Cole-Hamilton’s conference speech offers new hope for the climate emergency

Just weeks before the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has used his first conference speech as party leader to set out the latest instalments in his plan to offer new hope for the climate emergency.

Addressing party activists online, he called for:

  • Dramatic cuts in rail prices to encourage rail usage.
  • Ripping up the SNP’s signed agreement with Heathrow airport
  • Using powers over air passenger duty to tackle people who fly more and fly further.

Since becoming party leader he has previously set out plans for:

  • a government-funded rental scheme so that everyone has the opportunity to try out an electric vehicle for a weekend
  • New longer government-backed interest free loans to make electric vehicles more affordable
  • a complete switch over of all public sector vehicles to electric power. 
  • A new “fast fashion” commission to tackle waste
  • A new circular economy bill to increase reuse and recycling

In his speech Mr Cole-Hamilton said:

“My first mission as leader of this party has been to build policies that are radical, credible – and actionable. I want to offer New Hope for the Climate Emergency with fresh ideas for every part of the crisis facing our planet. Because while I don’t accept that it’s too late now, we’re not far off. But when sensible policies are implemented, real, systemic change can happen.  

“And Scotland has the capability and the capacity to do incredible things. I’ve shared some of what I want to see for electric vehicles. Because we can’t wait until 2030 to get serious about removing fossil fuel-powered vehicles from our roads. Although the Conservatives might manage to do that through the petrol panic by next Tuesday. 

“It’s why I’ve proposed a new government-funded rental scheme so that everyone has the opportunity to try one out for a weekend; New longer government-backed interest free loans to make them more affordable once people have been convinced; And a complete switch over of all public sector vehicles to electric power. I want to fix fast fashion, and build a circular economy. Today I’ll add to the list. 

“The pandemic means people are nervous about using public transport again. Rail services are being cut as a result, and the government is just sitting idly by. We need to give people a reason to go back. 

“So I want to see a new railcard entitlement for everyone, built on the model used in London and the South East. That means railcard prices…for everyone. For those who already saw discounts, I want to go further. What was a third off, should now become half price. Because that’s the scale we should be talking about to meet this crisis head on. Rail can bring down road miles. And it must bring down airmiles too. 

“The Scottish Government has just admitted that our climate targets cannot be met if everyone flies as much as they used to. It says aviation will need to fall by a third. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a bold statement. But it’s just that – a statement. Because the very same Scottish Government holds a contract with the single biggest polluter in the entire United Kingdom – that’s Heathrow Airport. The SNP talk the language of environmentalism but their economic policy is predicated on maximum extraction of fossil fuels from the North Sea and 75,000 extra flights between Scotland and London by 2040. So I have three words for Nicola Sturgeon: RIP IT UP  

 “Rip up your contract in support of a third runway at Heathrow. And do it before COP26 lands in Glasgow. Because unless you do First Minister, I can’t take your commitment to the climate emergency seriously, and neither should the watching world. 

“Conference, stopping this huge expansion in domestic air travel won’t be enough. So I want today to announce another instalment of my plan to give New Hope for the Climate Emergency. Air Passenger Duty is a serious tax power that is being devolved, albeit at a snails pace. So far the only thing the Scottish Government has actually changed in six years is the name  

“The SNP’s plan all along was to abolish this revenue altogether to give a £250 million tax break to aviation when the industry was soaring. We put a stop to that for the sake of the climate emergency. Now I want to really put these powers to work. I think taxation that increases as people fly more and fly further makes sense.”

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