. This summit will therefore have to respond to an enormous challenge. In reality, it could be the last chance the world has to avoid a climate catastrophe. It is a huge responsibility that now rests with world leaders.
Did your differences on climate strategy with Boris Johnson cause tensions during the organization of this summit?
We are two governments with very different policies, so some tension is inevitable. But in recent weeks, our governments have worked well together. I don’t want our disagreements to hinder our efforts to make this COP26 a success. The UK government has released its net zero strategy and there are some good things to be done. This is a welcome first step. It is important now that we try to align it with our strategy. Their commitment is to reach net zero by 2050. In Scotland, the goal is 2045. There are several reasons why Scotland could reach this goal faster depending on the Committee in Climate Change: forests, peatlands, but also the technological potential of carbon capture and storage that we have here. This is also a point of disagreement with the British government, which has chosen not to financially support a Scottish carbon storage project. [Acorn, près d’Aberdeen].
Is Boris Johnson credible as host of a climate summit? He himself is not much of a leader on the matter.
Like all other leaders, Boris Johnson will be judged on what he does rather than what he says during the Cop. The point is, Boris Johnson now understands and accepts not only the importance, but also the urgency, of moving the country towards net zero. There are, however, some decisions that raise questions, such as not reducing short-haul flights in the UK. Also, I don’t think there are enough financial commitments to support some of the stated goals. For two weeks, all of this will be scrutinized by those who are waiting for action. This goes for Boris Johnson’s government, but also for me and my teams.
The UK is about to give the green light to a new oil extraction project in northern Scotland. Don’t you think this damages the credibility of the UK and Scotland as you host COP26?
I think Scotland are a credible host. Our decarbonization is faster than in any other G20 country. We are already a little over halfway to net zero. We are among the world leaders in terms of goals and also in their achievement. I am not going to dwell on the subject of oil: we are in the process of phasing out fossil fuels. We must do everything in our power to accelerate this transition. But we want to avoid reducing our production of hydrocarbons when we still have a high demand, to end up importing more oil and gas. It wouldn’t make sense. We must therefore build an alternative. A fair alternative, where we create jobs for the thousands of employees in this industry. I lead a party which for decades has emphasized the importance of oil to the Scottish economy. This is why I am determined that we help the industry in this transition.
How do you react to the fact that the ambassador of France was summoned on Friday by the UK government due to tensions over fishing rights?
I am obviously deeply concerned by this situation which threatens the interests of the fishing industry in Scotland. I think it’s really important to focus on de-escalation rather than escalation. I encourage the UK government, the French government and the European Union to come to the table and resolve this issue in a way that is consistent with treaty obligations.
Finally, the UK government and the EU are still in talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol. How does this friction affect the interests of Scotland?
Scottish interests are affected by all the consequences – to varying degrees – of Brexit. For example, some products are becoming scarce due to disruptions in the UK supply chain. For the Northern Irish protocol, I think everyone agreed that peacekeeping was of paramount importance. What I find absurd about the UK’s position is that the protocol that the government now says is unacceptable is the same one they signed, and even celebrated, at the end of negotiations with the EU.
The EU has made serious proposals to resolve some difficulties. I hope that the British government will respond favorably, and that we can see the beginnings of a resolution. I fear, however, that the government is trying, for political reasons, to escalate these tensions rather than ease them. And that’s one of the things that I think will seriously damage the UK’s international reputation for a long, long time. Because other countries will tell themselves that they cannot trust the British government to stick to the terms of the agreements it signs.