Nicola Sturgeon declares 'climate emergency' at SNP conference

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Nicola Sturgeon at conferenceImage source, EPA
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Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland would "live up to our responsibility" on climate change

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has declared a "climate emergency" in her speech to the SNP conference.

The SNP leader told delegates in Edinburgh she was inspired after meeting young climate campaigners who had gone on strike from school.

Ms Sturgeon said "they are right", and pledged to "live up to our responsibility" to halt climate change.

She also announced what she described as the SNP's "biggest campaign on the economics of independence".

Labour is expected to press the UK government to declare a national climate emergency on Wednesday.

The party will call for a dramatic cut in the UK's carbon emissions, with leader Jeremy Corbyn also calling for a UK-wide ban on fracking.

Fracking has already been halted in Scotland by Ms Sturgeon's devolved government.

It comes after weeks of strikes by school pupils and protests by Extinction Rebellion protestors, which have targeted both the UK and Scottish parliaments.

Ms Sturgeon told the conference that Scotland is a "world leader" on climate change, and is already committed to being carbon neutral by 2050.

She pledged that the country would continue to "lead by example" as our obligations to the next generation are "the most important we carry".

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Ms Sturgeon challenged her party to aim for a "surge" in support for independence

The first minister said: "A few weeks ago, I met some of the young climate change campaigners who've gone on strike from school to raise awareness of their cause.

"They want governments around the world to declare a climate emergency. They say that's what the science tells us. And they are right.

"So today, as first minister of Scotland, I am declaring that there is a climate emergency. And Scotland will live up to our responsibility to tackle it."

The Committee on Climate Change is due to publish new scientific advice on Scotland's emissions targets this week.

And Ms Sturgeon made clear that "if that advice says we can go further or go faster, we will do so".

SNP MSPs - along with those from the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems - voted down a Scottish Parliament motion put forward by the Greens calling for a "climate emergency" to be declared on 27 March, after disputing the impact of the oil and gas industry.

Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said in that debate that climate change was an "urgent" matter, but that the government a duty to respond "responsibly" and "keep Scotland's lights on".

What is a climate emergency?

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Thousands of Scottish school pupils took part in climate protests last month

Dozens of towns and cities across the UK have already declared "a climate emergency".

There is no single definition of what that means but many local areas say they want to be carbon-neutral by 2030.

Some councils have promised to introduce electric car hubs or build sustainable homes to try to achieve that goal.

It's a much more ambitious target than the UK government's, which is to reduce carbon emissions by 80% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2050.

Scotland is committed to being carbon neutral by 2050.

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Ms Sturgeon says she wants another independence referendum within the next two years

Ms Sturgeon's conference speech came just days after she announced that she wants a second referendum on Scottish independence by 2021 if the UK leaves the EU.

The UK government has already said it will not grant the permission that Ms Sturgeon says is needed before a referendum is actually held.

But she told party members that a "surge" in support for Scottish independence could force Westminster to change its stance.

Ms Sturgeon said this would demonstrate that "no Westminster government can ever stand in the way of Scotland's right to choose".

Sturgeon seeks to reach out to No voters

Analysis by Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland political editor

Mss Sturgeon said it was wrong to view Scotland as "No voters or Yes voters". Wrong to consider fellow Scots as "Remainers or Leavers".

In a modern version of Jock Tamson's Bairns, she told delegates that they should view even those who are critical of the SNP as fellow citizens.

Perhaps especially those who are critical of the SNP. Nationalists, she said, should make their case with "decency, respect and dignity".

So far, so familiar. But there is more to this than the customary appeal for humane politics. This is also about strategy.

SNP strategists look at the contemporary condition of politics. Febrile, brittle, divided. Fragmented by Brexit chaos.

They have concluded that, in such circumstances, it will not do to be too overtly partisan, even about the issue which motivates the SNP - independence.

You can only win a referendum if you get 50% of the vote plus one. That, for the SNP, means taking along with you people who are not currently convinced.

Ms Sturgeon also announced a leaflet would be sent to every home in Scotland as part of the "biggest campaign on the economics of independence in our party's history".

In addition, she revealed the SNP would create a social justice and fairness commission, which she said would "set out how the proceeds of economic growth in an independent Scotland can be shared much more fairly".

The first minister predicted: "If we can now show what is possible with the economic powers of independence, we will win a referendum."

She also revealed Scottish Parliament legislation that could pave the way for a referendum will be introduced in May.

The aim would be to pass it by the end of the year, she said, so it is in place should the UK government ultimately agree to a referendum being held.

The first minister also described how her plans for a Citizens' Assembly would allow people from across Scotland to "guide the conversation" about independence.