Sturgeon appoints net zero secretary and just transition minister

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has removed the environment brief from her cabinet, while introducing new ministerial roles covering net zero and a socially just transition from fossil fuels.

Michael Matheson, MSP for Falkirk West and responsible for transport, infrastructure and connectivity since 2018, has been handed a new title of cabinet secretary for net zero, energy and transport.

He tweeted that he was “honoured” to be appointed to the role, adding: “I look forward to working with colleagues across the chamber and beyond in taking forward my new portfolio.” He will have a hand in organising the COP26 climate talks later this year.

Environmental Protection Scotland policy and communications officer John Bynorth welcomed the appointment, saying that Matheson “played a key role” in developing low emission zones, the second National Transport Strategy and the ‘Cleaner Air For Scotland 2’ Strategy.

Roseanna Cunningham, who assumed office as environment, climate change and land reform secretary in 2016, retired as an MSP on the 6 May election. Her position has not been replaced, but instead effectively demoted to a junior ministerial role.

Former law student Màiri McAllan, one of the youngest members of the Scottish parliament, has taken on the new role of environment, biodiversity and land reform minister under Matheson, with Graeme Dey taking the transport brief.

Meanwhile, Sturgeon has appointed Richard Lochhead to a new role as minister for just transition, employment and fair work, reporting to both Matheson and finance secretary Kate Forbes. He was cabinet secretary for rural affairs, food and environment from 2007 to 2016, when he was demoted to a role in education.

Fergus Ewing, a noted proponent of hunting, salmon farming and commercial forestry, has been removed as rural economy secretary and replaced by Angus North and Mearns MSP Mairi Gougeon, who has also taken responsibility for Scotland’s islands. She served as junior rural affairs and natural environment minister from mid-2018 to the end of last year, having entered the Scottish parliament in 2016.

A statement from Green umbrella group Scottish Environment Link said that the appointment of Matheson and Gougeon “will be crucial to efforts to deliver nature restoration to meet expected international biodiversity targets, with both the European Commission and UK government expected to set their own nature recovery targets later this year. 

It added that they, “will also have a leading role in delivering nature-based solutions to climate change, including restoring Scotland’s peatlands, driving an expansion of native woodland and creating a Scottish Nature Network,” while putting the agricultural sector in line to meet net zero by 2045.

But the group also said that the appointment of a ‘minister for nature’ is needed to support the duo.

“With crucial international climate talks taking place at COP26 in Glasgow and biodiversity talks at COP15 in China, at a time when one in nine species is at risk of extinction in Scotland, the new Scottish government must place tackling the nature and climate emergency top of its priorities for government. This includes embedding action to reverse declines in nature and reduce carbon emissions across all ministerial portfolios. It must also include rebalancing our unsustainable consumption of natural resources, which jeopardises our food security and weakens the basis of our economy,” said the NGO.

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