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Five years on: what progress is Scotland making on climate change?

 

Recently I attended an event at the Scottish Parliament where the UK Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) presented their most recent progress report of delivery under the Scottish Climate Change Act.

Five years ago I would have been in the same building – and possibly the same room – my memory fails me, urging our MSP’s to back a strong climate law. The event last night reminded me of both the strength of our legislation and the challenges we face in fulfilling the promise Scotland made when it passed the Climate Act.

The report offers a useful assessment of where we are on our journey towards a low carbon Scotland, highlighting good progress with wind power and an increase in insulation rates, while at the same time reminding us this goal remains a long way off.  As WWF has documented in it’s 2013 report Scotland: A renewable Powerhouse (PDF), there has been excellent progress on renewable electricity, but many other sectors need the same level of commitment and focus if the full benefits of a low carbon future are to be realised – across the transport, housing, land-use and waste sectors.

A thermal image of a house © Isaac Lane Koval 2009

As the report recommends, a fresh focus across the Scottish economy is required if our position as a global climate leader is to stand up to scrutiny and the benefits of a low carbon future are to be secured for Scotland. The need for action grows more compelling all the time. Last week, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in their State of the Climate Report, stated that 13 of the 14 warmest years on record occurred this century. And the IPCC has just spelt out the ever more worrying impacts of a changing climate.

So what is there more to do?

The energy efficiency of Scotland’s homes continues to demand attention with the CCC making clear that “substantial additional policy effort by the Scottish Government will be necessary if it is to achieve its insulation and fuel poverty targets”.  Scotland’s homes are exposed to unpredictable weather which means emissions can rise by 15 percent one year and fall by 21 percent the next.

If we are to protect our homes from cold snaps and rising gas prices then we need to increase the loft insulation in over 30 percent of our homes, install cavity wall insulation in 600,000 homes and tackle the many homes needing solid wall insulation – all before 2020.

A transformation of this scale creates jobs (approximately 10,000 – according to research), saves households money and helps tackle the scourge of fuel poverty. Key to speeding up this programme will be the introduction of regulations for minimum energy efficiency standards and acting on the CCC’s advice that an increase in funding by the Scottish Government is needed given the cuts to the UK ECO programme.

Its no great surprise that the transport sector is another area flagged by the CCC where ‘more needs to be done’.  Transport emissions are the same now as they were in 1990 and there is little prospect of that improving given Scottish Transport’s own predictions that emissions are set to increase.  The CCC repeats its call from previous reports to get behind demand management transport measures and develop and fund a continuation of the Smarter Choices Smarter Places programme that was trialled in seven towns and cities across Scotland between 2009 and 2012.

If we want to enjoy the benefits of improved air quality, safer streets and lower emissions, we can’t afford to wait until 2018 when the Scottish Government’s climate action plan says the nationwide roll-out will commence.

The Scottish Government’s recently published draft heat generation policy has been given renewed importance by the UK CCC’s conclusion that ‘even if all the projects in the pipeline went ahead and were operational by 2020’ we would still miss our heat target.

Our own recent renewable heat report outlines steps to be taken to accelerate both district heating and support the uptake of individual property heating technologies like air source heat pumps.

A man cycling instead of driving © Isaac Lane Koval 2009A man cycling instead of driving © Isaac Lane Koval 2009

Worryingly, the CCC poses two options for meeting the targets in future: either identify additional effort to meet them – or amend– or essentially lower the targets. This is suggested because changes in how we measure greenhouse gasses now means that we effectively have a 47 percent target rather than a 42 percent target to meet by 2020.

There are a host of reasons for not amending the targets, not least the signal it would send to other nations aspiring to legislate on climate change. Having rightly attracted the attention of the world for our Climate Act, it would send a very poor message if we were to choose to lower the targets instead of identifying additional effort.

With so many policy levers still to be exercised, amending targets would simply divert attention from the efforts to deliver better housing, better transport and cleaner energy. For all the progress that Scotland has made so far, now is not the time to take the foot off the accelerator on our low carbon journey. Let’s not start to undermine the hard fought long term stability that the Act provides.

For the love of a safer, cleaner, future for all, lets throw our weight behind delivering a low carbon future and ensure we fulfill the promise Scotland made when it passed the Climate Change Act five years ago.

What are your views on climate change? Leave us a comment.

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