Yesterday I was one of the estimated 4,000 people who turned up to attend the Pedal on Parliament (POP) rally in Edinburgh to make Scotland a ‘cycle-friendly nation’. As someone who comes from the Netherlands, I know just how good it can be to cycle in a country that respects, encourages and invests in cyclists. I also want this for Scotland.
We face a huge environmental challenge here that has a lot to do with the way we travel. Our transport system is a massive contributor to global climate change, with road transport in particular accounting for 70% of all transport emissions. So if we are serious about tackling climate change – and meeting Scotland’s much-vaunted climate change ambitions – we simply need to get a grip on changing the way we travel.
The Scottish government knows this. Last year, Keith Brown, Scotland’s transport minister, acknowledged that “transport is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions”. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, when asked what she was doing to reduce emissions under the Scottish climate change act, stated: “It is right to be ambitious, and that places a responsibility on us to live up to our ambitions'”.
Live up to our ambitions we must. That was what yesterday was about.
Scottish ministers are currently revising an action plan that will describe the measures to be implemented in Scotland to cut our domestic emissions. However, a number of stakeholders, academics and the Scottish parliament have told the government that the draft plan isn’t good enough. We at WWF Scotland, along with our friends at Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, think it’s more an attempt to describe what’s already being done rather than a bold vision that matches Scotland’s climate ambitions.
Transport is the weakest section of this document by far, with little more than a focus on techno-fix measures and very little effort to get people to switch from the car to other options like cycling and walking. The Scottish government seems unwilling to commit to enough properly funded policies in its transport toolbox to reduce emissions, simply describing a set of underfunded ‘proposals’ that it may (or may not) implement in future.
But we need action now. It’s also not just about reducing emissions. It’s about creating a better transport system. It’s about enabling people to make better transport choices. It’s about healthy, more active people, less burden on the NHS. It’s about reducing congestion, having cleaner air, safer streets. It’s also not that difficult. WWF Scotland has done research looking at examples of where other countries do well.
We’ve looked at places like Gothenburg in Sweden, where measures to reduce cars on the roads are expected to increase public transport use and create demand for other options such as car clubs and cycling. In my own country, the Netherlands, policies to shift the tax burden from the purchase to the use of cars is expected to have a significant effect on people’s behaviour and the environment. Scotland must also show some of this leadership if it is to meet its climate targets.
This is my – and WWF’s – challenge to our Scottish ministers. It is right and necessary to be ambitious, setting out the right policies and funding for low-carbon transport. When the government publishes its final climate action plan in the summer, it must describe a significant increase in effort and funding for cycling and walking to show it is serious about meeting its climate targets.
Thousands of people asked for it yesterday in Edinburgh. Scottish ministers must deliver.