Patrick Harvie: Greens wouldn’t have passed Budget if we knew of cuts to climate fund

Ben Wray

The Climate Challenge Fund gives money to support community projects tackling climate change

  • Climate Challenge Fund sees funding cut by more than half, with 43 community projects recommended for approval not being supported due to lack of funding
  • Patrick Harvie tells FMQ’s that the Budget deal with the SNP would never have happened if they knew funding for the CCF was being cut
  • Nicola Sturgeon says funding for wider Sustainable Action Fund has went up, but the Scottish Government would review CCF funding as part of wider review of all policies after declaring a Climate Emergency last month
  • Scottish Greens said earlier this week that they will only back next year’s budget if a Green New Deal is pursued

SCOTTISH GREENS co-convenor Patrick Harvie told Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions to replace lost funding for community projects to tackle climate change, after it was revealed that the Climate Challenge Fund has lost more than half its funding.

The Ferret reported on Thursday [16 May] that the Climate Challenge Fund, established to fund community projects in Scotland specifically aimed at tackling climate change, had seen its funding cut from around £5 million in 2018/19 to £2 million in the 2019/20 financial year.

The Budget was signed off with the support of Scottish Greens MSPs, but Harvie told FMQs on Thursday that they would not have done if they were aware of the Climate Fund being slashed.

“The budget as presented to parliament included funds for this scheme. We would certainly not have approved it had it set out this cut,” he said.

READ MORE: ‘Elephant in the room’: Report finds Scotland must choose between North Sea industry collapse or green transition

Forty-three projects recommended for funding approval had been turned down due to lack of funds, with the Climate Fund being at its lowest ever level since it was established a decade ago. 

Harvie identified South Seeds in Sturgeon’s own constituency as one of those which had not secured funding, and consequently had to lay off three members of staff.

Harvie asked: “Now The First Minister has declared a climate emergency, why is the Scottish Government sacking our first responders?”

Sturgeon responded that 22 new projects were funded this year in addition to the 65 projects funded last year that will continue to be funded. She said that the total spending on the Climate Challenge Fund is £8 million and will rise to over £9 million, and highlighted that the wider Sustainable Action Fund which the CCF is part of had increased funding this year. 

READ MORE: ‘Stop dragging your feet’: Michael Gove refuses to commit to net-zero target at Holyrood committee

However, she re-stated that all government policies were now under review in light of the tougher emissions target of zero-carbon by 2045 announced earlier this month.

“That will include looking at the role of the climate challenge fund to support communities in playing their full part in tackling climate change,” she added.

Harvie said the government had “pulled the rug from under people before that review is finished” and called on the First Minister to “step in and replace the lost funding for the communities who have suffered from this cut”.

“These aren’t just numbers, these are people. These are people committed to taking climate action and being leaders in their communities. Projects are being abandoned and jobs are being lost,” he added.

READ MORE: Parliament must be ready for more ‘difficult decisions’ to tackle Climate Emergency, @ScotGov say

The Ferret found funding for local climate projects peaked in 2014-15 at £10.9 million, with funding down to £7.4 million in total this year.

South Seeds general manager Lucy Gillie told the Ferret that the future of the group was precarious following the loss in government funding.

Gillie said: “We have brought climate change to the high street in the First Minister’s constituency. It feels odd that we are not being encouraged.”

“We are paying rent from reserves and trying to figure out the future. We are running a skeleton energy advice service, we have some community gardening sessions available and are managing to open the tool library for two hours a week. But we have no solid plans beyond September this year.

READ MORE: Analysis: Defeat of aviation lobby first win for those who take Scotland’s climate emergency seriously

“If mitigating climate change is such an important issue and here at South Seeds we had managed to find a way to engage residents in the solutions, how come our work is not fundable?”

The SNP and Scottish Greens came to a Budget agreement in January which saw the Scottish Government agree to increased funding for Local Government, to bring forward plans for Local Tax reform by the end of the parliamentary term and to give Local Authorities the power to introduce a tourist tax and a workplace parking levy. 

Greens climate change spokesperson Mark Ruskell said during a Holyrood debate on Tuesday that the party would not agree to next year’s budget without a commitment to a Green New Deal, a huge public investment expansion in green infrastructure, which the First Minister has said she supports but has yet to spell out plans for yet.

In April, Sturgeon declared a climate emergency at the SNP’s spring conference in Edinburgh. The Scottish Government has since ditched plans to cut air flight taxes, citing the need for increased climate action as the reason for doing so. 

Picture courtesy of the Scottish Government

COMMONSPACE FORUM 30 MAY: Climate change – how do we turn words into actions?